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Councilman holds position on taxi proposal

By Alex Bridges

Front Royal leaders continue to weigh in on whether to impose stricter rules on taxi companies.

Councilman Bret W. Hrbek at a Town Council meeting Monday reiterated his opposition to regulating taxi firms and claims that tighter regulations would benefit one company while it hurts others that operate cabs in town.

Hrbek read from a written statement during the council members' comment period of the meeting. Hrbek said he asked police Chief Norman Shiflett to research violent incidents that involved taxi cab drivers and passengers. Hrbek told council that Shiflett found one instance in which a woman was raped, but in this case the driver was the victim and the culprits were passengers. The proposed restriction on taxi drivers would not have prevented such an incident, Hrbek noted.

Hrbek compared Yellow Cab of Front Royal's pursuit of taxi legislation to efforts by Goldman Sachs or big pharmaceutical firms and insurance companies working with Congress to write the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare.

"The big boys write legislation to eliminate start ups and smaller businesses," Hrbek said.

Town Council discussed the proposal at a previous work session and the issue of driver background checks came last among regulator matters brought up by Yellow Cab representatives, Hrbek said. A ban on smoking by drivers, standards for vehicles and a restriction on more than two fares at one time were mentioned.

"Standardization of operations was clearly the objective of their argument," Hrbek said. "A ban on sex offenders was an afterthought, a throwaway line."

At the most recent work session on the topic, Town Manager Steve Burke explained to council that representatives from all cab companies operating taxi services in Front Royal came to a meeting with staff to discuss the proposed regulations.

Hrbek argued that the company pushing for regulations on practices it already does would not see increased cost. The company's competition would incur costs to abide by the new rules, Hrbek said. Competitors would then need to pass the extra cost on to its consumers.

"So instead of not protecting our citizens -- and I've been accused of not wanting to protect our citizens -- we're making a service they need unaffordable and eliminating that choice," Hrbek said.

As Hrbek noted, state law already dictates safety standards for automobiles. The Department of Motor Vehicles sets driver standards and state law also forbids registered sex offenders from being within certain distances of places where children are known to gather, Hrbek argued.

After Hrbek's lengthy statement Councilman Thomas Sayre, a supporter of stricter regulations on taxi companies, sought information from both Napier and Shiflett. Napier told council that the Virginia General Assembly in 2012 amended the state code to prohibit convicted sex offenders from driving tow trucks. Front Royal staff modeled the proposed taxi ordinance after the state legislation, Napier said.

However, when Sayre asked Shiflett to come to the podium and answer his questions, Mayor Timothy Darr tried to stop the exchange because council had entered the members' comments portion of the meeting. Darr explained that members were not debating the issue of a taxi ordinance and the matter would come back in future work sessions.

In response to Sayre's question, Shiflett said his department would need the names of any taxi drivers in order to run criminal history checks and to see if the operators have been charged with any sex offenses while on the state's sex offender registry.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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