Taxi owner Ramone Fernandez told the Peekskill City Council that a taxi ordinance change they are considering has him and his family scared.
“My kids and my wife are scared because we don’t know if we are going to keep working,” Fernandez told the council of their proposal to mandate owners to pay higher insurance liability rates. “If you do it like that we are going to pay a lot of money…it is too much for us,” he said.
Fernandez and about a dozen taxi owners and other small business owners attended Peekskill’s meeting last night to oppose the proposal. Corporation Counsel Bernis Nelson explained that the city officials are looking to raise the insurance liability fees from the present $25,000/$50,000 minimum to $100,000/$300,000 minimum.
“We recommend to exceed the minimum state requirement because when accidents occur 25 is often not sufficient to cover people affected by an accident. It will protect passengers and pedestrians,” Nelson said.
Taxi drivers told the counsel that the increased liability is unfair, stigmatizes their profession, unduly burdens good drivers, could cost them around $4,000 or more per year and will put their livelihoods in jeopardy. They added that to the taxi ordinance have already cost them hundreds of dollars.
After cab owner Kevin Toohey and two members of the public spoke against the increase Mayor Mary Foster said that the city is considering the increase after hearing reports from people who have been injured, looking at other jurisdictions' rules and after hearing recommendations from staff.
“We have no desire to put small businesses out of business but we are trying to balance the needs of everybody,” Mayor Mary Foster said. Foster also told the crowd that the council has heard from the Peeksill Police Department who has talked to taxi drivers, but Anthony Bazzo, a cab owner, said that the police department has recommended against raising the liability insurance.
Three more cab owners told the council they felt the proposal was unfair before Bazzo, who owns a two-car independent operator business named Atom Taxi, animatedly made several points.
Bazzo said that the higher insurance will actually make taxis less safe, because drivers might have to work longer hours or have to take money from discretionary funding, like repairs, in order to pay the higher rates. He also said that the other changes to the taxi ordinance, which you can read about , have already weeded out bad and irresponsible drivers, making the increased insurance minimum unnecessary.
Paying higher insurance rates for their businesses would also increase their personal auto insurance because paying the higher insurance rates would force them into an assigned risk category, Bazzo said. He added that being forced to pay higher insurance rates would punish him despite his clean driving record.
“What will be is some of those people (cab drivers) going out of business or having to work longer hours," Bazzo said. "What will be is hardship on businesses, on people who have already lost jobs who are looking for new opportunity and working hard at it. A giant hurt for a miniscule problem…there is something so wrong about that."
Priori to Bazzo’s impassioned speech, the corporation counsel had mentioned several cases, namely one in Newburgh, in which the municipalities were granted the right to raise the liability to $100,000/$300,000. After asked by Foster if Newburgh cab owners now pay that liability insurance, Nelson said that city decided not to raise it but had been granted the right to do so.
Cab owner Roy Darcheville and Bazzo both pointed out that Newburgh is a city unlike Peekskill, where only fleet cab companies are allowed to operate.
“In those municipalities the demographics are totally different,” Darcheville said, adding that during hard economic times it is difficult for small businesses to survive even without increased fees.
“Who are we going to pass the fee to? How are we supposed to survive in this kind of climate?” Darcheville asked.
The council closed the public hearing and the mayor told the audience that they would take comments into consideration and hold another public hearing before passing any resolution that would affect the insurance liability rates.
Once the hearing was closed the taxi owners headed out to get back to their taxis, where clients were waiting in the cold at the because their cabbies were at City Hall fighting for their livelihoods, according to part of Bazzo's speech.
*Editor's Note: Full disclosure - the Anthony Bazzo mentioned in this article is the same who posts his blog on Patch. He is not a Patch employee. If you are interested in blogging on Patch, you can learn how to do so .