Public hearing to be held on local taxi issue

Wednesday, June 27, 2012 - 12:27
Commission needs more information
A Yellow Cab taxi travels down Muldoon Road in Anchorage on Monday, June 25, the same day the Anchorage Transportation Commission voted to hold a public hearing to determine if Chugiak-Eagle River is receiving sufficient taxi service.

Is taxi service lacking in Chugiak-Eagle River?

The Anchorage Transportation Commission wants to know.

The Commission voted Monday, June 25 to hold a public hearing on the issue after Megan Patrick, president of dispatch company AK-eCab, LLC, requested permission to operate a cab in Chugiak-Eagle River for three months to collect data to see if the community can support its own taxi service.

No date was set, and Anchorage Assembly chair Debbie Ossiander, of Chugiak, said she plans to request the hearing be held in Eagle River.

Transportation Inspector Eric Musser asked for data from Alaska Yellow Cab and Checker Cab for November and December 2011 as well as for April and May 2012 after receiving Patrick’s request June 12. He expects to have that information in about a month.

But, Patrick said, that information can’t be trusted. She said her requested study is needed because the data from the Anchorage-based dispatch companies is inaccurate when it comes to serving Chugiak-Eagle River.

“People refuse to call them out there because they don’t show up,” she said. “When people have stopped calling, it’s not accurate data.”

Patrick, who drove a taxi for Yellow Cab for seven years, said Eagle River has suffered from insufficient taxi service for several years.

“It’s a problem that really needs to be fixed,” she said.

Ossiander has received similar complaints.

“For 20 years I’ve heard, ‘Cabs won’t come to Eagle River,’” she said.

Patrick’s skeptics argued her evidence was anecdotal. Board member Bill Evans agreed.

“There’s no hard facts before us,” he said prior to making the motion to hold a public hearing.

The time between now and the hearing will give the commission a “fact-finding” opportunity, board chair Andrew Tierney said.

“It allows us time to gather the evidence that we need,” he said.

Board member Bernadette Bradley supported Patrick’s request for a study in Chugiak-Eagle River.

“I think it’s a problem that needs to be researched and looked at,” she said.

Patrick’s opponents also questioned the data she’s generated since she started providing free rides to Chugiak-Eagle River residents two weeks ago.

Patrick, who’s been providing free 24-hour service, said she’s received 235 calls since June 13.

Patrick agreed that a free service skews the numbers and said a cab survey like the one she requested is needed.

Ossiander, who said she’s had “limited success” in her decade-long fight for improved public transportation in Eagle River, said Patrick’s courtesy taxi service interested her.

“I was enthusiastic,” she said. “I encouraged her. I thanked her.”

With an increased number of younger soldiers on nearby Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Ossiander urged the commission to take Eagle River’s lack of taxi service seriously.

Tierney said this was the first he’s heard of the problem in his three years on the board, but was open to exploring the issue further.

“If an area of Anchorage is being underserved, we want to know about it,” he said. “It’s the job of this commission to make sure Anchorage is served by this industry.”

The legality of Patrick’s free service was also called into question.

Musser said it’s against the law, and he’s pursuing all avenues to shut Patrick down.

“The operator has been asked several times to cease and desist,” he said.

Patrick, who said she consulted a lawyer before arriving in Chugiak-Eagle River, maintains she’s within her rights due to the fact that her car is not operating as a taxi because she’s not charging a fare. However, the municipality is taking a different stance.

On June 20, Patrick was issued a citation by the municipality under ordinance 11.30.050 (unposted chauffeur license). In her response, Patrick requested a hearing on the $100 ticket, writing:

“I have a courtesy car and am not required to have [a chauffeur license] either as a cab or a courtesy car. TRY AGAIN! Stop harassing please. Thanks ECAB.”

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