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SALT LAKE CITY — It appeared to be business as usual Wednesday for cab companies operating in Utah's capital city. Passengers were picked up and dropped off, and drivers were paid. Behind the scenes, though, cab companies and other ground-transportation providers were scrambling to understand and adjust to a series of new regulations approved by the Salt Lake City Council.
"It's going to be a big transition," said Dave Jackson, owner of City Cab Co.
A six-and-a-half-year process to overhaul ground-transportation service in Salt Lake City reached a conclusion Tuesday with a 6-1 vote of the City Council.
City leaders say the regulations will provide Salt Lake City residents and visitors with more reliable, affordable and safer ground transportation and taxi service.
Under the revised ordinance, the city will contract with between two and four cab companies to provide service. The number of cabs operating in the city has been capped at the current total of 268.
The city also will require each contracted company to have 5 percent of its fleet accessible to people with disabilities.
In addition, taxis with more than 350,000 miles on the odometer will not be allowed to operate in the city. A vehicle age limit of six years also has been set, though drivers will be allowed to stretch that to seven years if their vehicles have not reached 350,000 miles.
Jackson said the age and mileage rules create a hardship for drivers, many of whom are required to purchase their own vehicles.
"They're going to purchase newer vehicles," he said. "That's a little impractical."
The revisions approved by the City Council were less drastic than those originally proposed. For example, proposed regulations originally would have limited ground-transportation operations to two companies and no more than 200 cabs. In addition, the mileage limit first was proposed at 300,000.
Still, Jackson said he doesn't believe the City Council took into account the concerns of local taxi providers.
"They pretty much discounted everything we said, which is disheartening," he said. "We're going to have to work with it the best we can, but it's a real hardship on everybody."
Soren Simonsen, the lone member of the council to vote against the revised ordinance, agreed with that assessment.
"I don't think we've incorporated many of the comments we've heard from the ground-transportation providers," Simonsen said.
City Cab Co. and others operating in Salt Lake City currently are permitted to do so through certificates of public convenience. Under the revised ordinance, those certificates will expire in six months. And unless those already providing service in the city are selected through a competitive bid process, they'll no longer be allowed to operate in Salt Lake City.
"We've been serving the community for 45 years, and now it opens up to anyone to come and bid," Jackson said. "It's very anti-business. It's a harsh rule."
But city leaders say business practices by local cab companies necessitated the change. Taxis have focused their service around Salt Lake City International Airport, limiting the number of cabs available in other parts of the city. Under the revised ordinance, the performance and service of cab companies will be monitored, and they'll be expected to serve the entire city.
"We want to create an environment where there are taxis downtown," Councilwoman Jill Remington Love said.