North Adams Public Safety Looks to Tighten Up Taxi Regs

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Police could have greater sway over who can have a taxi driver's license in the city of North Adams. 
 
The Public Safety Committee has been reviewing the taxi ordinance at the behest of the mayor and Police Department after a recent hearing on violations pointed to the city's limitations in regulating cab companies. The committee is looking into updating language and a process for dealing with potential violations. 
 
In its second full meeting last week, the committee heard from Police Lt. Anthony Beverly about how the department reviews licenses and the problems he's seen. 
 
The Police Department does a check on all applications before they are forwarded to the City Council for approval. 
 
The current ordinance lists application rejection for factors including moving violations, license revocation, "a violent felony conviction that may deem unsuitable," "no-contact restraining orders," and medication that may interfere with an ability to drive. 
 
Beverly asked that "violent" be removed because it would have to be spelled out what a "violent felony" is. The department had revoked a license because the driver was convicted of selling firearms, a felony but not a "violent" one, he said. 
 
He asked about adding the phrase "that the police department deems to be unsuitable," with the caveat that a reason would have to shown for the rejection. 
 
Committee member Marie T. Harpin wondered if a "felony conviction that may deem unsuitable" be open enough for interpretation but Beverly said the conviction part could be the problem. 
 
The lieutenant said there was someone criminally charged in the past who had their case continued without a finding. 
 
"It's not a conviction. It's basically saying that you're saying, your agreement that there was enough to convict you if you were to go forward," Beverly said. "It's an out through the court system. ... we don't have the ability to to deem that person unsuitable the way that this is written because that's not a valid, violent felony conviction."
 
The charges were related to driving under the influence, he said. "If you are that person that drinks and then goes and gets into a motor vehicle to drive around is probably not the person we want driving our citizens."
 
Police Chief Jason Wood, who was participating remotely, said the department needed something in the ordinance that would allow for application denial that also was not arbitrary. He referenced a suggestion by Committee Michael Obasohan about review panel "that will be like a checks and balances to that system."
 
"We have applications go through that, the way it's written now, we have no choice but to approve them because they don't meet any of the criteria to deny them," the chief said. "We know, within our field of work, that he or she has no business being a cab driver and given that responsibility."
 
Beverly offered to rewrite that section for the next meeting, including updating the types of restraining orders now used.  
 
The lieutenant also asked that licenses have an annual expiration date, preferably Jan. 1, so that existing licenses can be reviewed at the same time, and that a copy of the insurance policy be provided for the department's files. 
 
"So that I'm not doing multiple companies, all of this stuff that I have to do throughout the year," he said. "One shot. All the companies, everybody has to do it starting Dec. 31. Jan. 1 is a new year. We're inspecting all your taxis, we're inspecting all of your licenses, everything and get it done with it for the year."
 
Beverly said if one company has 25 drivers, he has to go through those reviews at different times throughout the year. He would still have to follow up on vehicle registrations during the year because "there's no way that I can get the Registry of Motor Vehicles in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to get on our timeline."
 
Committee Chairman Bryan Sapienza said he was suggesting adding a new section, 23-17, that would deal with penalties, including suspension or revocation of a driver who fails to renew their license.
 
The committee members did want to be clear on who would be responsible for abiding by which regulations, saying drivers should not be answerable for a company's failure maintain vehicles or licenses. They would, however, be accountable for moving violations and their own licenses. 
 
The committee also tentatively agreed on raising the age to 21 (up from 18) and requiring two consecutive years of holding a driver's license at the time of the application. Also, that cabs must have an exterior sign indicating when they are out of service and that only the driver be in the vehicle when the sign is displayed. This is to allow for maintenance and repairs on the vehicle by an authorized person. 
 
Among other expected changes are clarifying what is the driver's license, taxi driver's license and taxi operator's license (the company) within the ordinance. 
 
The "engine number" required on the taxi operator's license will be changed to the Vehicle Identification Number, now more widely used, and made clear it applies to the operator's license since a driver may use more than one vehicle. That section, 23-8, may be separated out to include the process for starting a taxi operation.
 
The committee was also going to check with state law to see if the insurance minimums could be raised. They are currently $10,000 for personal injury or death, $20,000 for accident resulting in injury or death to more than one person, and $5,000 for property damage.  
 
Anywhere there is language referring to the "commissioner of public safety" will be changed to "chief of police," and a reference to all licenses "in effect on December 28, 1954" to continue will be stricken. It's not clear why this line is in the ordinance but is thought to have been part of an amendment at that time. 

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Weekend Outlook: Student Art, Music & History

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff
With the area warming up, events are blooming in the Berkshires this weekend, including an egg hunt, live music, fitness events, and more.
 
Editor's Picks 
 
Teen Invitational Reception
Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art
Time: 6 to 8 p.m., Friday
 
The North Adams museum hosts its 12th annual reception for some of the amazingly talented teens in the region. The collaboration with the high school art teachers exhibits student work in a wide range of media through Sunday. The opening night reception concludes with awards and a music in the Hunter Center. 
 
Free and open to the public. 
 
Easter Egg Hunt
Whitney's Farm Market & Garden Center, Cheshire
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