NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council slapped OTT Taxi with a 90-day probation after police reported several violations since the taxi company was warned back in February.
Documents for the show cause hearing on Tuesday had raised the possibility of revocation of the business's license to operate but councilors weren't convinced that the violations were egregious enough.
Specifically, interim Police Chief Mark Bailey said owner John Lord was observed twice in July driving On Time Taxi cabs, which he is not licensed to operate, and that vehicles owned by OTT employees have been ticketed for being parked in front of the River Street office beyond the 15-minute limit.
Between Sept. 30, 2022, and July 22, 2023, police documented 14 violations, four parking citations and seven instances of drivers operating taxies without valid licenses. The company had been handed a 30-day probation back February by the council.
"More than 12 violations in 12 months, which may result in the revocation of the operator's license," said Bailey.
Councilor Lisa Blackmer said it had been made clear at the February hearing that the business, not Lord, owned the vehicles and he was not allowed to drive them.
"As we've seen from the chief, there have been multiple other violations of that even though I made it pretty clear that you shouldn't be driving them," she said.
Lord argued that was wrong. "I do own them. And I have insurance and I can drive that vehicle as long as there is not a fare in the vehicle," he said.
But Bailey pointed to the city ordinance that states "no person shall drive a taxi cab other than a person licensed by City Council." "I don't believe that it matters if he has a fare or not," the chief said. "He can't drive a taxi."
The councilors went back and forth a little on whether Lord was driving a taxi or, if there was no fare, driving a car.
Councilor Jennifer Barbeau said they needed a clear answer "besides our interpretation, is he legally allowed to drive his taxi, to which he says yes, without a paid 'quote' fares. Fares are not passengers, they're someone who's paying for a ride. That to me seems like a simple answer."
Councilor Ashley Shade thought the language was very clear as the chief had stated. "If you don't have a taxi license you should not be driving a taxi vehicle in the city of North Adams," she said, but noted these violations were laws but city codes. "There's no actual mechanism to fine them or give them a ticket for these offenses because they're not written anywhere in the city code."
An updated taxi cab ordinance — prompted by OTT's February hearing — is expected to come before the council at its next meeting.
Joseph Pini, the dispatcher, who sent a lengthy letter to councilors defending the business, said they had acted on the council's direction to have an "out of service" sign to use when the cars were being transported.
He spoke at length during the hearing, answering questions from the councilors. "We did everything you asked of us," he said.
Pini also stated that he had no interest in the business and Bailey confirmed that Lord had stated he was the only owner.
"As an owner, you should know better. You should do better. You should not have any violations," Bailey said. "That's what I'm getting at. The owner is also violating these city ordinances."
In addition to Pini, several employees spoke in favor of the business. Mayor Jennifer Macksey said she wanted to be clear there were no problems with the operators.
"The taxi services being provided by OTT drivers, their dispatchers, have never ever received any complaints about the drivers," she said. "We've heard how are you very personable. You do a great job, you're reliable. The issue is that Mr. Lord does not have a license to operate a taxi."
Several councilors objected to dunning a business for parking violations committed by employees.
"I can't see closing the business or suspending a license based on parking citations," said Councilor Bryan Sapienza. "If I had the authority, I could walk down Main Street on any given day and probably write about 10 or 15 tickets."
Traffic Commission Chair MaryAnn King, who attended the meeting, there are about five other businesses in the city that have gotten tickets, not just OTT. The parking problems on River Street were brought up at a March commission meeting and King wrote letters to businesses along the 15-minute parking zone and new signs were installed.
"Since then, they've been really good," she said. "Since that Traffic Commission meeting there hasn't been any 15-minute violation issues. They have been parking in the empty lots off of River Street."
Bailey's communication was dated Aug. 22; it was not clear when the document was disseminated to the council.
Barbeau objected that she had not received a copy of the documents until late Friday and so had been unable to get her questions answered by police prior to the hearing. Councilor Marie T. Harpin said she also did not get her hearing documents until Friday.
"I would have liked to have gathered a little more information and had a little more time to gather and speak to people regarding this and I didn't," she said.
There were also questions about why the public hearing did not have a 14-day notice; it was explained this was a license hearing and did not have to conform to those rules.
"Mr. Lord, based on the hearing, based on everything that's been talked about this evening, if the condition this evening is that you do not drive a vehicle that is registered as a taxi until you have a taxi license are you willing to comply with that?" asked Shade.
"Absolutely," replied Lord.
Shade then moved to impose a 90-day probationary period that passed 7-1 with Harpin voting no.
At the regular meeting following the hearing, the council granted licenses to Lisa Donovan, Scott Forrest, Jamie Malloy and John Spencer to drive for OTT.
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