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Months-long fight over cab regulations brings out crowd in Niagara Falls

WBFO's Mike Desmond

In this age of Uber and Lyft, the Niagara Falls City Council is tied up in a fight over regulation of taxis and livery services, once again turning out a crowd Monday night.

The measure has been on the legislative table for months and there is no indication it is coming off soon.

The fight is over Councilmember Andrew Touma's plan to put regulations on the livery business along the lines of what city cabs must follow. By state law, livery drivers can pick up only customers who call for a ride. In Niagara Falls, that is mostly the medical transport vans of Cameron Transportation, not usually a competitive field for ride-hailing, and tourist shuttles, especially to and from the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

Cheryl Johnpier said she has worked for taxis and livery services and Touma's plan is the wrong answer to a problem.

"Instead of fixing the medallion problem, we are going to take and impose regulations on these guys who aren't taxi drivers," she said. "They're medical transport. They service the sick and the elderly in this city and they do it real well. They care for their clients. They get to know them on a first-name basis."

Johnpier is one of many who say there would be better transportation service if there were more medallion cabs out there able to pick up riders whenever they hail a taxi.

Columnist and activist Ken Hamilton told the Council it is an apples and oranges dispute.

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond

"Why does a medical driver have to know how many gallons of water goes over Niagara Falls when the people that he's transporting live right here?" he asked. "They just want get from Wrobel Towers out to Summit to get an x-ray. All of these  things, they are all very different. Their functions are very different. The things that they are trying to do are different."

Touma said the proposed regulations were requested by the Falls Police Department to ensure the department knows who is at the wheel of vehicles for hire.

"It was brought to our attention that you got a big transportation service that's unregulated," he said. "I talked to our legal team and our Police Department and they, at that point, went to work and tried to bring equity and fairness to the regulation where everybody was regulated under the same umbrella."

Touma said the proposed taxi commission called for in the regulations would not be able to regulate ride-hailing services, which are controlled by Albany.

Opponents to Touma's plan argue that there are no controls over cabs that come into the Cataract City from adjacent communities.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.