Iowa City to explore taxi regulations requested by police

By Gregg Hennigan, The Gazette

IOWA CITY — Iowa City will explore new regulations on taxicabs following a series of alleged assaults on riders several months ago, but changing how companies classify drivers’ employment status likely won’t be one of them.

City Council members Tuesday night said they would take up police Chief Sam Hargadine’s proposal on taxis at a future meeting.

But a majority of members said they do not support his recommendation that taxi companies be forced to hire drivers as employees rather than as independent contractors.

“I think the additional costs to actually putting people on payroll can be prohibitive,” Susan Mims said.

Last week, Hargadine asked the council for five items. One was to hire drivers and for companies to own the vehicles. The others were to require companies to have unique color schemes and to provide dispatch from an office, have city-issued identification cards for drivers and to get a signed receipt that a driver has read a packet on the city’s rules for taxis.

Hargadine said his proposal came after police officers were unable to get timely and accurate information on taxi drivers from a company during an assault investigation last winter. His department has found many companies don’t have good records on who is driving for them.

“All of these recommendations are with public safety in mind,” he said. “It’s not to micromanage the business.”

Representatives from taxi companies interviewed by The Gazette and who have corresponded with the city seem mostly agreeable to Hargadine’s recommendations except for the employment status of drivers.

In a letter to the City Council, Roger Bradley, the manager of Yellow Cab of Iowa City, objected only to that measure. He said switching from independent contractors would cause costs to increase, and therefore more likely fares, too.

He also said it would hurt the drivers because, as independent contractors, they can set their own schedules and work additional time to earn more money.

“As employees, I doubt very much that drivers would be allowed to work overtime,” Bradley wrote.

He also said Yellow Cab of Iowa City was recently able to get an accurate count of drivers to police “without delay.”

Hargadine said the change would give employees benefits like workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance and have companies pay into Social Security and Medicare.

Former Iowa City taxi driver Sean Genell said in an email to The Gazette that cab companies have been using the independent contractor system to avoid paying into benefits such as those, and he supports Hargadine’s proposal.

He said what is needed, however, is more investment from all involved parties — the owners, the city, the police, drivers and customers.

City Council members said they want to find another way to get companies to keep tabs on their drivers. Council member Michelle Payne said forcing them to hire the drivers could cost people their jobs.

“I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume all of these companies will hire their existing contractors,” she said.

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