Charleston Police: Downtown taxi rides to get easier, safer

By Nikki

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) Are you tired of flagging down a taxi on a busy night in Charleston? In 30 days, you won't have to, at least not on certain nights of the week.

On Tuesday, Charleston City Council passed a new taxi cab stand ordinance. It would require taxi cabs to line up in three centralized locations around Market Street.

"There will be one at East Bay and Market right by the Noisy Oyster. There's going to be one right in the middle of Market Street, which is where the carriages load during the day," said Charleston Police Chief, Greg Mullen. "And there will be a small one up near Meeting and Market Street."

From there, riders can hop a ride on a first come, first served basis. Mullen says the ordinance places a heavy emphasis on safety.

"There are a lot of people that are congregating. There are a lot of people coming out of those bars, and we just need to have an organized plan, so that people that are coming out of those clubs can get taxis," said Mullen. "People coming out of the bars at night, they're out in the middle of street trying to flag a taxi down."

Some taxi cab drivers, however, worry the ordinance takes away a consumer's right to choose.

"If they stack these cabs up in a cab stand, the consumers aren't going to know what they're getting. The cabs in town are charging a lot of different rates," said James Jones, president of Charleston Cab Company.

Jones says most of his pickups are by appointment only.

"Let's say we have somebody that calls us from the Market Street Saloon at midnight who wants to get picked up and we try to get down to Market Street to pick them up. Are the cops going to stop us because we weren't first in line at the cab stand?" asked Jones.

It's a concern echoed by Barry Britt with Yellow Van Taxi. Under the ordinance, taxi drivers must pull into the stand from the rear and advance forward as the cabs ahead pull out.

"I believe it's going to be harder to navigate a group of people after partying to a specific area -- especially if it's more than a block or two away," said Britt.

From 12:30 a.m. to 3 a.m. Friday through Sunday, the three stand locations would be the only places where taxis and riders can meet. Mullen says violating the ordinance could lead to a $262 fine.

While every taxi cab driver who spoke during public comment had their concerns, Mullen says growing pains are part of a long term solution.

"If we need to make adjustments, we will. It's just we need to start to learn together and see how we can make this better," said Mullen.

The ordinance is part of a one-year pilot program, but the police chief hopes to make it permanent.

"If this works in the market area, obviously, the next logical location would be King Street," he said.

In the coming days, Mullen says his department will begin issuing educational flyers, communicating with businesses and taxi companies to make sure they are aware of this new ordinance that will soon go into effect.