I bet most of my readers do not use taxis to get around, but for a large segment of the Plainfield population, taxis are the primary means of getting to medical appointments, shopping and visiting friends and relatives. The city issues licenses to taxi owners and operators and has hit a limit on licenses based on population. Some North Plainfield taxi companies want to do business here, but face fines if caught. Next Monday, the City Council will vote on an ordinance giving police the additional option of having out-of-town taxis towed in addition to being ticketed.
More than a dozen people protested the new legislation Monday, charging that city taxis are often late and fares need to call the outsiders for timely service. Operators of the banned taxis said they are just trying to make a living and deserve a chance.
As a user of taxis myself, I can cite at least one egregious instance of a taxi being so late that the appointment I had made six months earlier with a surgeon had to be delayed two more months. But by and large, I do not have to wait long for a taxi to the Watchung Square Mall, my dentist in North Edison, a medical office in South Plainfield or even the vet in Fanwood. I will say that fares are expensive (though nowhere near the cost of owning a car) and drivers disregard the rule that the first pickup must be asked whether he or she minds having another fare picked up along the way.
City taxi drivers and owners are organized in a "chofers" group and have come out in force at times, once regarding safety of drivers after a spate of robberies and murders. They also want to protect their livelihood against unlicensed outsiders. Both the city and outside companies are mainly Latino-owned and -operated and serve primarily a Latino clientele, so their concerns may not be shared by the city's other populations.
The possibility of being turned out of a taxi by police so the vehicle can be towed sparks fear for Latinos who lack credentials. What might happen next? Will they be deported or held somewhere? Local advocates for Latino immigrants can tell stories of families being broken up in an instant, and certainly the president-elect supports such action.
There are many aspects to the taxi situation, but unless you are an owner, driver or passenger, you might not care. Amidst all the post-election anguish, one reaction has been a call for more empathy and understanding of what our various neighbors are thinking and feeling. Whichever way the vote goes on Dec. 12, some will be glad and others disappointed. When we see those blue, red, orange or yellow taxis zipping around, will we have any thoughts for those inside?