Note: The title of this blog post has been corrected to indicate first passage possible tonight. Second and final passage could follow in March.
Legislation that supports licensed Plainfield taxi drivers and will permit towing of outside taxis is sure to be the main event at tonight's City Council meeting, as it has gone beyond turf issues and is now a political flash point in a volatile election year.
The meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave. The complete agenda is posted on the city web site.
Protesters jammed City Hall Library last week when the governing body council decided to put the measure on the agenda for tonight. Many of the same out-of-town owners, their families and employees had celebrated in December when the towing ordinance failed in a 3-3 council tie, with one member absent. As of January, the council make-up changed and the consensus last week was 5-2 to go forward with the towing penalty.
The council previously increased fines for unlicensed taxis at the behest of the city taxi owners. In 2014, fines for taxis without city licenses were increased, from $300 to $500 for a first offense, from $500 to $1,000 for a second offense and from $800 to $2,000 for third and subsequent offenses.The new penalty gives a police officer who stops an unlicensed taxi the discretion to order the vehicle towed, with the owner then liable for the towing cost plus storage fees. The taxi customers are primarily Latino and the idea of being stranded, possibly with children and any groceries or purchased items from shopping, has raised fears of further problems with immigrant status or language barriers as displaced passengers seek help.
Fabian Soria, owner of a North Plainfield cab company, alleged in 2014 that police were ordering people out of his taxis and asked the council for relief.
The city gains revenues from the four licensed taxi companies, who must also carry special insurance and pass police inspections of their vehicles. Their business association has rallied for council support in the past. The out-of town competitors say their employees live in Plainfield and allege they give better service to the many Plainfield residents who rely on taxis. The outside owners say because Plainfield has exceeded the allowable number of licenses, they cannot even apply for one.
A solution suggested last week was for the city to change the formula based on population, currently one taxi per 1,000 residents, as indicated in the last census, though in no case to exceed 60 taxi licenses. It is possible, officials said, but unless the council minority (Bridget Rivers and Diane Toliver) can convince the majority (Barry Goode, Cory Storch, Joylette Mills-Ransome, Charles McRae and Council President Rebecca Williams) to hold off, the towing penalty is likely to pass tonight.
The mayoralty and two council seats are up for election this year, and even though the filing date is many weeks away, competition for constituencies is heating up. Citizens who want a seat at the meeting should plan to get there early.