Amid controversy surrounding the city’s taxi industry, Councilor Michael Ross has called for all of the responsibilities dealing with cabs to be moved out of the police department’s hands, and be monitored by transportation officials instead.
Currently, the Boston Police’s Hackney Carriage Unit oversees the 1,835 medallions issued to cab owners so they can operate in the city, and is responsible for regulating all taxis, sight-seeing automobiles, horse and carriages, and pedicabs under the exclusive authority of the police commissioner.
In a petition filed with the City Council, Ross, who is running for mayor, asked for a hearing to examine moving those responsibilities over to the Boston Transportation Department. “The regulation of the Hackney Carriage Unit may be better left to the transportation policy experts in an effort to maintain vigilant oversight over an industry that is Boston’s front-door to visitors and an important component of daily life for residents and workers,” Ross said in his petition filing calling for a conversation on the matter. He said transferring the duties would free up the department’s time, and allow them to focus on things like crime and public safety.
In his request, Ross noted that the city’s Transportation Department is already responsible for regulating certain rules of the road when it comes how tour buses, bicycles, and pedicabs get around. Ross said it only makes sense to give them full responsibility. “Sometimes the most complex problems have fairly easy solutions, and to me this is one of them. Put this in the hands of the right department…then it can be properly managed. I have full faith in the Transportation Department to handle the issues within the taxi business,” he said in a phone interview Monday night, adding that the current structure puts both police, and taxi drivers at an “unfair advantage.”
The request for a hearing comes days after the IRS stormed one of the city’s largest cab company’s headquarters following an in-depth report from the Boston Globe that found “widespread exploitation in the industry.” The investigation included insight on Boston Cab company owner Edward Tutunjian, who has been in the cab business in Boston since the 1960s and owns 372 taxi medallions. Each medallion is worth around $600,000, according to reports.
The spotlight series also led to Mayor Tom Menino ordering a sweeping review of how the city’s cabs are regulated, including how the medallions are handled by owners. In April, members of the Boston Taxi Drivers Association gathered in South Boston, days after the Globe report, and also called for drastic changes to the way the police department oversees the licensing and medallions.“The Boston Police Hackney Division is a dysfunctional, mismanaged agency that has abetted a systemically corrupt industry that takes earnings away from working drivers and gives them to millionaires,’’ the association’s representative, Donna Blythe-Shaw, said during a press conference at the time.
Menino tried to clean up the cab industry in 2008 by implementing stricter rules for operators and business owners, however, the changes didn’t address the industries alleged back-door deals, as reported by the Globe. “Clearly there are some serious changes that need to happen within the Hackney Unit, no question, but those changes need to be made in a place where the [industry] can be managed,” said Ross.
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