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Published June 04 2013

Moorhead to mull taxi driver background checks

MOORHEAD – Moorhead hasn’t maintained license records on taxicab drivers operating in the city, despite an outdated city ordinance that requires cabbies to be licensed as a chauffeur under state law and to register the license with the City Clerk’s office, a Forum investigation has found.

City Manager Michael Redlinger said the City Council recently discussed the need to update the taxicab and limousine driver ordinance written in 1967, as well as other similarly outdated ordinances.

One revision may be to require cab companies to submit a list of drivers and have police conduct criminal background checks, similar to what Fargo city ordinance requires, he said.

“If we can do something more on background (checks), then I think that’s a good win,” he said.

Redlinger said Moorhead officials aren’t collecting records of chauffeur licenses for individual taxi drivers as mandated under city ordinance because Minnesota law doesn’t require taxi drivers carrying less than eight passengers to have such a license.

The Forum’s inquiry also brought to the city’s attention the fact that one taxi service had been operating in Moorhead without the required business license, which must be renewed annually.

Laurie Dodd, co-owner of the unlicensed cab company, Lucky 7 Taxi Service, said she recalled filling out a license application with the city when the company started in 2001. But she said she never received any renewal notices and wasn’t aware that Lucky 7’s license had lapsed.

“We’ve never received anything else back from them that I know of,” she said.

Redlinger said last week the city had three taxi services licensed in Moorhead: Doyle’s Yellow Checker Cab, GoCab and

F-M Road Force.

When informed Monday morning that Lucky 7 wasn’t licensed, Dodd immediately contacted the city and said about an hour later that all of the necessary paperwork and $50 license fee should be filed by today.

“I would like to be in compliance,” she said.

Redlinger said the city would make sure Lucky 7 gets registered.

As reported last month, a Forum investigation found that Fargo police weren’t fully enforcing a decades-old law regulating cabbies, allowing at least two convicted felons to become licensed before they were eligible. Since 2008, police have also failed to revoke or suspend a cabbie’s license more than 50 times in cases where multiple traffic violations required them to under city ordinance.

Moorhead’s city code also contains a licensing provision for cab drivers, stating that no person shall operate a taxicab or limousine on city streets “unless the person driving the vehicle is licensed as a chauffeur pursuant to the Minnesota Statutes, and such chauffeur’s license is registered with the City Clerk. No person shall drive a vehicle for hire unless so licensed.”

The Forum made an open records request to inspect chauffeur licenses filed with the clerk’s office but was informed by Redlinger the city had no such records on file.

Redlinger said the city licenses taxicab companies as required by the code, including making them list each vehicle and its owner and provide proof of liability insurance and death or personal injury insurance.

Individual drivers aren’t licensed because Redlinger said the city has interpreted the code as not requiring it.

A footnote next to the mention of Minnesota statutes in the code’s cabbie licensing section refers to statute 171.02, but after undergoing numerous revisions over the years, the statute doesn’t mention chauffeurs or taxicabs.

According to a Minnesota Department of Transportation fact sheet provided by Redlinger, the state only regulates motor carriers that use vehicles designed to transport eight or more passengers, including the driver. Small passenger vehicle services such as taxi services, which use vehicles designed to transport seven or fewer persons, are regulated by cities, municipalities and townships through local ordinance, if they choose to do so.

Redlinger said the city has “done everything that the ordinance has called for,” but state law has changed, and city ordinance will likely be updated to reflect those changes as necessary.

Background checks may be required in the future, he said, but the city still probably won’t issue or collect data on licenses for individual taxi drivers, instead leaving it up to their licensed employers and the state.

City staff will work this summer on revising the outdated ordinances, he said.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528