City Council

The Department of Transportation Title XI was approved at this week's city council meeting.

City ordinance rewrite regulates taxicabs

City Attorney Chris Brown brought forward a rewrite of Harrisonburg’s taxi ordinance. The ordinance hasn’t been updated since 2008, and as far as Brown could tell, it was only technical updates, such as defining the word “taxi.” 

Brown said he’s going for a more “holistic view” with the ordinance, taking into account changes in the law, the surge in gas prices, the rise of transportation companies like Uber and Lyft and the devastating effects the two companies have had on taxis in Harrisonburg and the nation. Brown calls the rewrite substantial, condensing the current ordinance of 107 sections down to 47 to “tighten it up” and make it readable in compliance with state law. 

Brown said the main goal of the rewrite is to allow taxi companies in Harrisonburg to compete with the aforementioned transportation companies and streamline the enforcement and administration of the ordinance. Uber and Lyft allow drivers to pick their own rates, and along with convenience and ease of use, as well as COVID-19  closing many public services, taxicabs have taken a hit. 

“In 2017, in the city of Harrisonburg, there were 56 licensed taxicab drivers, with 48 cabs,” Brown said. “In 2022, there are 18 drivers and 15 cabs. You can see the devastating effect of the pandemic, companies and gas prices.”

The rewrite hopes to allow the taxi companies to flourish by changing rates, background checks and enforcement and administration. 

It would allow taxi companies to set their own rates rather than being set by City Council to better compete with personal transportation companies. 

Brown said he’s hoping for stricter background checks because they’ll “remove discretion.”

“It should be a fairly easy yes or no question for whoever’s viewing the application,” Brown said.

Additionally, when it comes to enforcement and administration, the rewrite would have the Council maintain authority over license holders. The Department of Public Transportation maintains jurisdiction over random once-a-year taxi inspections when they’re put into operation, Brown said. He also said the change in ordinance would have the licensing of taxi drivers be handled by the Harrisonburg Police Department (HPD), since it already enforces traffic infractions and day-to-day ordinances. 

Department of Transportation Title XI approved 

Director of Public Transportation Gerald Gatobu said that since public transportation receives federal funding, the service needs to be fair and open to everyone, citing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, preventing discrimination based on color, race or national origin. 

“We have provisions for limited English proficiency and to translate our programs into Spanish,” Gatobu said.

Gatobu stated that based on federal regulations, the city has to make sure that minority groups should be engaged with and told what changes are going on throughout the city.

The council unanimously voted in favor of approving the Department of Transportation Title XI.

$225,000 city manager’s office renovation proposed

Brought forward by Harrisonburg City Manager Ande Banks, this supplemental appropriation was proposed due to upcoming staff additions to the city manager’s office — located in the City Hall building — that will push to capacity. Banks said the supplemental appropriation of $225,000 from the city’s fund balance would provide a project budget and an opportunity to expand the city manager’s offices and create new shared spaces for the City Council and administration. The city could also work with a local architect and developer to move forward with expanding the office in City Hall. 

Banks also brought up the City Hall building itself and how it’s been built on a five-year time horizon, meaning the initial plan was to immediately turn around and renovate the municipal building, having the two work in tandem with each other. 

“This would ensure the city offices would stay downtown and on Main Street for decades to come,” Banks said. “What we are starting to see is other offices are filling up as our city gets bigger, and the services we provide expands with it.”

Contact Kingston Thomas at thoma2ks@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.