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May 9, 2016

New year brings new taxi regulations for Amherst cab companies

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As of Jan. 1, cab companies in Amherst are abiding to new regulations for the first time in 20 years.

Taxi companies in the Town of Amherst are now required to install electric fare meters that must be visible to the customer at all times. Nine of the 12 taxi companies in operation last year complied with the newly-enforced regulation – a policy that is in accordance with Mass. General Laws, according to the Amherst’s official town website – and have obtained the ability to continue operating. Taxi company cars and drivers must also pass annual inspections; each cab bumper is required to sport a bright yellow sticker indicating the passing of inspection.

The average fines drivers and taxi owners face for disregarding the new regulations range from $50 to $100. Taxi company owners or drivers found operating in violation of the visible meter fare regulation could potentially have their licenses suspended.

Town Manager John Musante said these rules were long overdue considering regulations on taxi services in the area have not been altered since around 1992.

“One of the primary objectives of the regulatory changes in the installation of the fare meters is consumer awareness and consumer protection,” said Musante.

Before these laws were set in place, some University of Massachusetts students thought they were being charged unfairly.

“They usually count per person, not the distance, and if it is over like, three people, they jack up the prices,” said UMass student Lindsay Strassberg. “When I am only going a mile or less and I am paying 20 bucks for a ride, it is crazy how expensive it is.”

John Santaniello, owner of Celebrity Cab Company, said cab rides from Southwest to the center of town should be no more than $10.

Santaniello is part of one of the only cab companies in Amherst that had electric meters prior to the enactment of the regulation He has been with Celebrity Cab since 2004 and said his company has been operating under these standards the whole time.

“A lot of guys got the idea, ‘Let’s just jump in a van and call ourselves a taxi,’ but they didn’t start out with taxi plates, taxi insurance and taxi meters because it’s expensive. So they said ‘Oh let’s just go out there and pick people up,’” Santaniello said. “It got outta control. They were charging … kids per head and charging them all kind of crazy fees which was totally illegal.”

The Amherst Police Department as well as town hall had been receiving complaints regarding incidents involving operating procedures of some taxi drivers.

Captain Christopher Pronovost of the APD said there were a few complaints about interactions between drivers and customers.

“It was getting too hard to just kind of control what was going on,” Pronovost said.

Pronovost suggests that if students have any future problems in terms of unfair wages or other issues they should report the incidents immediately.

He also added that Amherst Police have previously been working to enforce these new regulations.

“The meter won’t stop people from getting ripped off,” said Santaniello. “It has to be the students themselves that have to be more aware of what’s going on.”

Rebecca Humphrey can be reached at rhumphre@student.umass.edu.

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