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City may restrict taxicabs

Each morning at 8:30, a blue-and-white taxicab pulls up in front of Sandi Doscher's home in Pinellas Park. For two years, Mrs. Doscher has depended on Park Taxi service to ferry her back and forth from her job as public relations director at Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg.

All that could change Thursday if City Council members pass an amendment to the city's taxicab ordinance.

The amendment would force each taxicab that picks up passengers in St. Petersburg to have a permit. That's not such an outrageous requirement until one learns that only 162 taxicab permits are available in St. Petersburg. All of those are taken, said Suzanne Ennis, assistant city attorney.

The city needed to clarify the permit requirement, Ennis said, so it could enforce the ordinance on the books. Ennis said she doesn't know why the cap was set at 162.

Park Taxi, the Pinellas Park company Mrs. Doscher uses, doesn't have one of those permits.

"That's going to affect me economically," said Mrs. Doscher, who pays Park Taxi a flat rate for her rides. "I couldn't afford to work here if I had to pay a metered rate on a daily basis. I'd have to quit."

Mrs. Doscher said she doesn't think she could get the same sort of arrangement with a city taxicab service.

The president of Park Taxi, Marlene Carew, said the proposed changes have broader implications for her company's business.

"It definitely will affect our business," Carew said. "I think it's unfair to the riding public. If their preference is to ride with my company, they should have that right."

James W. Denhardt, a St. Petersburg attorney representing Bay Area Taxi Service, based in St. Petersburg Beach, met with city administrators on Monday to voice concerns about the proposed changes.

Denhardt said the number of permits is "not real realistic" for a city of 250,000 people. That limit was set in 1981, he said.

"As an attorney, I'd be tickled to death if they said we can only have 162 lawyers in St. Petersburg and I was one of them," Denhardt said.

He said his client has no problem with the other proposed changes to the ordinance, which address insurance coverage and penalties for violation of the ordinance.

Don McRae, an assistant city manager, said he doesn't know how the permit limit of 162 was set. He said the city would examine whether to increase the number of taxicab permits if City Council members request it.

"I have not been apprised of any logic to go along with that cap," McRae said. "If we've outgrown those kinds of numbers and we need to modify it, we'd be happy to look at that."

The issue is scheduled to be addressed at a City Council meeting at 8 a.m. Thursday at City Hall, 175 Fifth St. N.