The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

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City Council, April 28

Hours for night time taxi rates amended
Decision on hammocks in parks deferred
Marc Knapp

Against a background of a burning Baltimore, the seizure of a US registered ship by Iran, and chaos in the Middle East, part of last night’s City Council meeting had a surreal feeling. I refer to the discussion and debate about stringing hammocks in City parks. Isn’t this taking minor issues to an absurd level? City Council thought twice about its proposed ban and deferred the issue while staff attempted to find a compromise solution.

The main item up for discussion last night was the proposed Transport Network Companies Ordinance. It had already passed the first reading but some changes were anticipated before the ordinance received the final readings last night. Despite the protests from Uber, drivers of Uber and similar companies, who are not directly employed, will need to obtain a City business license. Although the need for a business license may be mentioned in the ordinance, it is City regulations already in place that make a license necessary. There was little discussion last night about this part of the ordinance.

However, the proposed hours that taxis could hike their fares were challenged. The ordinance originally proposed that taxis could charge double their “daytime” rates during the period from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. These times were amended last night to a period between Midnight and 5 a.m. Council members Lewis and Mitchell were strongly opposed to this though they supported the rest of the ordinance.

The Council members noted that the new maximum fare for a trip on the peninsula in “daylight” hours was $7. This would rise to $14 in the “after-midnight” rate. The fare to North Charleston was $15 during “daylight” hours but would rise to $30 after midnight. These higher rates threatened the ability of low paid workers serving the hospitals and the hospitality industry on the Peninsula. Most of these workers received the minimum wage, or not much more, and many did not finish working until after midnight. The latter could not afford these rates and may be forced to give up their jobs. It was also noted that CARTA buses ceased running after midnight and unless the workers had vehicles, there was no other reasonable transport options.

Council member Moody, chair of the Traffic and Transportation Committee noted that the new rates were the maximum that could be charged. Taxi owners or drivers could charge less if they desired.

Council member Williams asked that the voting on the issue again be deferred and that the start of “night time” rates to 12.30 a.m. be considered, to provide more latitude to accommodate these late night workers. Although his motion was seconded, Council voted against the proposal with Council member Williams being the only one in favor. It seemed that Council thought that enough time had been spent to trying to accommodate late night workers and the times proposed were the best compromise. In the final vote, the amended ordinance was given its final readings supported by all Council members with Council members Lewis and Mitchell noting their opposition to the midnight deadline. The new ordinance comes into effect in 30 days.

Interestingly, nobody suggested a solution to helping the late night workers. Considering that so many CARTA buses travel with few passengers, would it be too much to provide a service along Meeting and King Streets for another hour after midnight, or to North Charleston for that matter? Maybe the ridership after midnight would be higher than some daylight hours. And it will be interesting to see the impact of the higher fares on employment. If service industry workers have to give up their jobs because the cost of getting home at night is too much, what will the employers do? Will they be able to easily fill the vacated positions? If they can’t, they will need to offer higher wages or consider some way of ameliorating the financial hardship.

OK, back to hammocks. There were 3 young speakers in Citizens Participation who took issue with a ban on hammocks in the City’s parks. They spoke of the enjoyment of their repose and disputed that trees were damaged by stringing hammocks. One of the speakers was the daughter of a neighbor of Council member White. Her eloquence at a private meeting persuaded Council member White to have second thoughts. May be we need to consider some compromise, he said. After some discussion, and hearing opinion from staff, Council ultimately agreed, with only Council member Seekings in dissent. We also note that staff disagreed with some of the citizens and said that trees were damaged by hammocks. Considering that two trees had to be close together to string a hammock, there were few location options in City Parks. So it would be the same trees that were being used and to their inevitable detriment. So it seems to us that to serve and placate a few devotees, our parks may soon have designated hammock areas, where special metal supports will be erected. Help!!!

Last night’s meeting was chaired by Council member Waring, Mayor pro tem. Mayor Riley was in Washington where he had been invited to dine in the White House. We can only speculate as to what might have been discussed but we’ll give odds on that it included the African American museum. We thought that Council member Waring did a good job.

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