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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Wichita mayor ‘tired of the complaints’ about cab drivers

By Bill Wilson
The Wichita Eagle

Mayor Carl Brewer has had enough of the bad first impression visitors get of Wichita from its taxi drivers.

Drivers clad in tank tops, puffing on cigarettes and talking down the Air Capital must stop, the mayor said.

“Tired of the complaints,” Brewer said during a City Council workshop Tuesday on the future of the city’s taxicab code.

“We’ve had some comments made (by cab drivers) that are totally inappropriate, even asking the passenger, ‘Why in the world are you coming to Wichita?’ Holding people accountable is a good idea.”

That accountability is why city staff and council members are considering revisions to the city’s cab company ordinances, which haven’t been revised since they were enacted in 1984.

The proposed changes center on improving customer service, including generating faster response times. The changes also would shift licensing and enforcement to the city’s finance department.

Better taxi service at Wichita’s Mid-Continent Airport is among the priorities.

“I’ve had additional complaints about individuals having to wait two hours to get from the airport to their hotel,” Brewer said. “To wait two hours is absolutely unacceptable.”

City Manager Robert Layton said the hospitality industry and Go Wichita approached the city about a year ago about the poor quality of the city’s taxi system. The city launched a yearlong probe that produced Tuesday’s report, delivered by Brandon McGuire, a public management fellow in Layton’s office. Council members gave no timeline when the changes might be enacted.

One cab company operator said after the meeting that he welcomes the changes, which will include significant fee hikes for drivers who want to be licensed.

“Much needed,” said Tim Armbrust of Wichita’s Best Cab after the 30-minute review.

Some of the proposed changes include customer service training and event updates through Go Wichita, which has agreed to provide the services for free. Other proposed changes include the end of smoking in cabs and a requirement that drivers wear shirts.

“I think it’s a big benefit for my drivers,” Armbrust said. “Letting them know what’s going on in town will help.”

There are about 165 licensed cab drivers driving for three Wichita firms — ABC, Best and American Cabs.

Council member Michael O’Donnell wondered out loud if the city could “create more competition in the market.”

“We’re believers in the free market system,” Layton said, “so we’re hoping new regulations and the fare structure will make it easier for (new company) entry.”

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com.

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