Baker City residents calling for a taxi cab ride are likely to end up listening to a recorded message about the number being out of service.
None of the city’s licensed cab companies is operating.
“We’ve always had, in my time here, one or two different taxi companies. And I don’t know why we don’t,” City Manager Fred Warner Jr. said.
“I don’t know that we’ve ever had this problem before,” said Robin Nudd, the city’s Human Resources and Community Development Director.
The taxi cab company most recently licensed by the city, Polar Bear Express, announced recently on Facebook that it was closing.
The owners for other licensed firms, A-1 Taxi and Eagle Cab, could not be contacted for a comment.
The city approved A-1’s license in May 2018, and granted Eagle Cab a license in February 2019.
Neither Warner nor Nudd knows why the cab companies closed.
The City Council has the authority to set taxi fares, and over the decades cab companies have occasionally asked the Council to increase fares to compensate for such things as higher gas prices.
Warner said none of the currently licensed companies contacted him to ask about raising fares.
“I think if that was the case, somebody would have contacted the city and said ‘we need to charge more’ and the Council would have looked at it,” Warner said.
Warner said that although the city regulates cab companies through an ordinance, company owners do not have to contact the city if they close.
The city’s taxi ordinance does state that if a licensed taxi business ceases service “for a period of ten consecutive days without obtaining permission for cessation of the operation from the City Manager, all licenses held by the person shall be automatically canceled and may be re-issued only in accordance with this chapter.”
“We can suspend them but once they’re licensed, it’s their business to run,” Warner said. “They never tell us when they leave or they very seldom do. And they’ve come and gone over the years.”
He said he will inform the City Council about the lack of taxis in town in a future meeting.
Councilors meet Tuesday at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 1655 First St.
“There’s a real need for taxi services in Baker,” Warner said. “There’s a lot of people that don’t have cars.”
When a business owner applies for a taxi license, the Baker City Police Department does a background check, ensuring, among other things, that taxis have sufficient insurance.
The taxi ordinance limits the number of licensed cabs to no more than once for each 1,500 residents as of the most recent census.
Based on the city’s population of 9,828 in the 2010 Census, there can be no more than six licensed taxis.
The city can also issue temporary taxi licenses that last no more than one week.
Community Connection of Baker County operates a trolley, but unlike taxis, which pick up passengers on demand, the Baker City Trolley operates on a fixed schedule and routes.
Trolley schedules are available at ccno.org/publictransit/baker-city-trolley-fixed-route/
Warner said he has not been approached by anyone interested in having Uber or Lyft ride-hailing services operate in Baker City. These companies generally run in cities with populations larger than Baker City’s.
“I’m assuming we would allow Uber in if they wanted to come,” said Warner. “I don’t know if Uber is in towns like us.”
Ultimately the matter would be one for the City Council to consider, he said.
The city’s existing ordinance, last modified in 2006, doesn’t specifically address the ride-hailing services.
The ordinance defines a taxi as “Every self-propelled vehicle operating over the streets and alleys of the town, hauling or transporting one or more persons for compensation, except cars for rent without drivers, or vehicles operating over a fixed and definite route.”
Warner said a local resident has talked with him about the possibility of starting a cab company, but the city does not have an application pending for a new license.