MYRTLE BEACH — A man is leaving his hotel in Myrtle Beach and asks the front desk to call a taxicab for him. A few minutes later a 15-passenger van pulls up to take that person to the airport.
According to city law, that is an illegal act, yet members of the taxicab community told the Myrtle Beach City Council on Tuesday that it happens all too often.
“All you have to do is go to Broadway at the Beach and you’ll see the problem,” said Joe Reinhardt of Carolina Limousine.
The City Council is considering an ordinance that would clarify existing law and prohibit limousines from acting as taxicabs.
City code defines a taxicab as a vehicle equipped with a taximeter, top light and proper lettering that seats no more than seven passengers. Taxi drivers are allowed to solicit and accept passengers from one point to another under a fare schedule calculated by a meter.
City code defines limousines as vehicles with a seating capacity of up to 15 passengers driven by a chauffeur for compensation. Vehicles are not allowed to have lettering on the outside and all fares must be prearranged, according to city law. These vehicles apply for LS license plates through the state.
“[City staff] has received a complaint that vehicles that have limousine tags have been operating as taxicabs,” said City Manager Tom Leath.
Charles Moore, manager of Diamond Cab, said a majority of taxicab drivers in the city support clarifying the ordinance.
“We just want cabs to be cabs and limos to be limos,” he said.
Reinhardt said some limousine services pick up small parties in larger vehicles and charge them a flat rate per person instead of an hourly rate, as is done by his company.
“It affects the integrity of our business,” he said.
Council members and members of the taxicab community questioned the ability of the ordinance to be enforced.
Myrtle Beach police Cpl. Bryan Murphy said the way the law stands makes it hard for officers to enforce.
“I’m in favor of doing something to make it a level playing field. The [law] we operate under now is vague,” he said.
Murphy said he would work with city staff to address enforcement concerns.
Strong enforcement of both the current law and the proposed ordinance would mostly impact Anchor Taxi, manager Darryl Keel said at the meeting. Keel said Anchor is a dispatch company that works with both taxicabs and vehicles with LS plates.
“What this is about is competition,” he said. “I thought about this long and hard and it feels like I’m being persecuted for working hard.”
Keel argued that all of his fares are prearranged, with customers contacting Anchor and a dispatcher sending the nearest available vehicle to pick up the customers. He said he thought it was bad business to have customers waiting for a smaller taxicab 30 minutes to be picked up when a larger vehicle was two blocks away.
But council members said that business practice skirted around the law.
“I hear what you’re saying, but at the end of the day you’re still using a limousine to perform the operation of a taxi,” said Councilman Mike Lowder.
The ordinance could come up for a second reading Nov. 13. If passed, it would become effective upon adoption.
Contact reporter MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722 at Twitter.com/TSN_MPrabhu.