Annapolis taxi drivers are trying to sort out what a new set of city rules means for them, including requirements that they wear uniforms and use hands-free devices when placing or taking calls.
After hearing from a task force that studied taxi rules, the city council unanimously approved the changes at a meeting last week. In addition, taxi fare rates were increased by 20 cents a mile.
"We realized we just wanted a neat cabdriver," said Alderwoman Classie Gillis Hoyle, who sponsored the changes with council members Cynthia Carter and George O. Kelley Sr.
Some of the drivers don't like the new requirements.
"I'm against the uniform. It is too much of a burden on me and my wife," said Amer Aziz. He and his wife are drivers for Annapolis Checker Cab. "We would have to get four or five shirts a week, and we're used to casual dress anyway."
Ricky Blair, a fellow Annapolis Checker driver, agreed. "The rate increase the city gave us is barely enough to cover gas, plus we have to pay for maintenance of our vehicles and radio fees to the company, and now they want us to buy some uniforms?" he said. "At the end of the day there's nothing left."
Other drivers were more receptive.
"A lot of people just wear undershirts, or come in looking any kind of way, and that's not professional," said Clarence Johnson, a driver for Annapolis Cab Co.
The changes were set in motion when cab companies in the state capitol began pushing the city to let them raise their rates, Hoyle said.
Responding to feedback from riders, she and other council members agreed to discuss fares and rules with cab company owners, drivers and riders. The resulting task force met over a four-month period.
Elaine Wagner, general manager of Annapolis Yellow Cab, said some cab owners and drivers are confused about what the changes mean.
She said task force meetings were poorly publicized, leaving industry representatives in the dark.
"We had no clue they voted on it and passed it until we read it in the paper," she said, referring to Monday night's vote. The changes took effect Tuesday.
One change requires all city taxi drivers to wear uniforms or some sort of "standard attire that displays the cab company's name or logo."
The new regulations also require drivers to use hands-free devices for calls - their two-way radios are exempt - and to keep their dome lights on except when en route to get a passenger or when transporting one.
Another rule would limit to 25 the number of taxicab owner's permits issued to independent operators.
City and tourism officials said the changes are not drastic and that the city's image is important.
"Sometimes a tourist's first exposure to the city is meeting a taxi driver," said Connie Del Signore, president and chief executive officer of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference & Visitors Bureau.
Security and safety are also concerns, said Danielle Matlan, the city's transportation director.
"A person approaching that vehicle should be able to identify that the driver is an authorized employee of that company," she said.
Some cabdrivers questioned how aggressively the city would enforce the rules.
"I don't have any real complaints with the new regulations, really. The phones and uniforms are a good idea," said Robert Matthews, who co-owns Annapolis Cab Co. with his wife, Callie.
"But you got other problems. ... You got drivers riding around with buddies in their car while they working," said Matthews. "It's not enforced."
Callie Matthews agreed, saying, "The general opinion is that here's another rule being passed, but everyone knows its not going to be enforced."
Matlan said, "We'll enforce [the new law] the same way we've enforced previous rules. The drivers get a warning if they're caught the first time. The second time there's a hearing and they can get their license revoked, but it very rarely comes to that. They're a very law-abiding group."
Hoyle said the new regulations could be adjusted.
"I am sure that as we work with our drivers and riders, we will keep coming back to the table and we may amend the rules," she said. "I would be the first to accommodate them."
To view the changes, visit: www.ci.annapolis.md.us/upload/images/gov ernment/council/Adopted/O0705.pdf