Licensing, Complying, Applying, Red Tape... Great Gooba-Jooba!  - an essay – Fred Stock

            We have spent many an hour with folks starting up either a taxi service, or an installation service for taxicabs. There are regulatory and practical considerations to be explored in either case.

            Let’s start with the taxi company starting into business. “I have a couple of good clean used cars, and this area needs a taxi service. I’m thinking about being that company.” A worthy goal, and one which can become a solid, gainful and productive calling if done properly. Start with the paperwork.


            Regulations and requirements differ in different places. We will allude to the most complex generally encountered. You may find some of the items mentioned are not required in your area but in must, they apply. Don’t assume the competition is doing things properly. Just because the lad in the smoking rattle-mobile who doesn’t use a meter and charges whatever he wants, is doing business, don’t feel you need not jump through the hoops to get YOUR business right. Your entry into the field may actually cause him to clean up his act, or perhaps quit working entirely.


            In some areas, generally major cities with thousands of cabs, there is a system called Medallions. You purchase a spot on the roster of cab operators by possessing a medallion. It can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, and the number available is limited. Sometimes you have to wait until one comes available through attrition of some sort. The medallion gives your business value even if the car crashes and the operators all quit. There are nearly always people waiting in line for medallions. This system is not normally found in smaller cities or towns.


            There is an agency of our government called the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). That body sets forth the rules for manufacturing and operating taximeters amongst all the other things sold by some unit of measure… pounds, gallons, kilowatt-hours, and in our industry, miles (or Km in metric areas as in Canada.) The rules generally say, “ if you are selling anything by a unit of measure, the unit must be verified by an instrument traceable back to a national standard.” This paraphrase takes us directly to a taximeter in our endeavors. That’s your proper measuring tool.

  
          The NIST rules are generally copied by the states, and the enforcement of the rules usually falls to the county or parish  governments. They have a Department of Weights and Measures (W&M) (not necessarily the exact name in your area, but essentially the same everywhere in our country. The NIST dictates the way a meter is made, and how it is to work (firmware) inside. All meters sold in the USA are type approved before they are distributed here. Canadian law apparently varies in this regard, but if a meter passes U.S. “type approval”, you will generally find it passes whatever inspections are required in your part of Canada as well. You can get the correct information from “code enforcement” in your local government.


            Most areas of our nation and our neighbor Canada are regulated in one way or another as to the taxi vehicle and its use. In some areas you need to call the county or city and get a business license, and that’s all. Most also have a set of rules which apply to taxi operators, such as inspections required for the vehicle, and drug and criminal checks (and sometimes additional requirements) for the operators themselves.


            Here’s what to do. 1) Call the city, county, parish or regulatory body in your area. Ask about regulations on taxi cabs and cab drivers. 2) Look in your phone book under county or state government listings for Department of Weights and Measures or Division of Measurement Standards. If you cannot find them, check the inspection stickers often found on gasoline pumps, weigh scales in the produce department in the market, or the approval sticker on the market’s integrated scale and cash register system. The department’s name will be on the stickers, in the terms used in your area. Then return to the front of the phone book. Ask these folks what is required in your area. 3) Inquire about a business license requirement with your county or city. 4) Check with your police department about criminal background check usually required for you and your drivers. Also expect a drug test now required in most areas. 5) Finally, ask about state (or local) regulations regarding insurance for the taxi and/or the company.

 
           Some city or other regulatory agencies require specific equipment, such as taxi toplight signs with amber or green markers which are lighted to mean the status of the taximeter, or to signal a panic situation (Cops stop the cab with pistols drawn.) Some agencies even require a top sign with a small panel at the top reading VACANT when the cab is available for flagging. Before you start buying meters and toplights, be sure to know what’s needed in your area.


            Taximeters have firmware in their internal computer which meet and usually exceed the requirements of the governments. These are then programmed with the rates you will charge your clients. We can set these into your meter before we ship it to you. You will need to contact the local authorities to get the required rates if they exist, or you will need to establish the rates your company will use. If you receive no guidance from the authorities, you can check with other companies in your area for their rates, or you can check this website under “TYPICAL METER RATES” for samples of rates in communities the same approximate populations. Then set your own standards.


            The meter will require the following data:


                        Flag Drop: (turn on fee, pick-up fee, get-in charge) The amount of money which immediately appears on the screen when you turn on (HIRE) the meter. Every trip will make this amount of money, plus. For this amount, the client will be carried a specific distance such as 1/10 mile.  It is usually the same amount of distance as later calculations (below) but it can be set for any specific distance you specify.

                        Per Mile Rate: The amount of money you will charge per mile. The mile is broken into fractions such as tenths of a mile or eights of a mile.  If, for example, you want to charge two dollars per mile, it can be broken into 20-cent bites charged every tenth of a mile (There are ten 20’s in 200.) It could also be broken into eights and charged at 25-cents (There are eight quarters in two dollars.) It could even be broken up into 50-cent pieces charged every quarter mile. Any of these will produce two-dollars every mile. We need to tell the meter how you will charge your fares.
                        Waiting Time: The federal law requires the meter to charge “waiting time” whenever you are going less than 12 miles per hour (apprx).  This kicks in at signals and operates when you are waiting for a client to finish shopping. You can turn this feature off by pressing a button on the meter marked “time off” or “time”. It is usually specified in cents-per-minute or dollars-per-hour.
                        Extras: Meters have a button marked “Extras” which will charge a pre-set amount each time the button is pressed. This is used to add extra charges for things like extra baggage, extra stops, extra passengers. It can also be used to account for recurring fees like toll bridge coins, toll highway charges or airport parking fees. This charge is specified by the programmer (us) and used by the operator of the cab. If he/she doesn’t press the “Extras” button the charge never shows up. (We also can limit the number of times the button can be pressed, “to protect the public from being overcharged by unscrupulous operators.” It is normally set very high but can be set for any value.)

            You will need to decide what values will be used for these functions. The TYPICAL METER RATES chart may help you decide. Also, these rates are not set into cast iron molds. They can all be changed later if necessary.


            We offer complete installation instructions for your use for a fee, so you can actually install your own meter and toplight properly, then take it to W&M for inspection and certification (sealing). They contain wiring techniques, diagrams, color codes of wires, locations and notes about laying in the cables, plus complete programming and calibration instructions for your exact make model and year of vehicle, and your exact meter make and model. You can get more data at our homepage on this website.

 
           We trust this helps you get started. Transportation can be a rewarding and pleasant occupation if you keep everything above boards, the car clean, the drivers tidy and the customers happy.


NOW LET’S TALK ABOUT PROFESSIONAL METER SHOPS:


            A meter shop is not a lot different than a company that installs stereos or two way radios, except for complying with the laws about meters. These notes are general in scope and you should contact local authorities for exact regional requirements.  I’ll mention a few differences below.


. . . . . . A meter is considered a “measuring instrument” by the authorities. Weights and Measures Department (W&M) usually requires a license for adjusting and sealing such devices, issued by the state, administered by the county. You must contact W&M to ascertain the exact needs in your area. In California, our company is licensed as a meter shop for our area. We have an Agency Registration which costs us a couple of hundred dollars a year. Each technician on staff has his own license as well. His license is good for five years in California, and is obtained through a test given at the county level. Those license numbers are listed on our agency certificate.


. . . . . . As a taximeter is worked on in our shop, we record information about the car (License Plate, VIN number, Taxi Number, Meter Serial Number, MDT number if there is one of those in the vehicle, Taxi Company and Driver, and all the work we accomplish. If we seal the meter after repair and recalibration, we report the seal serial number to W&M and our local regulator (as a courtesy) as well. Our work can be checked by W&M at any time.


. . . . . .
A meter shop needs to keep detailed records of each job for future reference. A set of notes on each make model and year car they do will make future jobs on the same model car or van much easier. Since each vehicle is different, a good set of records is invaluable.

. . . . . . A meter shop needs a nearby measured mile. This is used in calibration of the meter after installation, or to calibrate meters after repair. We have a mile laid out just up the black and we donned a hardhat and actually measured the mile with a 500-ft tape. We marked the beginning and end with paint marks. We have never had a meter calibrated on this “track” fail a test. You can sometimes find accurate miles marked on state, U.S. or interstate highways.  You cannot count on the odometer of your car – they vary greatly – and they are not considered legal as “standards”. If your W&M has a measured mile they use to check meters, you can use that as a standard because they have measured out an accurate 5280-ft mile.


. . . . . . We also offer a set of aids for Professional Meter Shops for a fee
. They include a CD of spreadsheets which are invaluable in programming meters, and figuring rate structures. There is a booklet of Troubleshooting Tips for shop operators. There also is a complete set of meter programming and calibration instructions for five Pulsar models, four Centrodyne models, Argo model 1144 and calibration instructions for each. The kit includes programming tools where required, meter system diagrams, lots of necessary information.
If you are considering instituting an outfitting shop, feel free to call us to discuss your venture. We’ll help where we can. –Fred Stock 3/22/11