City lifts cap on taxi cab licenses

First increase in 11 years will add 90 new cabs by the end of 2007

Citing the need to increase competition and improve customer service, the City Council on Friday voted to approve as many as 45 new taxi cab licenses before the end of the year and add as many as 45 more each year through 2010.

The move ends an 11-year cap on the number of taxis operating in Minneapolis; currently there are 343 cabs serving a population of more than 380,000. Critics argue that adding more cabs will drive some taxi drivers out of business, but proponents believe that there are large segments of the city’s population that are being underserved by the industry and that few of the current cab operators will be hurt by the increased competition.

With a clear majority of the council in favor of lifting the cap, Friday’s debate focused on the timing of the vote and the murkiness of the ordinance. A flurry of amendments accompanied the measure and Council Member Cam Gordon (Ward 2) argued that the council should take two weeks to incorporate the several changes into an ordinance everyone could live with. “I’m reluctant to do that,” he said, “but we need a little more time so we can do it in the best way possible.”

He was backed by Council Member Scott Benson (Ward 11), who wondered why the council was in such a hurry, when it had already decided to lift the cap. “We’ve already voted to remove the cap, so what’s the rush,” he said. “None of this is going to happen until December or February.”

But proponents, including Council Member Paul Ostrow (Ward 1), noted that the council has been studying the matter for more than four months and to postpone the decision at this point would send cab operators the message that “we’re not ready to make a decision on the cap.”

Gordon’s motion to postpone the decision lost on a 6–6 tie vote, and council members began trotting out a series of amendments that clarified issues ranging from cab access for the disabled to the percentage of the new cabs that had to be fuel-efficient. The council rejected amendments from President Barbara Johnson (Ward 4) to require an economic impact study prior to issuing any new licenses, as well as Gordon’s bid to require 50 percent of all newly licensed cabs to be fuel efficient.

The final vote was 8–4, with Ostrow, Diane Hofstede, Don Samuels, Robert Lilligren, Lisa Goodman, Gary Schiff, Ralph Remington, and Betsy Hodges voting in favor and Elizabeth Glidden joining Gordon, Benson, and Johnson in opposition.

last revised: July 25, 2007