Tisbury selectmen discuss taxi regs and ride sharing

Selectmen agreed on the need for a coordinated approach to ride-sharing services and taxi rates.

Board of selectmen's Larry Gomez, left, chairman Melinda Loberg, and Tristan Israel at Tuesday's meeting at the Tisbury Town Hall. — Cameron Machell

Tisbury selectmen met Tuesday and covered a hefty agenda over the course of a three-hour meeting that included a discussion of ride-sharing services and the framework of a draft document outlining town goals and objectives.

Ride-sharing services, which include Uber and Lyft, are also called transportation network companies (TNCs), and how they fit into current taxi regulations raised regional considerations. Walter Vail, Oak Bluffs selectman, and Bill Veno, senior planner for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, also attended the meeting.

“I’m aware that there’s been an effort across the Island to look at taxi regulations as a whole and see if there’s any way to coordinate them better,” chairman Melinda Loberg said.

Speaking about how they have handled TNCs in Oak Bluffs, Mr. Vail said they have been working on revising and streamlining taxi regulations to improve the licensing, enforcement, and overall service of both taxis and ride-sharing services. Mr. Vail also pointed out that as far as TNCs are concerned, Edgartown has allowed them, and the airport is going to begin to allow them, so he advised Tisbury selectmen to put TNCs into their current regulations.

“If we could get just Tisbury and Oak Bluffs to have likeness in regulations, and go at this together, I think we could go a long way to get the rest of the island on board,” Mr. Vail said. “And then I think we could have a taxi service that would be outstanding.”

Tisbury selectman Larry Gomez discussed cab rates and the need for consistency. Mr. Vail suggested a zone-rate structure, which he said Oak Bluffs had been working on. Although the rates are submitted every year, Jessica Burgoyne, executive assistant to Tisbury selectmen, said they haven’t looked at rates since 2008. Selectmen agreed they should look at them immediately. They also agreed about the need to protect the taxi companies, and to enforce fees and licensing regulations on ride-sharing companies.

“Part of the problem is not the cab companies. I think it’s our end,” Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel said.

Mr. Israel called for a meeting to establish a more organized process, that would include companies like Uber and Lyft being subject to fees in order to better protect the companies that are paying for the required licensing.

“My only question is whether or not you agree that the ride-sharing services are operating in violation of the town’s current regulations,” Melanie West, owner of Stagecoach Taxi, told selectmen.

Ms. West said her rates have not increased since 2008, and that she is not allowed to increase rates without authorization from the town. Ms. West told selectmen that ride-sharing services are currently operating at the Steamship Authority terminal and on town property, and have been doing so for two years.

“Morally and ethically, I’m not happy with what’s going on, and I would like us to investigate what we could do as a town,” Mr. Israel said. “I think they should be paying some kind of fee to do business in the town, for starters, which they’re not doing.”

Ms. Loberg said that the selectmen and legal counsel would look at Tisbury’s taxi regulations and rates, and would begin the process of including language and new licensing and regulations for ride-sharing companies. Ms. Loberg also suggested having a public hearing to address the issue. Selectmen voted unanimously to hold a hearing on fees and regulations that would address ride-sharing companies when they meet next on July 19.

“These discussions, from my point of view,” Mr. Israel said, “are not about problems that we’re having with Tisbury cab companies, so I just want to make that clear.”

Revenue flow

The wastewater department and sewer advisory board sought approval for an additional flow for two properties, one at 61 Lagoon Pond Road and another on Beach Road, both of which selectmen unanimously approved.

Mr. Gomez, however, expressed concern over the allotted 330,000 gallons of water for the new proposal to add an additional three bedrooms to the current one-bedroom home at 61 Lagoon Pond Road. Mr. Israel echoed that concern, but Ms. Loberg, along with sewer advisory board members, said that the numbers only appeared big. According to Ms. Loberg in a follow-up email, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) allows 110,000 gallons per year for each bedroom, so the property is in compliance.

There was also concern expressed about the marinas in that area that plan to discharge into the same sewer line.

“All of their flow goes into the sewer system already,” Ms. Loberg said. “They’re accounted for.”

The concern highlighted the prevalence of competing demands for the town of Tisbury, and selectmen agreed that taxpayers have a lot that will be asked of them.

“We’re going to be asked for a lot of money, I mean all of us, because of the elementary school, the high school, and then right behind that, we have a need to protect Tashmoo. So, this is all pretty pressing,” Mr. Israel said. “All these other dollars are going to be competing, and it’s something we really need to be mindful of.”

“We have a lot of competing demands,” Ms. Loberg said.

With that, John “Jay” Grande, town administrator and personnel director, spoke of the goals and objectives of the town, designed as a document that tries to align wider departmental goals into a comprehensive set of specific tasks that can be used as a planning tool to move forward over the next year.

“One thing that troubles me the most about all these goals is nowhere in here did we discuss revenue at all,” Fire Chief John Schilling said. “And I don’t know where that falls, but a lot of this can’t happen without revenue. Is there anybody who has their eyes on revenue growth or enhancement or opportunities within this town? We can put all the maintenance plans together that we want, but if we don’t have the funds to implement them, we’re not able to move forward.”

In other business Tuesday, selectmen approved a new food truck, Mangku, for Main Street; swore in full-time police officers Andrew Silvia and Nikolaj Wojtkielo; and promoted Officer Kindia Roman to sergeant.