There is concern among established taxi companies in Vineyard Haven as a new company looks to enter the market.
The Tisbury Select Board decided to delay a decision on whether to award a new license this week, while they determine what happened to a sixth and final license that cabbies claim was retired after the holder died in 2017.
Tisbury currently has five operational taxi licenses. The sole taxi stand in town is at the Steamship Authority Terminal, where five parking spots are available. This was decreased from nine spots in 2020, when the nearby sidewalk was widened.
Longtime Vineyard residents and drivers Anthony Harpaul and Jovian Taylor were before the board Wednesday looking to secure a possible sixth Tisbury license for their Island Sharks Taxi company.
Several commenters who knew Harpaul and Taylor spoke positively of their knowledge and experience as drivers, and of their personal characters.
But the hearing took a turn when Martha’s Vineyard Taxi owner Peter Bradford stated that Tisbury had retired its sixth taxi license, after previous holder Ira Yaffee of AAA Taxi died back in 2017.
“At the time, it was frustrating for me because I was trying to get into the business just like these folks are,” Bradford said.
All-Star Tours and Transportation’s Jeffrey Corr said that he also asked about the license after Yaffee’s death. He added that when that license was retired, Tisbury allowed each of the five companies to put more cabs on the road.
Bradford also was concerned about oversaturation in the industry, saying that a sixth company would strain the already tight parking situation for cabs in Tisbury.
“I ask that the board deny the license,” said Bradford, “not because of the character of the applicants, but to protect the existing businesses and because there’s really not enough room to fit another cab. There are actually up to 40 cabs licensed in Vineyard Haven right now, and there are only five parking spots.”
Erik Hammarlund, Harpaul’s and Taylor’s attorney, called out Bradford for trying to limit potential competition.
“I think the argument that he’s making is they’re entitled to whatever market share they have…that they’re entitled to believe that they essentially own a parking spot [at] the Steamship for their company, and that they shouldn’t have to compete with it for somebody else,” Hammarlund said.
Stagecoach Taxi’s Melaney West told the board that if Tisbury wanted to add a license, they should better involve companies and others who might be affected. West said that a more formal process should be a prerequisite for granting the sixth license.
“If the town has decided to go back to a six-license town…there needs to be a new process and a new set of protocols in place so that everyone understands if there’s a new sixth license available.”
The board did not confirm at the meeting whether a sixth license is available, and board chair Roy Cutrer suggested searching past Select Board minutes. Cutrer also wanted to find out any reasons for official changes after Yaffee’s death.
“I would like to investigate what the intention was of the Select Board at that time. I don’t feel that I’d be making the right decision for everyone involved if I did not go back and look at what their intentions were. If they did in fact dissolve that license…then I don’t think that license still exists. And without that information, I’m not willing to vote in the affirmative,” Cutrer said.
Cutrer also suggested that if Tisbury assigned a new license, it would do so by lottery, to be fairer to those who sought a license in the past.
“I couldn’t disagree more,” Hammarlund responded. “If the license turns out to exist, [Harpaul and Taylor] should get the license…everybody else has had an opportunity to be here before you and submit a license. I don’t know why they haven’t.”
The license hearing will continue on February 7 at 4:35PM.