What's fare? Taxi drivers speak out about new Lee County regulations

Taxi cabs from MBA Airport Transportation, LLC, line up outside of Southwest Florida International Airport to pick up passengers Tuesday afternoon. Lee County has decided to make background checks on taxi drivers more extensive. Lexey Swall/Staff

Photo by LEXEY SWALL // Buy this photo

Taxi cabs from MBA Airport Transportation, LLC, line up outside of Southwest Florida International Airport to pick up passengers Tuesday afternoon. Lee County has decided to make background checks on taxi drivers more extensive. Lexey Swall/Staff

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The lectern Tuesday Lee County Commission meeting looked like baggage claim at Southwest Florida International Airport during the height of tourism season.

Taxi drivers were lined up, but they weren’t looking to make a fare. They simply wanted the county to hear their concerns.

Lee Commissioners voted 5-0 to adopt an ordinance that says no one who has committed a major crime can operate a taxi cab or limousine.

Several taxi drivers and company owners spoke on the ordinance. Some said it will hurt small business owners. Others said it’s needed to make sure tourists are safe.

“There are enough amendments here to get us on the right track and we can move forward and instruct staff to work with the industry to continue to work on this ordinance,” Commissioner Tammy Hall said.

Commissioners adopted the ordinance but called it a flexible regulation that still needs work. Tuesday’s vote will likely mean a $54 background check for all taxi and limousine drivers and, possibly, additional vehicle inspections by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.

Christina Ibrahim with Island Coast Transportation in Fort Myers said the ordinance will hurt small companies like hers and help big-name operators.

“I don’t want Lee County to price small businesses out of business,” Ibrahim said. “Regulation is only good for big business because it limits competition and creates barriers to entering the industry.”

John Poelker with Apple Transportation and MBA Airport Transportation said the ordinance is needed.

“I’m in favor of this ordinance with regards to background checks.” Poelker said. “We need to know who is driving our tourists around.”

Commissioners said they also want to work with Charlotte and Collier counties to develop a reciprocal approach to background checks, licensing and vehicle inspections. If all three are similar, a taxi driver would only need a background check in one county to work in all three.

Regardless of any ordinance, Ibrahim said, there will still be drivers operating without a valid license, insurance or background check.

“The people who are operating without a license and insurance, they’re not going to comply with this ordinance,” she said.

Lee County sheriff’s deputies are responsible for enforcing the ordinance.

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