Hutchinson council OKs new taxi service
Despite opposition from two other existing taxi services in Hutchinson, the Hutchinson City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved issuing a “certificate of convenience and necessity” for a new service in town.
Samantha Ratley, operating as Axel’s Taxi, plans to operate two Yellow cabs, running 24/7.
Ratley noted in her application that she previously drove a vehicle for TECH and also worked for Hutch Taxi.
Councilman Jon Daveline initiated the discussion, noting he is “a strong proponent of free enterprise.” He questioned how the council was supposed to determine the right number of taxi services for the community and noted the city’s regulations don’t give clear direction on how the council is to evaluate a service.
Councilwoman Jade Piros de Carvalho suggested customers will weed out companies that don’t offer an adequate level of service, rather than asking applicants to “jump through all the hoops.”
Vice Mayor Sara Bagwell said she gets calls “on a regular basis that the level of taxi service is not great, below satisfactory,” so she welcomed new competition.
The city code requires an initial inspection of cabs by city staff, but not an annual inspection to retain an operating certificate, something that City Clerk Karen Weltmer, who is responsible for the process, suggested the city look at.
Weltmer advised the council that she sent notice of Tuesday’s public hearing on the application to four companies that had previously been issued certificates to operate. One, to Helping Hands, came back as undeliverable, while a second company, Hutch Rides, previously allowed its certificate to expire and also did not respond.
The owners of Hutch Taxi and Roadrunner did show up and asked the council not to issue a certificate.
Jeanette Chambers, of Hutch Taxi, advised the council that Ratley’s husband, Nicholas Ratley worked for her for three months, and during that time, she claimed, he was distributing flyers promoting his wife’s proposed service.
“He signed a non-compete clause, and I’m taking him to court May 28,” Chambers said. “He can’t compete while he’s working for me and he can’t work for another company.”
Piros de Carvalho commented that a previous court decision against Jimmy John’s found that “low-wage employees are not subject to a non-compete, so I’m not sure that will hold up.” She also said the council was “not an appropriate place for us to mediate these disputes.”
Roadrunner Taxi owner Michael Hill noted two Lyft and three Uber drivers, some of whom don’t live in the county, operate in Hutchinson. None are subject to the city’s code. That, Hill said, is creating unfair competition.
The COVID-19 pandemic, Hill said, nearly shut down his company, which has operated in Hutchinson for 24 years.
“I’ve never asked the city council not to consider doing anything available to every citizen in the community, but I have to have reservations in this particular case,” he said. “It’s been a struggle, a very hard struggle, to maintain in the local community. The business isn’t out there.”
Hill also complained Ratley is “plastering signs all over town” about her service even though the city hasn't authorized its operation.
“You have to do what’s been set out in the bylaws,” Hill said. “When you start off breaking those in the beginning, how far will you go?”
Nicholas Ratley, however, said he was told they were allowed to advertise in advance of the business being approved.
“I’m here to help my wife and help her family,” he said. “We get calls every day we have to deny because we can’t run until we get approval… The city has needs way above what is being provided.”