Plan to Uncap Minneapolis Taxi Licenses Agitate Cabdrivers

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Roughly 400 fulltime taxi drivers in Minneapolis are vexed with the city’s plan to remove the long-standing cap on taxi licenses. A proposal to add 45 taxicabs each of the following four years has passed city council committee on Wednesday.

Vast majority of current taxi licensees paid at least $25,000 to obtain their licenses from previous owners. The city, which long authorized and even formalized this process, now calls it “a market value fee,” not a city fee.

New owners are required to pay only small city fees to obtain the license.

That agitates current taxi owners profoundly.

“This is a discriminatory plan that aims to destroy our lives,” says Zenebe Tessema, president of Minneapolis Taxi Drivers Association, a union that represents most of the city’s taxi drivers. “Most of us spent their lifetime savings to buy these licenses, and now the city is unfairly issuing them for free to other people. That’s outrageous.”

Majority of the city’s drivers are immigrants from Somalia and Ethiopia, according to Tessema, who’s Ethiopian.

He claims that “devaluating” licenses would mean $10 million in losses for his union. He added that he and other taxi drivers have been attempting to get “free licenses” for years without luck.

Taxi drivers say the new plan gives an unfair edge to novice drivers who may not effectively capitalize on the “free license” opportunity. If the city is to do something like that, they claim to be in best position

Councilmember Paul Ostrow, who is the lead author of the bill, says the purpose is not to punish any group of people, but to level the playing ground for everyone.

“Limiting taxicabs is essentially not a good idea,” he said, “And certainly not with a [$25,000] barrier.”

“Taxi drivers have been effectively lobbying the city for years, sometime using scare tactics.” he added.

Asked if the city is willing to compensate cabdrivers who paid the so-called market value, Ostrow said it’s not the city’s role to do that.

The full city council is expected to vote on the issue this Friday.

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