Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday night unanimously approved a taxicab license for a Lawrence bus company over objections from representatives of the city's only operating taxi service.
The approval gives Chris Ogle, owner and general manager of the Lawrence Bus Co., the green light to start a second taxi service in the city.
The license is subject to a condition that Ogle give the city registration, make, models, weight and other specifics of the vehicles he plans to use for the taxi service.
Although representatives of A-1 City Cab, the city's only taxi company objected to approving the license, commissioners and several residents who spoke at the meeting said increased competition would improve taxi services in the city.
"I can't imagine, where competition is prohibited, it serves the public better," said local resident Charles Blue. He said he has had several bad experiences with A-1. "By all means, allow another cab company to make a run at it."
Paul Shackelford, A-1 owner, told commissioners that the company has had some problems with individual drivers, but that it has worked to address them. He said that overall, the company is serving the needs of the community well.
BARBARA Bishop, a member of the citizen's advisory committee to the city's transportation consulting firm, said that although the bus company primarily serves Kansas University students, "We do support the inclusion of as much public transportation as possible in the city."
"The overwhelming majority of the people who responded urged us to grant the license," Mayor Bob Schulte said.
David Berkowitz, attorney for A-1, said Lawrence residents actually will lose some taxi services if the license is granted because A-1 would lose money and would be forced to cut services.
"This will not give the public another carrier," he said, adding that the Lawrence Bus Co. would aim its taxi services toward KU students.
Ogle applied for the license because he is seeking the contract for KU's "Safe Ride" program.
The program, sponsored by Student Senate, provides students a cab ride from anywhere in Lawrence to their home free of charge.
However, Ogle said he also planned to used the new taxi service to provide rides for some Lawrence residents.
"I THINK THE public comment pretty much sums up current disatisfaction with the current service," he said. "I'm not here to sling mud. I still support A-1," he said.
"I'm not applying for this license to put A-1 out of business," Ogle said. "I'm just asking for a chance to prove I can do a good job."
He said that competition traditionally forces existing businesses to provide better service.
A-1 has contracted with the Student Senate for the Safe Ride program during the last three years.
KU Student Body President Brad Garlinghouse said the Senate has experienced some problems with A-1. He also told commissioners that this year, the Senate wanted cheaper rates for the service and wanted bidding to be competitive.
The contract will be awarded to either A-1, the Lawrence Bus Co. or a Topeka transportation firm later in the summer, Garlinghouse said.
KU PAYS $35,000 to $50,000 per year for the safe ride contract, said David Hardy, associate director of organizations and activities and adviser to the student transportation board.
The KU transportation board also operates the university's bus service on a budget of more than $800,000, Hardy said. The Lawrence Bus Co. is the contractor for the bus service.
"That (Safe Ride) contract is the difference between A-1 cab company making a profit or taking a loss," Berkowitz said.
Two taxicab services have not operated in the city since 1988.