Drivers voiced their concerns at the Board of Alderman meeting last week about how the Safe Ride Home initiative would affect their business and local taxi drivers were wary of the initiative.
Per the Safe Ride Home initiative, vehicle for hire drivers are being directed to two designated pickup areas: the City Parking Garage and 14th Street. They were chosen for being well lit, secure areas spacious enough to accommodate a queue of vehicles. Each area was chosen with the goals of the initiative in mind: reducing congestion, creating foot traffic focused downtown area and providing safer pickup locations for riders.
The taxi drivers around Oxford lack access to the same technology Uber or Lyft has. They depend on walk-ups and word of mouth for customers.
In Oxford, taxi drivers are required to follow rules and regulations, including cameras in their vehicles, while Uber and Lyft have little to no regulation.
“I would much rather ride with friends than in an Uber or Lyft because I feel safer and you do not know who the driver is,” Mallory Moffett, a senior biomedical engineering major, said, “Sometimes they can be odd and make you feel uncomfortable.”
In Oxford, taxi drivers are required to have a business license and permit from the city and possess a Mississippi commercial “class D” drivers license. Taxicabs must permanently display a rate card and a sign that states, “Driver is required to offer a receipt at the conclusion of each trip.”
Taxi vehicles are also required to have an annual vehicle inspection by a licensed automobile repair business at the driver’s expense. Uber and Lyft do not require anything other than being 21 years of age, a background check, vehicle insurance and a four door vehicle.
“This is Oxford, Mississippi. This town is unique. We are one of the few towns in America where people still use taxis. If this comes into play, for our businesses, it’s just a matter of time,” Alfonso Jordan, the owner of Zoe’s taxi, said at the meeting.
The taxi drivers have struggled in the pandemic following the decline of drivers in the city over the past few years.
“We started off with 20 taxi companies when I started, and now we’re down to nine or 10,” Jordan said.
Uber and Lyft struggle with drivers taking an extended pause and passengers no longer using the app. Now both are facing a supply shortage as previous customers and newly vaccinated customers start to use the apps more. This shortage of drivers and surplus of passengers has caused increased wait times and higher fares.
The pandemic has shifted the focus of many drivers to food delivery services. Fetcht is a local delivery company in Oxford that has created many jobs for drivers who would rather have contactless interactions with customers.
“Fetcht is a family. You’re not going to run into situations with Uber or other services where someone isn’t on the other end to help,” Austin Green, a senior integrated marketing communications major and Fetcht driver, said. “It is comforting to know we have a dispatcher right on the square to help at any time we are open.”
Most students prefer to be picked up by a friend for free on the Square rather than pay the increased ride fares or walk to a designated area.
“I would rather get a friend to drive me home, because it is cheaper and more convenient for me,” Lili Hansen, a senior marketing major, said.
The Board of Alderman will vote on the initiative at their next meeting in one week.