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Shabby taxis targeted by proposed age limits

In a move to weed out shabby cabs, city officials may impose age restrictions on all taxis.

Cab operators will meet today with Common Council members to review a proposed law, and the issue already is getting reviews within the industry.

Critics have long complained about the condition of some taxis, calling them "rat traps."

A Council member who heads a taxi task force has filed legislation that would phase in age restrictions for all taxis and liveries.

If it is approved, no cabs older than 15 years would be allowed on city streets beginning May 1. Starting in May 2008, all taxis would have to be no more than 12 years old. By spring of 2009, all cabs would have to be no older than 10 years.

The law still must be approved by the Common Council and the mayor.

North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. acknowledged that all taxis must pass inspections before they're put on the road. He said his proposed restriction isn't as much about safety as it is about aesthetics and preventing the city's image from being tarnished.

"When people come to Buffalo, sometimes the first thing they see is a taxicab," he said.

Golombek directed Council staffers to research taxi regulations in other cities. They found that Toronto, New York City, Chicago, Houston and some other municipalities imposed maximum age restrictions on taxis that ranged from five years to 10 years.

The owner of Liberty/Yellow Cab of Buffalo, the city's largest locally owned taxi service, supports Golombek's plan. Bill Yuhnke has been highlighting problems involving the conditions of some taxis for years.

"It's a long time in coming and will add more class to the city," Yuhnke said of the new regulations.

Yuhnke added that the phased-in approach is fair, because it will put less of a burden on smaller independent operators.

Many insurance companies already impose age restrictions on taxis for operators to receive coverage, Yuhnke said. But some insurers are more lenient, and he said it's not uncommon to see cabs on city streets that are at least 10 years old.

Patricia Tully, operator of an independent cab company, thinks the proposed law is unfair. She said that while her lone vehicle is 11 years old, it's in great condition.

"If a cab is shabby -- rusted out and stuff -- it's different. But we have a Lincoln Town Car that is in excellent shape," she said.

The economics of the local cab industry will make it tough for many operators to update vehicles, Tully argued. Most of her fares are collected from people patronizing downtown venues.

"We don't make enough downtown to replace anything," she said.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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