Taxis an issue at city-UF meeting
Students say they are overcharged by taxis while the taxi companies say they aren't treated well by students.
Published: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at 11:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at 11:31 p.m.
Ben Meyers, the president of the University of Florida's Student Senate, looked a bit disappointed when he looked at the audience.
It seemed, Meyers said, a few senators had not gotten the memo about meeting with Gainesville city commissioners before their regular meeting Tuesday night in the Reitz Union.
Ironically, one of the topics Meyers wanted to discuss with the city leaders was voter apathy among students.
Alex Cornillie, Student Government's press secretary, encouraged senators to get involved with the Chomp the Vote organization, which promotes voter registration on campus, in the weeks leading up to Gainesville's spring elections on March 15.
"We are residents here," Cornillie said. "It is our responsibility to take an active part in the governance of the city in which we live."
Meyers also wanted to use the meeting between the two bodies — which used to be an annual event, but in recent years had fallen by the wayside — to discuss what is seen as an injustice among student leaders: taxi drivers overcharging students.
"I think this problem is close to getting solved," Meyers said, noting an undercover police operation last year that caught 11 of 19 taxi drivers charging flat rates when they should have been running meters, according to city ordinance.
But representatives from several taxi companies showed up to give their side.
Gloria Johnson, a driver with Continental Cab, which was not cited in the sting, said drivers do plenty of good and, in turn, aren't always treated well by students.
Johnson said there have been cases when a number of fraternity members were getting rides and when they got to their destination, they would jump out of the cab without paying.
"They don't tell you that part," she said to Commissioner Jeanna Mastrodicasa, an assistant vice president for student affairs at the university.
Mike Ross, the owner of Bestway Cab, which was cited, said while the city does allow for some flat rates to be charged, it's best to write down the driver's name and cab number if you think you've been overcharged.
A senator representing the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences asked the commission about the status of — and need for — the 130-meals-per-day limit at St. Francis House, a soup kitchen on South Main Street.
Mastrodicasa and other commissioners gave their standard answers: St. Francis House applied for and received a 130-meal permit and is in the process of submitting a new petition to the city that would let it serve more people. They said it is in place to prevent a disproportionate number of homeless from settling downtown.
Sean Larson, a recent UF graduate and a member of the Coalition to End the Meal Limit Now, said the city and county's forthcoming one-stop center for the homeless will be able to feed up to 500 people daily, so there is clearly a need.
Further, Larson, said the City Commission could not "ethically justify" using a meal limit to keep the homeless population spread out.
After the meeting, Mastrodicasa said she was "optimistic that there are options" to resolve the issue, but it might take homeless advocates working with churches and others in the city to get it done.
"It's just not easy," she said.
Contact Chad Smith at 338-3104 or firstname.lastname@example.org.