A year after the Hermiston City Council voted to open up taxi service in the city to competition, Hermiston is down to one taxi company again.
The phone number for Hermiston Transit Services was disconnected about a month ago, and a message returned via the company’s Facebook page confirmed they are no longer in service.
Umatilla Cab Company, the other service picking up riders in Hermiston since the city did away with Hermiston Transit’s exclusive franchise, has seen its call volume shoot up in the last few weeks, owner Sundi Marquez said.
“It’s a little bit overwhelming,” she said.
The company is working on adding more drivers and cars to its six-person staff to handle the increased client load, but Marquez said hiring qualified drivers and putting them through the city’s background check process takes time. People in the meantime might have to wait longer than they’re used to for a cab.
“We appreciate the patience while we iron out the wrinkles,” she said.
She said calling ahead to arrange rides instead of saying “I have a doctor’s appointment in 15 minutes” helps. She also said contrary to rumor, Hermiston Transit has not combined with Umatilla Cab Company, so she doesn’t have any answers for the people who have called to ask why Hermiston Transit’s dispatch line no longer works.
Assistant city manager Mark Morgan said Hermiston Transit Services still has a license from the city to operate, so if the business is no longer taking calls, it is a decision on their end.
In October, however, the city revoked Hermiston Transit’s contract for the senior and disabled ride program. The program allows senior and disabled residents to purchase one-way ride tickets for $2 apiece, which cab companies can redeem at city hall for $6.15.
City staff at the time said Hermiston Transit broke the contract by giving a client a ride in a vehicle without proper insurance, while the cab company’s staff contended the ride was a personal favor and no ticket changed hands.
Morgan said after that incident, Hermiston Transit continued to offer longtime senior and disabled clients a $2 ride on its own dime, which caused a “significant” drop in the amount of money the city was spending to subsidize the senior and disabled ride program, still running through Umatilla Cab Company.
Taxi companies in larger cities are increasingly seeing competition from ride-sharing companies such as Uber, which uses an app to connect people needing rides with nearby drivers willing to use their own car to pick someone up in exchange for payment.
Morgan said the city hasn’t heard of anyone acting as an Uber driver in the city, but if they did they would either need to get a license from the city as their own cab company or Uber would need to obtain a license with the city. Either way, qualifying for a city taxi license requires a guarantee of being available to give rides at least 18 hours each day.
“I don’t think (the licensing rules) would preclude them from driving,” he said, “but I think in practice it wouldn’t work out.”