Jan. 29, 2004 – Is it legal for the Licensing and Consumer Affairs Department to lease taxi medallions? No, says a senator. Yes, says the head of the department.
There is nothing in the V.I. Code that says the department can do so, Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. said in a letter to Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Andrew Rutnik. There also is nothing in the code that says it cannot, Rutnik said in response.
The matter surfaced Thursday when White wrote Rutnik saying it had come to his attention that DCLA's Taxicab Division was "leasing taxi medallions to certain business entities that are operating as taxi operators or tour operators."
White said he had the Legislature's legal counsel research the matter, and "there is no statutory provision which we can point to which authorizes your department to lease taxi medallions to any entity." Further, he said, the practice "frustrates the entire purpose of the creation of the taxi medallion concept."
Rutnik said on Thursday that his agency is not in the business of issuing medallions. "We lease two per year to veterans, as per the law," he said. Other than those, medallions are awarded by the V.I. Taxi Commission.
However, Rutnik said, a special, and compelling, need for additional medallions recently arose.
"The Taxi Division was approached about getting medallions for owners of vehicles which are capable of carrying handicapped persons," Rutnik said. "The cruise ship representatives asked the V.I. Taxi Association, the main taxi franchisee, and they said they weren't interested."
Rutnik also said that Dial-A-Ride had been called several times to the Crown Bay dock on St. Thomas but that its services aren't always available.
"We thought it was urgent that the ships have access to vehicles which could support their passengers," he said. "We found a company called Accessible Adventures which has the appropriate vehicles."
"We had our legal counsel research whether we could supply medallions to this company," Rutnik continued, "and he said there is nothing in the law which says our department can — and nothing saying it can't."
Willis Pinney of AAA Taxi provides the drivers and Accessible Adventures supplies the vehicles, Rutnik said, and the arrangement is consistent with provisions of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Pinney said the system has been in operation for about a year.
"We are not contemplating issuing any more medallions," Rutnik said, adding that a moratorium in place prohibits their issuance.
White also challenged Rutnik on a public statement by the commissioner that medallions his department had to award were those that had been "lost or stolen." Rutnik said he "misspoke" in that instance and that he will respond to White's letter in writing.
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