Taxi can’t hail council support for parking

POULSBO — Parking problems that have plagued downtown Poulsbo for years took precedence over more convenient taxi service this week.

But that doesn’t mean the idea of seeking a better place to hail a cab has died.

In a 6-1 decision at its Nov. 17 meeting, the Poulsbo City Council denied Del Mueller a permit for a designated taxi stand in front of Tequila’s Bar & Grill on Front Street. Councilman Ed Stern was the dissenting vote.

Mueller, owner of Taxis and Tours, LLC, already operates taxi services across North Kitsap, including Poulsbo’s downtown. But since there are no designated taxi spots in downtown, Mueller said his drivers must compete for the same parking as other motorists, which lessens the chance of walk-up riders.

Taxis and Tours is also part of the non-profit Anna’s Ride Home program, which provides free information and cab rides for bar and tavern patrons who cannot drive home. Mueller reasoned that having a designated taxi stand in the middle of Front Street would be more visible for people who need to use the service.

Poulsbo Municipal Code (PMC) states that council may approve designated spots as taxi stands if warranted. That particular part of the code was drafted in the 1940s.

While council members agreed about the usefulness of helping inebriated folks get home safely, they could not back Mueller’s application. Mueller proposed one parking space that would be dedicated to his company around the clock. Council members pointed out that when the cited PMC section was added, there was not a parking problem downtown as there is today.

“When I first read the letter, I thought the intent was taking intoxicated people home in the evening but when I really got into it, it’s meant to be 24/7,” Councilman Jeff McGinty said.

A letter distributed to council from City Attorney Jim Haney stated that he was also concerned that if the city granted Mueller the spot, it would, “essentially be granting a private party exclusive use of the public right-of-way on a semi-permanent basis.” Haney suggested that if council liked Mueller’s idea, that it consider creating a designated taxi stand that could be used by any taxi company.

Council members received several letters against the proposal from downtown merchants and a handful of Historic Downtown Poulsbo Association members were on hand Wednesday night. Councilman Mike Regis said several HDPA members also spoke at the Public Safety/Legal Committee meeting Nov. 10 and cited existing traffic concerns as their main reason for opposing the taxi stand idea.

“Recognizing the high value of limited parking downtown, we concur with the downtown merchants,” Regis said of his committee’s recommendation.

But Mueller contended that allowing him one spot would actually help, not hurt, the HDPA. He explained that even if he was able to offer 10-20 people a day a taxi ride to downtown Poulsbo, that would mean that many more people who would have access to the business district. Mueller seemed flabbergasted that the merchants and council seemed against granting him the opportunity.

“There’s a lot of good parts to this but no one seems to want to reason with this,” Mueller said. “I’m sure Wal-Mart will be happy to have our business.”

Since Mueller is already licensed to operate taxis in Poulsbo, council members suggested some alternatives for Mueller. Council members seemed interested in pursuing whether or not Taxis and Tours could share the existing Kitsap Transit space in front of the senior center. Most downtown merchants who spoke out against a designated spot supported that idea.

“In reality, how many people need a ride home for overindulging before 5 p.m.?” Councilman Jim Henry asked. He noted that most downtown stores close and Kitsap Transit buses stop running downtown around 6 p.m.

Mueller was tasked by the Public Safety/Legal Committee last week to ask Kitsap Transit about sharing the space. Mueller said he had talked to Kitsap Transit and representatives were against the idea. But after voting to deny Mueller his own parking spot, council unanimously supported a second motion to begin a conversation with Kitsap Transit in the hopes of finding a compromise.

“It seems like with our commitment to trying to find transportation solutions to traffic congestion we should pursue this,” Stern said. “I could see where if there was a designated cab stand that people could rely on that it would increase usage.”

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