OSWEGO, NY – If some proposed code changes are enacted, an Oswego entrepreneur feels the city is throwing him under the bus.
At Monday night’s Planning and Development Committee meeting, Councilor Eric VanBuren requested a discussion regarding proposed code changes for taxicabs and buses.
The regulations would, among other things, define “bus” and set specific routes, put stricter restrictions on who could be a driver and increase license fees for the vehicles.
Lee B. Walker, owner of a local bus company, told the councilors the new regulations would cripple his business.
However, proponents of the changes see them as a means to crack down on under age drinking, loud house parties and other quality of life issues.
“I’ve had a large number of complaints about some of the things that have been going on with taxicabs; the lack of background checks was one of them,” VanBuren explained. “Also, the size of the lettering on the vehicles and other things.”
They looked at how other cities were handling similar situations, he added.
They also want to increase the related fees.
For the buses they are looking at restricting them to specific routes mainly in the First and Third wards and a small section of the Fourth Ward, VanBuren said.
Walker currently owns three buses and has been in this business since 2003. He is licensed with the city as a “taxi,” he said, adding he is registered by New York State. His buses are inspected every six months, he said.
He said he’s never had any problems. Another bus company has come into the picture and at one time, had seven buses, he pointed out.
“I played by the rules,” he told the councilors. “I don’t believe I’m getting a fair shake with this.”
Taxi companies used to use Caravans, four or five vans, that hold seven people and he has seen 15 or 16 people come out of a Caravan, he added.
“Piggy-back four Caravans to a house party, with 10 to 15 people in them, that’s 40 to 50 people. So now you’re going to knock me out of the box trying to make a living,” he said.
“There are some neighbors who have legit complaints. But I don’t think there is enough to justify a bus route. You’re punishing me and you’re not addressing the real problem,” Walker said. “I don’t supply the parties. We just provide transpiration. You can ride my bus to the movies or the bowling ally; we do other things with the (college) students.”
If there are bus routes imposed and those wishing to take the bus will have to walk several blocks to catch a ride, he added.
“They’re going to be walking through yards, fertilizing the yards, watering the yards, throwing beer cans, breaking your (car) mirrors. This isn’t going to address the problems,” he said. “I’m totally against it.”
If this is passed by the council, he will take legal action, he said.
Oswego isn’t as bad off as some inner cities, local resident Miles Becker said.
“This is a college town. We’re not unique here with the noise. This is a college town; they do do a little bit of hell-raising. But, you know what? I’ve seen worse. I feel better if they are onboard the bus instead of walking the streets.”
“It seems like you’re unfairly putting these guys in a separate group,” said another resident Tom Collette.
“I’d rather have the kids transported than creating havoc in the neighborhoods,” Councilor Dan Donovan said. “I don’t think I’ll be supporting this.”
The First Ward has a lot of the bus traffic, Councilor Fran Enwright said.
“I get phone calls, complaints about the bus dropping the kids off in a quiet neighborhood. Everybody I’ve talked to is in favor of a bus route.”
Another resident, Bill Raymond, spoke in favor of the bus.
“You’re talking about dropping the people off at a destination where the party is versus dropping them off five or six or seven blocks away. What kind of noise are you going to get then?” he asked the committee. “You’ll have noise for five blocks.”
“What we’ll do is have the city police come down and break up the house parties,” Councilor Mike Todd replied. “We shouldn’t be encouraging house parties.”
“If we enforce anything, I hope it’s enforced better than the cell phone laws,” Raymond said.
“It’s not the buses that are the problem,” Walker said. “The parties are still going to go on. You’re punishing me because you’re getting some phone calls. You’re hearing some negative things; I’d like to know how many call you’re really getting.”
The city isn’t looking to punish anyone, VanBuren said.
“But due to the amount of complaints that were generated, something needs to be done,” he said.
The council is challenged with coming up with something that will relieve the issues in the neighborhoods,” Council President Ron Kaplewicz said.
The city needs to crack down harder on under-age drinking and house parties, he said. “Some how or other we have to deal with the issues that take place in the neighborhoods.”
The complexion of many of the city’s neighborhoods has changed in the past couple of decades and long-time residents are frustrated by those changes, he added.
“We haven’t done anything essential except observe what’s going on. Occasionally we go to a loud house party, we break it up and everybody goes home. I think we need to try something. It’s not to punish you. I think we need to be working with you,” he told Walker.
They must come up with some strategic initiative so that they can reduce the amount of (problems), he said, adding, “We need to try something. If it doesn’t work we need to be flexible and make changes. The last thing we want to do is put (Walker) out of business. But we have to be respectful too of what’s going on in our neighborhoods.”
The committee voted 2-1 to send the proposal to the full council. Committee members VanBuren and Enwright voted yes, Donovan voted no.