Cab control has been a controversial topic in Sioux Falls lately. The city council is looking at tightening its taxi regulations. The investigation into cab business practices turned up one that is unconventional, even if South Dakota Law Permits it.
Tom Werner owns 1st Choice Taxi. Werner says he needed a hook when he started his company in 2012. So, his cab took to the streets armed with alcohol.
“In the first few weeks we were literally an urban legend to where people didn't even know the name, but they knew it was out there,” Werner said. “When people think of a limo or a party bus, they think of the open champagne bottle, glasses, everything else. That's what this license does.”
It’s all made possible by a state carrier license. For a yearly fee, 1st Choice Taxi can legally serve passengers its drivers pick up.
“We serve beer wine and different types of shots,” Werner said. “Our primary focus when we started was just to create a buzz about ourselves and get known fast. And that's what it accomplished for us.”
“I was like, ‘You've got to be kidding me.’ I found it a little short-sighted as far as just any commercial vehicle can buy a license and serve alcohol inside their vehicle,” Sioux Falls City Councilor Kenny Anderson Jr. said.
Anderson chairs a city committee already taking a look at cab ordinances.
The committee has discussed changes to its taxi ordinance in the past. The last time the city council revised the ordinance was 2009. Cab companies have ballooned from just a handful then to nearly 20 today. That's opened up a host of problems about licensing, inspection, fares, rates and even safety.
“It's a real difficult process when the businesses don't get along and don't like each other,” Anderson said.
He said work to tweak the ordinances continues. Just how much inspection and oversight the city can provide will be part of the conversation, so will the carrier license, which for now is a state issued permit, making the booze legal.
“We have businesses here that spend hundreds of thousands of dollars. Millions with their businesses and I thought it was undercutting that,” Anderson said.
But, Werner doesn’t agree.
“The beers are the small seven or eight ounce cans,” Werner said. “They're designed to be for that ten minute ride. We're not driving people around for endless hours with people getting hammered in the car. That's not the intention whatsoever.”
Werner says a drink in the cab cost anywhere from $2 to $4 and says the busiest time of night is between 9 p.m. and midnight. His drivers stop serving at 2 a.m. So, he says keeping the after bar party going is also not part of the equation. And drivers ID everyone or no one drinks.
“If there are four people in the vehicle, they need to produce four licenses. The driver hangs on to those until the end of the ride,” Werner said.
“The alcohol has to be presented and consumed inside the cab. You can't buy a to-go cup out from your favorite establishment, jump in the cab, and be driven. That is not allowed per state law,” Anderson said.
But otherwise drinks are fair game. Anderson says the council may lobby for that to change on the legislative front.
Until then this company and its tipsy taxi has caught on, and is growing faster than projected. Werner expected to operate a single cab for a year. He just purchased his third.
Anderson said the city will include taxis in its next round of alcohol compliance checks. Taxi ordinance changes continue to be discussed at Carnegie Town Hall. Anderson said proposed changes should go before the city council sometime in May.