This refrain has started spreading over the last few weeks, as three former taxi cab companies have been telling residents that they will no longer pick them up without three hours' lead time, in order to comply with recent legislation prohibiting limousine companies from operating as a taxi service.
"All three [former taxi and limousine] companies are saying that they're not taxis but limos," said Mayor Dennis Elwell at a May 25 Town Council meeting.
The difference is that taxis can pick up passengers anywhere without advanced notice, while limos are arranged over the phone in advance.
Until recently, owners of limousine companies have generally doubled as taxis while calling themselves limos, since insurance premiums are much less for limousines.
In an effort to regulate taxi service in Secaucus, the council passed an ordinance in April legally separating taxi service from limousines, hoping to offer riders a set, predictable rate.
According to the ordinance, limousines are cars that "provide prearranged passenger transportation at a premium fare on a dedicated, non-scheduled, charter basis" while taxis "[accept or solicit] passengers indiscriminately for transportation for hire."
The law outlines requirements for taxis to be easily identifiable and charge a set metered rate.
Limousines are regulated by the state, which requires that they be insured for $1.5 million, at an average yearly cost of $9,000. The same coverage for taxis, which are regulated by municipalities, costs $50,000 to $60,000. Because of the price, car service owners insure their vehicles as limousines, even if they operate as taxis.
Town officials said taxi operators will often charge different prices under different circumstances.
"One of the things that created this problem was townspeople complained about the price structure not being consistent," said Elwell. "They might send a Mercedes and charge more, and in the snow the price went up." In order to make the transition easy, owners were required to attach a sign and light, but were not required to replace their vehicles immediately.
"What we said was that we were not going to enforce heavily, so that we can come up with something to satisfy the needs of the residents," said Elwell.
What's going on?
Two weeks ago, Mayor Elwell began to receive phone calls from residents - primarily senior citizens - who claimed that the car companies had refused to pick them up without three hours' notice due to the new laws. But town administrator Anthony Iacono said that the situation is not as serious as it has the potential to be, and that taxi service has been going on in town.
"Drive to Acme right now, and there are about 10 cabs outside of Acme," Iacono said last week. "I don't understand how the taxis are picking up some people and not others."
Iacono said that he believes that the taxis are selectively turning down senior citizens in order to encourage them to call Town Hall to complain about the limitations.
Mohamed Aboushaca, the owner of Access Limousine, said that the fare limits - $1.50 base and $.15 per 10th of a mile - are restrictive, and that cars would have to drive 300 miles to make a small profit.
Town officials expressed that taxi service is essential, and attempts are being made to bring service in from outside of town.
"What we're doing is exploring getting some of the out-of-town companies to come in here," said Town Attorney Frank Leanza. "We used to have out-of-town companies, but the limos started taking the business." Elwell said that there are four companies in northern Hudson County that might be able to fill the local taxi void if local companies are not interested.
"With the opening of the [Allied Junction] train station, there is a greater need for taxi companies," Elwell said. Leanza said that the town will look into amenities that will make it easier for taxis to do business out of town. Options include opening a taxi stand in the center of town and making space available for out of town taxi companies to rent to keep their cars in town.