State Street is considered a 'fixed guideway,' meaning only certain types of vehicles are allowed to drive on it.
Hailing a taxi after bar time on State Street could get a whole lot easier if a new Madison ordinance amendment passes. The amendment would allow taxicabs to "cruise" the street looking for patrons between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. Currently, no such cruising is allowed.
"It's important for cabs to have access [on State Street] so people aren't tempted to drive home," says Phil Anderson, general manger of the Green Cab Company.
During the day, taxi drivers are only allowed to enter State Street if they are dropping off a customer or have been called for a pick-up and this policy will remain. However, the amendment would allow cab drivers to spontaneously pick up customers during bar hours.
Anderson says the ordinance will not affect his company's business either way -- it doesn't typically get a lot of flags on State Street. It might, however, help reduce the large groups of people who gather on the sidewalks at night by providing a convenient way to get home after bar time. Ald. Scott Resnick, one of the proposal's co-sponsors, believes the presence of cab drivers will benefit his downtown district in other ways.
"They provide another set of eyes on State Street when our police coverage is very thin," he says.
There are currently several designated taxi stands on streets that intersect State, such as Lake Street. These areas provide a place for cabs to queue up and wait for patrons. If the amendment passes, more of these stands would likely pop up. But Anderson says flat out, "Spatially and geographically [they don't] work."
Anderson notes that with so many drunks congregated on the streets after bar time, it is difficult for taxi drivers to identify who called for the cab. He says taxis should come to patrons -- not the other way around. Many desperate drunks on their way to a stand end up seeing another taxi driving down State Street and claim they've phoned for it even when they haven't. This leaves the people who actually called without a ride home.
Some business owners are concerned that the stands will take away highly coveted downtown parking spots and thus detract from business. But Resnick points out that taxi could shuttle new customers into downtown, including tourists who wouldn't otherwise go there.
State Street is considered a "fixed guideway," meaning only certain types of vehicles are allowed to drive on it. Federal funding for the street is tied to this label and Resnick says critics of the ordinance worry that allowing taxis to cruise will put federal funding "in flux."
Anderson says he worries that without nighttime taxi access, State Street will evoke scenes from the "worst Halloweens in the past," except every weekend.
"People will be climbing trees and peeing; that's what will happen if we don't get them off," he says.
The city's Plan Commission is currently reviewing the ordinance.