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North Adams Taxi Service Could Face Suspension
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
05:03AM / Wednesday, January 25, 2023
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Police Chief Jason Wood looks through documents during Tuesday's public hearing on OTT Taxi's.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The police chief is asking the City Council to suspend the license for OTT Taxi over a number of violations of city ordinance. 
Police Chief Jason Wood told the council at a public hearing on Tuesday night that the taxi service had registered vehicles improperly, that owner John Lord was stopped with a fare and later seen driving taxis despite having a license restriction and that a 16-year-old driver had been stopped by police and found to have a suspended license.   
"We're not watching OTT Taxi like a hawk, but we routinely get complaints from the citizens," said the chief. "This isn't necessarily the police instigating this investigation, it was kind of thrown into our lap."
Lord said on Tuesday that it was a matter of misunderstandings, clerical errors and simply not knowing the regulation. 
In a letter explaining the violations to the council, he wrote, "I offer this to confirm that I was not trying to mislead anyone, or do anything incorrectly and have now corrected these concerns."
Wood said OTT had registered incorrectly registered the cars as livery vehicles.
"We learned that the required insurance is higher and more restrictive for taxi fleets," he said. "So this was brought to Mr. Ward's attention and the vehicles were eventually brought to compliance."
Lord said he'd misunderstood the registration and had immediately worked to get it fixed. In terms of the other violations, he said the teenage driver, Joseph Pini Jr., was not operating the vehicles as taxis or accepting fares. 
Pini did dispatch and cleaned and maintained the taxis, and was allowed to drive them as needed. The suspended license was a clerical error, Lord said, and they had gone to the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
"The next day he was on the road and he was driving his own vehicle," he said. 
Wood said Pini had been summonsed but did not believe that the case had gone forward yet. The business was not cited for the violations, which is why the chief said he requested the hearing.
Some councilors were perturbed about the personal use of the taxis, especially by Pini.
"I found it odd that you just let Mr. Pini drive around his friends," said Councilor Lisa Blackmer. 
Lord said maybe Pini gave his friends a ride on occasion but he would be driving with his girlfriend, who is a licensed taxi driver, on the weekends. 
"It was something they commonly did in the morning. On Saturday and sometimes on Sundays," he said.
He took issue with Wood's interpretation of the city ordinance on who should be allowed to drive the vehicles. 
Division 3, Section 23-13 states "No person shall drive a taxicab, and no owner or person having the care or management of a taxicab shall employ or suffer any person to drive the same, other than a person licensed by the City Council." 
Wood said his interpretation was that "if you are not licensed by the City Council to drive a cab, you shouldn't be driving that cab whether it be for business for personal reasons."
Lord objected that the vehicles were his since he owned the business, and if he was not picking up fares, it shouldn't be an issue.
"My interpretation is even though it's my vehicle, it's a business vehicle, I should be able to drive the car, whether I have a taxi license or not," he said. 
Councilor Keith Bona responded that owning certain equipment doesn't mean you could use it if you weren't licensed to, using the example that someone who owned 18-wheelers couldn't drive them without the appropriate license.

Taxi owner John Lord says the violations were the result of misunderstandings. 
He asked if Lord had gotten a legal opinion on the issue and Lord said no, it had just been raised. 
"I would think you would need to get clarification from a legal [opinion] and again, your insurance," Bona said. 
The council set a meeting for next week to vote on how to proceed. 
"This will allow us time to consider what the chief and what Mr. Lord has told us and if we have to do any more homework or get any more answers, we will able to give it a thoughtful consideration before we ever move forward with any kind of suspension and revocation," said Blackmer. 
Then the council approved four drivers for OTT: Brian Rennell of the town of Florida, Kenneth Porter of Pittsfield and Lindley Wright and Kenneth Adams, both of North Adams.

Councilor Wayne Wilkinson questioned why they were moving forward with the approvals since the their need may be made moot next week. 

"I don't think we've ever been a council that hinders the business," said Councilor Marie T. Harpin said "He still needs to have taxi drivers to run this business. So we're not there yet."
Blackmer agreed, noting one of the issues at the service had been a lack of drivers and that residents needed the service. 
"People need to work for a living and I don't want to stop somebody from making a valid living," said Councilor Bryan Sapienza.
All four passed with Wilkinson voting no and Bona voting no on one application because it did not state the year of driving under the influence charge. Bona noted that the form was clear in terms of dates and other information. Councilors Jennifer Barbeau and Michael Obasohan were absent. 
The council also referred a request from Mayor Jennifer Macksey to review the taxi ordinance and update the language to the Public Safety Committee. 
 "I've also requested of the city clerk to work with the Police Department to update those forms," she said. "They're ugly and I don't think they do give you the information that you need to make a sound decision."
Editor's note: updated at 11:37 a.m., Jan. 25, 2023, to note Bona had voted no on one application, not an abstention.
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