Taxi Program Continues to Map Its Own Course

LCT Staff
Posted on May 12, 2004

NORTH ADAMS, MASS. -- A program that has provided thousands of rides to people in need of transportation has changed the scope of taxi service in the Northern Berkshires.

After the founding of the Transportation Association of Northern Berkshire two years ago, people in low-income brackets have been provided with rides to work, child-care sites and school for $1 per ride.

The association contracts with two cab companies in the area, American Livery and Norm's Limousine Service, to do the work, said Roger Breckner, association project manager. The program is divided seven days a week between American Livery and Norm's Limousine. Norm's takes care of days, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and American does nights, from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m.

This past February, the association provided 3,469 rides; 248 of those were to take parents to drop off children at day-care sites. In the eight months prior, 22,196 rides were provided. Those needing rides call a dispatcher at the association to make a reservation for transportation and the center sends a local taxi.

The association is open for calls from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. After that, the calls are directed to the cab companies' dispatchers. The service covers Adams, North Adams, Williamstown, Cheshire, Clarksburg, Savoy and Florida. Those using the service must be low income or below the federal poverty line.

Taxis take passengers directly to their destination or drop them off at a Berkshire Regional Transit Authority stop, the ticket for which also is footed by the association. One of two cab companies that participate in the program claims the current arrangement is hurting it financially. An owner of Norm's taxi service said the shift over the past few years of regular taxi business to mostly association business has hurt financially, also in part because of a slight shift in contracts from Norm's to American.

The rub for Laurie Chittenden, co-owner of Norm's Limousine Service and its sister company, Veteran's Taxi, is that American is receiving 14 hours a week more of the association's business. Chittenden claims that Norm's regular taxi service has essentially been muted, and that it now must rely heavily on its airport shuttle service.

Whereas the taxi business was an open market a few years ago, Chittenden said the rides that American and Norm's now give via the association were once performed to a greater extent by her business. Although Chittenden wouldn't comment on how much money has been lost, she said the number of her taxis has been reduced from about five to one per day for the city and vicinity. "It's taken away the taxi end of it."

Last year, the association gave $80,968 in business to Norm's and $60,027 to American, according to Breckner. American Livery is owned by sisters Lori Pratt and Candy Tripodes of North Adams.

Candy Tripodes' husband, Ed Tripodes, said 100 percent of American Livery's business is taken up by users of the ride program. The livery's sister business, American Cab Co., is devoted entirely to local taxi calls.

He said "there's room for everybody" in the North Adams taxi business, which is why he has stayed out of the airport shuttle aspect -- to "not step on anyone's toes." The extra business awarded to American, said Tripodes, was based on no late arrivals for pick ups, cleanliness of cabs and general customer service.

Breckner said the decision to give American slightly more of the association's patronage was strictly a business one. He said the association considers several factors in choosing providers, including cost, quality and the nature of the relationship fostered between them and others. The association is funded by a yearly $400,000 federal grant.

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