Taxis will be allowed on State Street at night, panhandling barred at all times
Post by Emily Mills on 9/20/2012 9:00am
Taxis will now be allowed to enter and exit State Street between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. to pick up, drop off, and look for potential fares without restrictions.
The vote on the new ordinance came late into Tuesday night’s Common Council meeting, after many people spoke against the original proposal from the mayor’s office that would have banned “cruising” for riders entirely.
The ordinance will only go into effect 14 days after the City receives approval from the Federal Transit Administration. Concerns have been raised about whether or not the new language would violate the terms of a federal grant that pays for most of the upkeep on State Street.
Christina Ballard, one of the driving forces behind Cab Drivers for Madison Safety, a group that lobbied hard for the changes that passed on Tuesday, said in a post on Facebook that, “I feel relief but I am exhausted…this was a great showing of how all of us in the industry can come together.”
Mayor Paul Soglin had initially introduced the ordinance to ban taxis in July, immediately drawing criticism from cab drivers, students, and neighborhood safety organizations who argued that allowing taxis onto the street, especially at bar time, was a crucial way of dispersing crowds and providing safe rides out of the area for intoxicated persons.
At the Council meeting on Tuesday Soglin appeared testy with the changes the ordinance had undergone, at one point lashing out at a UW student who had registered to speak in favor of allowing cabs on the street.
To the confusion of the student, Soglin wondered sarcastically if they should also allow cabs on the 700 and 800 blocks of State Street—Library Mall.
Another contentious item up for discussion at the meeting was a new ordinance that would ban panhandling in most of the downtown area.
The Council had already had a lengthy debate about the issue at their August meeting, when the item was referred back to several committees.
Ultimately, and despite concerns from homeless individuals, advocates, and civil rights groups, the Council voted to pass an amended version of the ordinance on Tuesday.
The new language would ban panhandling, or anyone making a verbal request for money, anywhere on State Street or the Capitol square, or within 25 feet of an ATM or sidewalk café. This version was slightly less restrictive than original language that put the ban at 50 feet, and included businesses.
Serious questions remain about the constitutionality of what appears to be an outright ban on asking for money, which would affect non-profits and charity organizations, as well as anyone simply asking for personal handouts.
A recent case in Michigan ended with a U.S. District judge striking down a blanket ban against begging in public places for violating the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.
Assistant City Attorney Marci Paulsen agreed that case law has changed since she began working on the ordinance 10 years ago, with the courts holding that there is a right to panhandling and that any restrictions have to address the most narrow meeting of the government’s needs. She explained that, when they drafted the new ordinance, the office “looked at the detrimental effect and tailoring it as narrowing as they could.”
Emily Mills is Editor-At-Large for Dane101, as well as Editor of Our Lives Magazine. She is also a freelance writer, photographer, actor, and musician (drummer and singer in local band Little Red Wolf). Originally from several states up and down the Midwest Emily has called Madison home since 2000. Contact her at