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City adds steps for taxi driver licensing


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The city has added an extra layer of review to its process for approving taxicab licenses.

The Columbus Police Department revamped the application after Board of Public Works and Safety members expressed concern that they had insufficient information to determine whether to renew a license for a current taxi operator.

Four taxicab companies serve the city. Each company and each driver must be approved by the board annually, according to city ordinance.

On the original city application, taxicab driver applicants were required to list misdemeanor and felony convictions.

The new application provides space for applicants to provide an explanation for each conviction.

Police Chief Jon Rohde said the change was in line with a city ordinance that governs taxi operations in Columbus. In fact, he said, the change brings the process more in line with the ordinance, which calls for applicants to provide the facts concerning any felony or misdemeanor conviction.

When reviewing an application, the city makes a clear distinction between felonies and misdemeanors, said Lisa Williams, Columbus Police Department parking enforcement clerk, who handles the applications for the

department.

She said applicants cannot have been convicted of a violent felony within the past 10 years or a nonviolent felony within the past 18 months, or else they are automatically denied.

But a misdemeanor does not carry the same weight and will not automatically kick someone out of the process, she said. Instead, she said, the decision is up to the discretion of the police chief and the Board of Works.

Some situations can get sticky, Williams said, if someone has had a recent charge waived or had a conviction reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor in a plea-bargain agreement.

One such case came before the board last month when a taxicab driver applied for a license renewal. The applicant was arrested in 2013 for theft and battery, which are both classified as felonies, and for driving without a license in 2008. Those charges ultimately were dismissed or downgraded to misdemeanors.

But because the application did not have space for an explanation of the facts surrounding the applicant’s convictions, the board wanted more details, Rohde said.

That’s why the police department revamped the application to add space for applicants to tell the story of each conviction.

It’s important to have that information, he said, because neither he nor the board knows the applicants personally.

“There are guidelines in place,” he said. “I’m not going to judge their character beyond the facts.”

And having more facts, he said, will allow the city to make a more informed decision. It also means that if the person’s version of the facts doesn’t match up to police reports, the application must be denied, he said.

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