Posted: May 2, 2013 at 1:45 pm
By: Katherine Heath, Jesse Tabit and Brad Eischenseer
Greg Olenik, a senior at West Virginia University, often has to wait up to an
hour to get a cab back to his Lofts apartment after carousing in the bars downtown. Even though Yellow Cab, the only cab company in Monongalia County, gives him a timeframe of 10 to 20 minutes, Olenik says it often takes the cab up to an hour and sometimes longer to actually pick him up.
“When I’ve called back, I’ve just gotten a busy signal the whole time,” Olenik says. “It’s very frustrating, especially when it’s cold out, and I have been waiting for a long time.”
Olenik is one of many WVU students who have no easy way to get home from Morgantown’s bars and clubs after hours, without driving home drunk themselves. As a result, they find themselves stranded downtown in the wee hours of the morning, which is when, police say, most crimes occur.
“We average over five DUI arrests per week,” says Sergeant Bryon Hennessey of the Morgantown Police Department. According to statistics compiled by police, DUI related arrests in Morgantown more than doubled in the last year — from 128 in 2011 to 262 in 2012.
Olenik says some of those arrests and violent incidents could be avoided if students were not lingering outside bars and clubs waiting for transportation home.
“I think that there are definitely people who get really drunk and turn into assholes on High Street, and I think that does have something to do with impatience,” Olenik said. And the alcohol, of course.
However, the owner of Morgantown Yellow Cab says his cab drivers do their best to pick up students quickly and get them home. Part of the problem, he says, is that he can’t afford to bring more cabs onto the streets given the high cost of insuring each vehicle for a year.
“In the summer, I’m lucky if we’ve got enough business to run four or five cabs [the entire day],” says Bobby King, owner of Yellow Cab. “So, you have to plan your whole year around the 40 weeks that [students] are here.”
King says he could increase the number of cabs, but with the high cost of insurance
and the lack of business in the summer, extra cabs would hurt his bottom line.
According to Morgantown City Manager Jeff Mikorski, city officials would love to see more cab services for downtown. But he says taxi services are controlled by the Public
Service Commission, located in Charleston, and it’s not easy to get approval to run a cab company.
“We’ve wanted to encourage additional taxi services to come into the Morgantown area for a long time,” Mikorski says.
Martina Johnson, a public information specialist for the PSC, says if individuals wish to start a taxi service, they must fill out the required application and submit it to the PSC.
After the application is submitted, the PSC distributes the application to local newspapers and residents have ten days to protest the proposed service. If the service isn’t protested, and the applicant’s credit are verified as stable and he can show proof of insurance, a certificate is issued. But if it is protested, the protestor and the business entrepreneur are called to court where the protestor’s issues with the business are heard by a judge. A judge then decides if the reasons are substantial enough to hinder the business.
In 2011, Clarksburg resident Jim Price applied for approval to start another taxi service in the Morgantown area. He wanted to call his service “University Taxi.” However, according to the PSC, King complained about the competition so the application was sent to a judge who ruled that Price failed to show that his venture was financially stable. So, his application was rejected.
“DubV Safe Ride” offers an alternative solution. Launched in early April by WVU student Eric Watkins, Watkins and fellow employees will drive scooters to the cars of intoxicated customers who call his service and drive the customers home in their cars. DubV Safe Ride charges a $10 standard fee and an additional $2 per mile traveled beyond a specified range.
Designated drivers, friends who come along for the evening and don’t drink, are another possible solution that has worked in other college towns.
“Select a designated driver or have a friend who is not going out be available to come pick you up from the bar,” Hennessey says.