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Drug Testing News

New law to require drug test before cab driver gets license


Article ran : 05/17/2003

By MATT DEES AND ROSELEE PAPANDREA
DAILY NEWS STAFF

Cab drivers in Jacksonville soon could be facing a drug test before they can get a permit to drive a taxi.
The General Assembly approved a bill Wednesday that gives municipalities the option of making taxi companies require applicants to pass a controlled substance examination before issuing a license. It will be sent to the governor for his approval.

Ken Bumgarner, Jacksonville's police chief, said City Attorney John Carter is drafting an ordinance amendment for the City Council to consider.

"It's a safety factor for the city because the city regulates the cab companies," Bumgarner said. "We have the responsibility of ensuring that whoever is behind the wheel is a safe driver and drug free.

"We've been able to do safety inspections and background checks, but we've never been able to do a drug test. I think it's another safety factor for the public that says, 'you are safe if you take a cab.'"

Mayor Pro-Tem Jerry Bittner, for one, was receptive to the idea.
"I think we should look into it," he said, noting that others who deal with the public, such as police officers and firefighters, must submit to drug testing.
"Since they're transporting the public, that should be something we should consider."

Beth Wood, co-owner of Tarheel Taxi in Jacksonville, welcomed the new law.
"The problem is that there are so many cab companies around that if you tell someone who comes in looking for a job that they'll need to take a drug test, they'll turn around and walk away," she said. "But if it comes down as a law, then everybody has to comply.
"That's wonderful. I'm all for it."

But Wood said she was worried about who would pay for any test. She said drivers now have to pay $80 to $85 to begin work, which she thinks is too high.

The permit fee is $15, but drivers also must pay for a vehicle inspection, criminal background check, photos and fingerprinting.

"If they're looking at raising the fees even higher, I think they need to take another look at how they decide how to pay for this," Wood said. "These people are just trying to make a living, like everybody else.
She added that many would-be drivers are Marine spouses or Marines looking for extra work.
A drug test requirement wouldn't just benefit riders or cab companies looking to keep their professional noses clean.

Carol Long, director of Onslow United Transit Services, said the bill is a boon for public transportation as well.
She said has tried to get a taxi cab company to agree to serve as a back-up to public transit services, but they balked when told of the alcohol and drug-testing requirements they would face.

"It's been really hard to find a company that would do that because of the expense and the scrutiny," Long said. "With this, we could send out a bid to get somebody to help people who can't get in one of the vans. I think it's a great thing."