OGDEN — Change could be coming to the city of Ogden's ordinances governing taxicabs.
But if it does, it'll be too late for Yellow Cab of Ogden and A2B Taxi Service, which both served Weber County.
Due to what Yellow Cab owner Michael Moyal says was unfair competition from unlicensed taxi operators, the firm — Ogden's only licensed cab company — closed its doors on Aug. 31. A2B closed on Aug. 28 due to cut-rate competition from rideshare companies Lyft and Uber, said Aubrey Smith, co-owner of the Layton-based firm.
"The only reason I was staying open was for the passengers and the drivers," said Moyal. But as business dried up, it no longer made sense to keep operating the iconic yellow cabs in his fleet, a throwback to the heyday of commercial cab companies.
Moyal pointed his finger at Ogden officials, faulting them for not cracking down on what he said were unlicensed cabs operating in Weber County illegally, unfairly competing with him. Uber and Lyft weren't the problem, he maintains. They actually complemented the service he offered through Yellow Cab by helping with the rush of business typical on Friday and Saturday nights.
Smith, by contrast, pinned the blame for his company's demise squarely on the two big rideshare firms, which have more leeway, per Utah state law, to operate than traditional taxicab firms. He noticed a glut of Uber and Lyft drivers around Weber and Davis counties starting in April, then a drop in their fares, well below what A2B could feasibly charge.
"It all happened in a three- to four-month period," Smith said.
Mara Brown, Ogden's deputy city attorney, referred comment on Moyal's charges about unlicensed cabs to Ogden police, who didn't immediately respond to queries seeking comment. But she recognized Yellow Cab's status as Ogden's sole licensed taxicab company.
And as the transportation industry morphs with the entry of rideshare operators — which get business via smartphone apps and tap the services of independent drivers using their own cars — she said city officials are thinking about updating Ogden's ordinances governing taxicabs.
She didn't offer details or a timeline, but said broadly, the aim of any change would be to make the taxicab rules less restrictive.
Mark Johnson, chief administrative officer for Ogden, echoed the talk of updating Ogden's ordinances. At the same time, he expressed reticence at the notion of cracking down on the unlicensed taxicab companies cited by Moyal since Uber and Lyft have free reign to operate, per state law.
"It's a difficult thing to enforce," Johnson said, referencing the city's taxicab rules. But the era of just allowing one licensed cab company, he continued, "is probably done."
Moyal, owner of the Ogden River Inn and the land where the recently demolished Millstream Motel sat, started with six cabs and the number gradually declined as business fell. Clients included people going to and from work and medical clinics.
His yellow cabs sit at one of his Ogden properties. The firm, formally known as Smith Transportation, dates back 80 years, he said, and he owned it about 10 years.
If change is to come, Smith said regulation of taxicabs should be done at the state level, not by cities. He also said the recent dip locally in rates charged by rideshare companies is a tactic to force out traditional taxicab firms. The rates they charge, he predicts, will go up.