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SBP Mary Cooper flat-rate taxi plan waiting on Chapel Hill Town Council

Student Body President Mary Cooper wants to step up her administration’s involvement in town government, but she is facing logistical challenges in passing a flat-rate taxi ordinance.

Cooper submitted a petition to the town last month that included two options for the taxi service — one which would charge riders a flat rate to travel anywhere in Chapel Hill and another that divides the town into two zones with separate flat fees.

Chapel Hill Town Council received a report about the project Wednesday. Town staff will continue to explore its feasibility, but they won’t report back to the council until February.

Though the flat-rate taxi tenet of Cooper’s platform seems delayed, Linda Convissor, UNC director of local relations, said Cooper has acted on her intentions to reach out to town officials earlier than past student body presidents.

“My recollection is that past administrations have always in their platform had a strong position on working with the town,” she said. “My sense is that Mary has made that move along faster than student body presidents have before.”

Convissor compared the amount of collaboration with the town government required for the taxi system to prior administrations’ push for the approval of new off-campus call boxes, which took years to accomplish.

“That was very much like the taxi initiative in that it sounded really simple initially and actually was quite complicated to accomplish,” she said. “It involved a whole lot of institutional cooperation.”

Convissor said the town works at a different pace than student government, making it hard for student representatives to complete initiatives like the taxi system during a one-year term.

“Once it enters the domain of the town and the bureaucracy, it just takes a lot longer to do things,” she said.

Cooper said though some taxis might implement her system on a voluntary basis, she wanted to go through the town to create regulatory changes so the rate system persists once she leaves office.

Research on the effects of different taxi rate regulation systems is still in its early stages, Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said.

He said there are several stakeholders to consider — including local businesses, taxi companies, customers and students — before the town moves forward.

He said law enforcement and the transit department have decided they will cooperate on the initiative, but have yet to begin concrete research.

Cooper said her administration has been conducting a student survey and contacting private taxi companies in hopes of creating a voluntary flat-rate system.

“We are reaching out to private companies to see if they want to go ahead,” Cooper said.

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said a voluntary system could serve as a demonstration for the town. He said it is a good idea to try the idea ahead of an ordinance to balance student government and the town’s differing schedules.

“The gears don’t quite match up so we have to be creative and have no fear in calling on each other when we need help.”

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