By Tim Leeds
Kenneth Wilson now has the authority to start a taxi service in Havre, pending authorization by the full Montana Public Service Commission, but his request to start a new limousine service in Havre is a little more complicated.
PSC Chairman Gary Feland Thursday authorized Wilson's request for a permit to run a taxi in Hill, Blaine, Phillips, Liberty and Chouteau counties. The order has to be voted on by the full commission before it's fully authorized.
Feland was in Havre to hear testimony about a protest of Wilson's request to operate a limousine service. Pat and Shelly Bibeau, who own and operate PS Limo in Havre, protested the limousine application.
Both said in the hearing that they support Wilson's starting a taxi service, and weren't contesting that. But, especially with the problems the drought is causing on the local economy, demand does not justify starting a second limousine service, they said.
Before the hearing officially began, Martin Jacobson, PSC legal counsel, said if the taxi part of Wilson's application is not contested, he is reasonably sure the full PSC will grant the permit for it.
Wilson testified that it would probably take about three weeks to obtain the vehicles he needs to start the taxi service. He plans to use two vehicles for the taxi service, expanding the number as needed.
There are three employees at Kenneth J. Wilson Inc., that he is sure would qualify as drivers for the taxi service, Wilson said. But he said he plans to hire new workers to do the driving.
PSC legal counsel Martin Jacobson said in an interview that once the full commission authorizes the taxi permit, Wilson would have to prove compliance with regulations, such as insurance requirements, within 60 days. Once he proves compliance, he has to start offering the service within 30 days.
"I think we certainly have to move forward with the taxi service. There are a lot of steps to go through still," Wilson said.
The PSC will meet to issue an order about the limousine service. Either side can then file for reconsideration if they disagree with the order.
During the hearing, Wilson testified that he wants the option to use a limousine as part of his taxi service.
Wilson doesn't see his service competing directly with PS Limo, which is generally hired for special events like formal dances, weddings, reunions and anniversaries, he said. But if the demand and need are there, he would use the limousine for events like that as well, Wilson said.
Wilson believes Havre is going to grow, which he said helps justify a second limousine service. Having the service would also help improve the image of the community, he said.
The Bibeaus testified that there simply isn't a need for a new limousine service. Not only does PS Limo adequately cover the area, they said, Daketokatace Luxury Limousine Service of Great Falls also has authority to operate in north-central Montana. Daketokatace provided a limousine in Havre last May, before PS Limo started operations, Shelly Bibeau said.
If demand grew to more than PS Limo's one limousine could handle, the Bibeaus said, Daketokatace could pick up the slack. If a second limousine was necessary, Pat Bibeau said, his company would have already bought one, and still will if demand justifies it.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice, testifying for Wilson's proposal, said he doesn't understand why Wilson has to "jump through hoops" and present testimony at a public hearing just because a potential competitor protests his application. Rice said Wilson should have the extra income potential by offering his limousine as well as taxis.
Rice said he's concerned that if Wilson only has a taxi and he starts to have a difficult situation, "then he'll get disgruntled and go away."
During the hearing, Feland explained that under state law, people trying to start regulated services like taxis and limousine services have to show there is a need for additional service and that current operations cannot provide adequate service. Having too many services creates its own problems, he added.
"If too many people are trying to provide service, one or both go broke. That's what's happened to taxi service in the past," Feland said.