A pending change to Idaho Falls’ taxi regulations has the owners of some medical transport services worried.
Medical transport vans fall under the same city ordinance regulating taxis, meaning they need to be inspected yearly. Idaho Falls police are proposing changing from the current system, where a police officer does the inspections, to having mechanics do it instead.
Police say this will improve safety since police officers aren’t qualified to perform a vehicle safety inspection like a mechanic. However, it could add a cost per inspection of up to $47. The owners of local non-emergency medical transports question why they’re regulated by the city at all, given that the company that manages Medicaid rides for the state imposes separate vehicle safety requirements.
“Stop treating us like we’re the taxis, because we’re not the taxis,” said Teresa Browning, owner of En Route Transportation.
In an interview last week, Browning and a few other transport owners said they don’t think they should fall under the same regulations as taxis. Their companies, unlike a taxi service, aren’t allowed to advertise, their drivers can’t take money, and people generally can’t call to arrange a pickup.
“I don’t even know how they can put us in that category,” said Chad Harrigfeld, co-owner of CT Transportation.
The companies in question give people rides to medical appointments. A few local transport companies, including En Route, also have recently signed deals with the Eastern Idaho Community Action Partnership to give medical rides to people who were taken care of through the Targhee Regional Public Transportation Authority before it shut down due to financial problems this spring. MTM, the company that has the state’s Medicaid contract to manage non-emergency medical transportation, requires transport vehicles to go through a 79-point inspection every year checking both vehicle safety features such as the lights and mirrors and medical-transport specific items such as the wheelchair lift and stretcher.
“This inspection is far more extensive than what the city of Idaho Falls even does,” Browning said.
While the owners aren’t happy with the changes the city is considering, they’re no fans of the current system either. When you’re waiting for an inspection, you’re paying a driver to sit there. And MTM fines them $10 if a client gets to an appointment late, which is more than they would earn on the ride in some cases.
“They will not schedule an evening for us,” said Ryan Staten, owner of Rollin Shuttle Services of Idaho. “They schedule in the middle of the day when we are transporting clients.”
Furthermore, the transport owners say the current system can be arbitrary, since whether you might need to fix something or not depends on which officer happens to be doing the inspection.
“We are credentialed inside, outside and backwards from the state of Idaho, so for the city to continue doing this, it just gets frustrating,” Browning said.
As well as the inspections, overlapping background check requirements are another sore spot for the transport owners. The city accepts drivers’ initial background checks through the state Department of Health and Welfare for three years, after which drivers need to be fingerprinted by police, which costs $45. They question why they need to do this when MTM also requires yearly background checks on drivers as well as a long list of trainings for them.
“I think the bottom line is, it’s just not necessary, period, and they’re just trying to get money,” Harrigfeld said.
The Council is expected to vote on the changes on Thursday, said city spokesman Bud Cranor. Police say the revisions will protect public safety.
“The fact of the matter is, these inspections are intended to say these vehicles are roadworthy and safe,” said police spokeswoman Jessica Clements. Police officers, she said, are not mechanics.
“This intended change will make it so that a mechanic needs to do that inspection, and a mechanic who is an expert in that profession will say these cars are roadworthy,” she said.
Clements said police expect the inspections to cost $45 to $47 if people get an inspection on its own. However, she said people could save money by getting them done at the same time as other maintenance.
“Our expectation is this kind of an exam or safety check on the vehicle would have a minimal cost associated with it,” Clements said. “These inspections could be done at the same time that regular maintenance is being done on the vehicle.”
However, the transport owners say the costs add up. Tori Harrigfeld, with CT Transportation, said there have been years when they wanted to do something for their employees at Christmastime but couldn’t afford it.
“We are trying to pay the fuel bill,” Staten said. “We are trying to pay the repair bill. We are trying to pay our employees.”