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Citing Chugiak-ER cab shortage, woman gives free rides

Mike Nesper

EAGLE RIVER -- Need a lift? Megan Patrick is here to help.

She's been cruising the streets of Chugiak-Eagle River in her blue Chevy Malibu for the past week, offering rides to those in need. What's perhaps more shocking than seeing a cab serving Chugiak-Eagle River is the cost -- nothing.

Patrick is currently providing free transportation and keeping a passenger log to present to the Anchorage Transportation Commission. Patrick has requested permission to operate a taxi in Eagle River for three months to gather data in the hopes of having the Municipality of Anchorage issue a limited service permit so a new cab company can cater to Chugiak-Eagle River residents.

The issue will be discussed at the commission's meeting on Monday.

Though Patrick's car has the look of a cab, it's not operating as a taxi because she's not charging a fare.

"This is a service that's being provided for free to track down the information," Patrick said. "The car is a taxi but it's not being run as one."

Patrick, who owns dispatch company AK-eCab, LLC, said the response to her presence has been phenomenal. She said she made 47 trips the night of June 14, the day after she arrived in Eagle River.

"I am actually so impressed with the absolute support," she said.

Many of the local bars have hung up fliers in support of her effort, Patrick said.

"It's a great thing," said Tips Bar bartender Jo Rainwater. "Anything we can do to make sure people have a good time and get home safe."

A permanent taxi service in Eagle River would benefit more than just bar patrons, Rainwater said. It would provide senior citizens transportation to doctors' appointments and assist anyone in a bind -- for example, if they had car trouble, she said.

Patrick also has backing from the Assembly. Debbie Ossiander, Assembly chair and longtime Chugiak resident, plans to testify on Patrick's behalf at the meeting.

"I'm enthusiastic with what she's trying to do," Ossiander said.

Anchorage-based Alaska Yellow Cab said it services Chugiak-Eagle River like any other part of the municipality.

Office manager Regina Doyle said she couldn't say how many trips on average Yellow Cab makes to Eagle River. Yellow Cab logs its calls daily, Doyle said, but they aren't sorted by location of pickups.

Transportation inspector Eric Musser recently requested data from dispatch companies for November and December 2011 as well as for April and May 2012 to see if Eagle River can support a taxi service. He expects to have that information in four to six weeks.

Musser said it's been several years since taxi data has been analyzed for Chugiak-Eagle River. Musser wouldn't speculate whether Eagle River could support its own taxi service.

Most of Yellow Cab's taxis are concentrated downtown because of the high demand, Doyle said, but they'll send cabs from East Anchorage to Chugiak-Eagle River residents.

"We're always happy to send a cab to Eagle River," Doyle said.

Dan Gates disagrees.

Gates, who's owned Birchwood Saloon for nearly two decades, said his customers can't rely on Anchorage cabs for rides home.

"Unless you're coming from the airport, they will not come out here," he said. "They will absolutely not come here."

Ossiander has heard similar grievances. For the past decade, she said, residents have complained about long wait times and, in some instances, taxis not showing up at all.

Currently, 173 permitted taxis operate in the municipality, Musser said. Permits are issued based on public convenience and necessity, he said, not on the number of people being serviced.

Patrick, who drove a taxi for Yellow Cab for seven years, said she used to sit in Eagle River because she felt terrible its residents essentially had no service.

"I just want a taxi service in Eagle River," she said. "I don't think it's fair that Eagle River has to do what it has to do to get a cab."

Patrick blames the municipality.

"They're not providing reasonable service," she said. "It's gross negligence from the Transportation Commission."

Patrick likely won't benefit financially should the muni issue a limited service permit for cabs in Eagle River. Patrick said she couldn't afford a permit but would be happy if she saw an Eagle River-based taxi service open.

Furthermore, Patrick isn't doing this on behalf of her fellow residents. The Anchorage woman said she just can't stand the lack of service in Eagle River.

"When I see a problem like this one, it just eats at me," she said.

Chugiak-Eagle River Star