Anchorage voters decided Tuesday they wanted more cabs on city streets, with a strong majority voting "no" on a ballot measure that would have repealed a new law to dramatically increase the number of taxi permits in circulation.
Though there was considerable confusion about the wording of the measure, the outcome of the vote — with 59 percent voting "no" — appears to signal that Anchorage residents are willing to give Assemblyman Bill Evans' free-market approach to the taxi industry a shot.
Evans has said that more permits would translate into better service and more innovation, at the same time as the state is weighing new laws that would allow ride-booking companies like Uber and Lyft to operate.
The "no" vote also marks a sharp repudiation to Anchorage's taxi permit owners and their supporters, who poured more than $107,000 into "Yes on 8" campaign ads. Permit owners were worried about the value of their investments in the permits, which were until now strictly limited in number and treated like rare commodities.
Voters also supported a proposal to expand the city's taxing area for parks and recreation to the entire Anchorage Hillside. That means all residents of the Hillside will now pay taxes for park maintenance.
Late Tuesday night, a thin majority of Turnagain Arm residents had cast votes in favor of taxing themselves for police protection — there were 69 votes "yes," and 60 votes "no." Deputy city clerk Amanda Moser said elections officials had yet to count absentee and questioned ballots in that race, and the outcome won't be known for several days.
If the results of the taxi ballot measure hold, 15 new taxi permits and five new wheelchair-accessible permits will be issued not long after the city election results are certified on April 18, said city transportation inspector Eric Musser. Bidding will start at $1,980.
In all, the ordinance directs 116 new permits to be auctioned over the next five years. At that point, the city transportation commission would conduct a study to determine if there's too many or too few cabs on the road, and whether service got better or worse because of the ordinance.
Unless the study finds service got worse, the city will lift its longstanding cap on permits.
That means any qualified person can apply for a permit and pay a fee, creating an "open market" that has been adopted by other cities, like San Diego.
Some permit owners have signaled plans for a lawsuit if Prop. 8 failed, though city attorney Bill Falsey has said he feels confident the city would win such a suit.