City to consider cab fare increase

By Kaley Fowler

Road rage between cab drivers and city officials has intensified as the fight for fare increases continues.

Alderman Anthony Beale (9th Ward), chair of the City Council Transportation Committee, and the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, announced on Feb. 2 that a hearing will be held in six to seven months in response to a petition filed Dec. 15 by city taxi drivers requesting a 22 percent cab fare hike.

As reported by The Chronicle on Jan. 17, cab driver Thaddeus Budzynski compiled 1,500 signatures in protest of the current cab fare in response to Beale’s proposed amendments to the city’s taxi ordinance.

In order for the petition to qualify for a hearing, it must represent 10 percent of the city’s 11,202 licensed cab drivers. When the BACP investigated the signatures, it found 430 of them to be invalid, making the petition invalid as well.

While Budzynski failed to gather the required 1,200 signatures, the city still offered the drivers the hearing, according to BACP spokeswoman Jen Lipford.

“A large portion of it [came from] people whose names didn’t match the license numbers they gave us,” Lipford said.

The BACP reviewed the signatures to make sure each driver holds a valid license, according to Lipford. She said many signatures were found to be invalid because the license numbers were either suspended, expired, revoked or duplicated.

However, Budzynski said he does not believe Lipford’s explanation because he approached each driver while he or she was on the clock.

“That’s a hoax,” Budzynski said. “There is nothing wrong with those signatures. All of the cab drivers I went to were working [when they signed]. They were not with suspended licenses.”

Lipford said that regardless of Budzynski’s argument, she cannot attest to how each driver got his or her vehicle for the day. She added that despite the faulty signatures, Beale decided the drivers still deserve to be heard.

“Even though they fell short, I’m committed to giving them a hearing,” Beale said. “By law I don’t have to give them a hearing, but I think that’s the fair thing to do.”

Beale explained that the hearing will take place after the city’s updated taxi ordinance goes into effect. The ordinance will reform many aspects of the industry, such as drivers’ safety standards and vehicle specifications.

“We’re [updating] all aspects of the taxicab industry from the driver to the passenger to the owner,” Beale said.

The ordinance changes will go into effect July 1, according to Lipford, who said the city will have roughly two or three months to study the ordinance’s impact.

“We’re committed to a six- to seven-month time frame to have a hearing so we can measure what kind of effects [the ordinance] is having,” Beale said. “It’s kind of premature to talk about how the changes are going to affect the industry [at this point].”

Lipford agreed that waiting until late summer to hold a hearing is best.

“The reality is that we want to give [the drivers] a chance to have their hearing,” Lipford said. “It would be a more productive conversation after the ordinance is in play.”

Among the changes the city will implement are more fuel-efficient vehicles and credit card machines in all taxis, additions, Beale said, that will be cost-efficient to drivers.

“[Fuel-efficient vehicles are] going to help the drivers make more money because they will be spending less money on gas,” he said.

Budzynski said he believes the city will use the new vehicles as a reason to avoid granting the drivers a fare hike at the upcoming hearing.

“By the time we have our hearing in July, there are going to be hybrids on the streets,” Budzynski said. “And then they’re going to say, ‘No fare increase because you’re making money off hybrids.’”

Beale said the city will take into consideration how much money the drivers are saving on gasoline as a result of the new fuel-efficient vehicles. If that figure is enough, he said that a fare increase might not be in order.

“If that number is substantial, then we have [already] obtained our goal [of a fare increase],” he said.

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