Higher fuel costs pushing Md. cab fares up

October 11, 1990|By Kim Clark

Baltimore County taxi drivers won permission yesterday to raise their fares 10 cents a mile to reflect higher gasoline prices.

Transportation executives and economists around the state said Marylanders should expect a rush of other price increases for transportation as businesses dependent on gasoline are no longer able to absorb higher fuel costs.

The prices of government-run transportation, such as MTA buses and the Metro, are remaining stable, but private transportation businesses are beginning to pass on their higher costs.

Baltimore taxi companies said yesterday that they expect to file a request for a fare increase by the end of the week. And area trucking companies said they expect to push their rates higher as gasoline prices rise.

"The effects of an increase of energy prices at the crude level filters through the economy in stages," said Mahlon Straszheim, chairman of the economics department at the University of Maryland College Park.

The initial and obvious increases in gasoline and home heating oil prices are followed by secondary price rises in industries dependent on petroleum, he said.

The Maryland Public Service Commission unanimously approved yesterday a petition by the Baltimore County Taxicab Owners Association for a fuel surcharge that raises the per-mile charge to $1. The cabs will still charge $1.60 for the first mile, however.

Ned Randall, spokesman for the county cab association, said the fare increase won't cover all of the drivers' increased costs but that the PSC's decision was "a step in the right direction."

Fuel makes up about 20 percent of a cab driver's cost, and gasoline prices have risen by about a third since Iraq invaded Kuwait Aug. 2, Mr. Randall said.

"We don't want to do this, but if gasoline keeps going up, we will have to go back again and ask for another increase," Mr. Randall said.

The commission, which sets rates for many transportation companies throughout the state, already has approved a similar fare increase for cabs in Hagerstown. And the panel is currently considering a rate-increase request by the cab owners of Cumberland.

Mark Joseph, president of Yellow Transportation Co. in Baltimore, said the typical city cab driver burns about 20 gallons of gasoline a day, which means that the increase in gasoline prices has cost local cabbies about $6 a day.

"And that comes right off the bottom line," since most cab drivers pay for their own gasoline, he said.

Baltimore fares, which have been frozen since 1984, are the lowest urban cab fares in the country, Mr. Joseph said.

Mr. Joseph declined to say how big an increase the city cabs will ask for, but he said the rates will remain the lowest in the country. Cabs in the city currently charge $2 for the first mile and $1.40 for every additional mile.

Similarly, trucking companies around the state have started to pass on some of their increased fuel costs.

A coalition of about 300 trucking companies in the Northeast won state and federal approval for rate increases ranging from 2.1 to 3.7 percent earlier this month, said James Tucker, director of tariffs for the Middle Atlantic Conference, an industry association.

Mr. Tucker said the truckers will be filing for rate increases as often as weekly, if necessary to keep up with rising fuel costs.

Jim Murphy, a manager at Baltimore-based Ace Worldwide Moving and Storage, said the combination of fuel and other cost increases has driven his rates up by as much as 20 percent from last year.

"Diesel has jumped from $1.10 to $1.40 here, and in some states we are now paying $1.60," he said. When a trucker fills up a tractor-trailer's 400-gallon tank, it costs an extra $120. "That hurts," Mr. Murphy said.

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