Baltimore taxi companies ask PSC to approve 91% fare increase

November 06, 1990|By Doug Birch

A group of Baltimore taxi companies has asked the state Public Service Commission to approve a fare increase starting Nov. 26 that would raise the cost of the average cab ride by 91 percent, rate filings show.

Meanwhile, the same taxi firms have asked the commission to approve a temporary, emergency rate increase of about 9 percent on the average cab ride effective immediately. Higher fares are desperately needed, the group said, to offset rapidly increasing fuel, equipment and insurance costs.

The commission will take its first look at both requests at its meeting tomorrow in Baltimore and could take immediate action on the emergency fare request, one state official said.

While a 91 percent raise in fares sounds steep, Yellow Cab Vice President Mark Joseph said Baltimore's cab fares have not risen since 1984 and are among the lowest in the nation.

"Even with the proposed increase, Baltimore will still rank among the least expensive cities," he said -- adding that the industry realizes the commission seldom grants the full rate rise requested by an industry.

"The industry does not want to gouge the public," said Mr. Joseph, whose company is one of 85 seeking the increase. "We realize . . . we can't just sock it to the public and expect them to pay any price."

Now, the commission sets city cab fares at $1.40 for the first one-seventh of a mile or fraction thereof and 10 cents for each additional one-seventh of a mile. Waiting time costs 10 cents for every 30 seconds.

The emergency request would immediately raise fares to $1.40 for each one-eighth of a mile and 10 cents for each additional one-eighth mile. The waiting time charge would not change. The rate would remain in effect until the commission ruled on the request for a permanent rate increase.

In 1987, the commission's staff calculated that the average cab ride in Baltimore covered 3.8 miles and included two minutes of waiting time. Using that benchmark, the emergency request would raise the price of the average cab ride from $4.40 to $4.80.

The taxi companies' proposal for a permanent increase in fares would be much more costly. They would charge riders $2 for the first one-eighth of a mile, 20 cents for each additional one-eighth of a mile and 20 cents for every 40 seconds of waiting time.

Those fares would raise the price of the average trip from $4.40 to $8.60 -- a 91 percent increase.

The 85 firms seeking a fare increase together own 622 of the city's 1,083 cabs. Mr. Joseph said the owners of the other cabs also want a rate increase, but have not filed the paperwork necessary to join the formal request to the commission.

"There's no one out there paying the current cost of gasoline who objects to this increase," he said.

The commission, which regulates taxis in Baltimore, Baltimore County, Cumberland and Hagerstown, has already granted emergency fare increases everywhere but Baltimore since gasoline prices started skyrocketing.

John M. Glynn, the state's people's counsel, said the city taxi companies have not yet submitted enough evidence to justify their request for either the emergency or permanent rate increase.

"This consortium of cabs came in a couple of years ago and requested a substantial increase, produced no evidence to support it and haven't been back since. So there is a substantial burden [on them] to justify with numbers anything they ask for," said Mr. Glynn, who represents consumers before the commission.

The Royal Cab Co. paid about 77 cents per gallon for regular unleaded gas on Aug. 4 -- two days after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, according to documents filed by William J. Rubin, the lawyer representing the 85 taxi companies. On Sept. 28, the same firm paid about $1.07 for the same product.

"Even prior to the onset of the gasoline crisis, the combination of high costs, low fares and crime resulted in there being a serious shortage of drivers," Mr. Rubin wrote.

Drivers typically lease the cabs on a daily basis from their owners and pay for their own gasoline.

"The current gasoline price increases threaten to make driving a taxicab in Baltimore completely unprofitable and result in driving away the remaining drivers," Mr. Rubin wrote.

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