An emergency 9 percent increase in Baltimore taxi fares, effective immediately, won approval yesterday from the Public Service Commission after a consortium of cab companies said it was needed to offset soaring gasoline prices.
The commission also voted to hold a hearing on a separate request by the same companies for a permanent increase that would raise the fare of a typical ride 91 percent. That hearing is expected in the next few months.
By a 3-0 vote, the commission approved the emergency increase, which raises the price of the average cab ride from $4.40 to $4.80.
Assistant People's Counsel Donald F. Rogers opposed the increase, telling the commission that the cab companies had not proven they needed to raise fares to cover higher fuel prices. Mr. Rogers, a state official who represents consumers in rate cases, urged the commission to postpone action pending a hearing.
Two drivers who own and operate taxis also spoke against the higher fares, which are mandatory.
"Every time we get a rate increase, we lose patronage," said Leonard Weinstein, 68, who has been driving a cab in the city for 48 years. After prices rose in 1984, he said, "it took two years for people to get used to it."
John Glynn, the state's people's counsel, said after the meeting that the commission should have held a hearing on the emergency rate. "The commission ought to make them [the cab firms] toe the mark, procedurally, before they give away the public's money," he said.
William J. Rubin, an attorney for the cab companies, said he was "shocked and outraged" by the charge that the companies had not provided enough evidence to back up their emergency rate request.
The commission was given all the documents it had requested, Mr. Rubin said.
He also pointed out that the entire emergency increase would be passed along to owner-operators or drivers who lease their cabs from large taxi companies and pay for their own gasoline.
Before approving the increase, commission members noted they already had approved emergency increases for taxis in Cumberland, Hagerstown and Baltimore County to reflect higher fuel costs since Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.
The commission regulates taxi companies in those jurisdictions.
A lawyer for Teamsters' Local 355, which represents about 500 drivers who lease their cabs from big companies, said the union's cabbies support the new rates.
Mark J. Joseph, president of Yellow Transportation Inc., asserted that even after the emergency increase Baltimore has the lowest fares of 25 of the nation's largest cities and counties.
The city had not increased fares for almost six years, while fuel, repair and insurance costs have risen sharply, he said.
He later estimated it would take a week for his company to change its meters to reflect the increase.
Until yesterday, city cabs rates were $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 cost 10 cents for every 30 seconds.
The new fares are $1.40 for each one-eighth of a mile and 10 cents for each additional one-eighth mile. The waiting charge has not changed.
The commission's action yesterday raised the price of an average cab ride -- which covers 3.8 miles and includes two minutes of waiting time -- about 9 percent.
The 91 percent permanent rate increase would raise the price of the same trip to $8.60.
for 5-mile ride
Before increase $4.80
With increase 5.30
Los Angeles 9.10
New York 5.85
Orange Co., Calif. 8.70
Source: International Taxicab