Citing poor service to customers who call for cabs, a hearing examiner for the Public Service Commission has rejected a 19.3 percent rate increase for city cab companies.
The surprise decision came despite an agreement among the cab companies, the PSC staff and the Office of the People's Counsel that such a rate increase was appropriate. But testimony by a group representing the blind persuaded hearing examiner O. Ray Bourland 3rd that the cab companies should not get the increase.
"The call service provided by Baltimore taxicab companies is, if not inadequate, close enough to it as to warrant substantial improvement," Bourland said in his decision, dated yesterday. He also found that an emergency increase of 9 percent in November provided adequate revenues until the companies "can take concrete steps to address the service problems."
The decision can be appealed to the five-member Public Service Commission in the next 30 days or the commission can decide on its own to review the decision.
People's Counsel John Glynn said the decision was surprising in light of the prior agreement.
"I would hope we could meet with the companies and the commission and resolve this problem with service," he said.
Mark Joseph, president of Yellow Transportation Co., one of the city's largest cab companies, said he is still confident that the taxi cab companies will be able to get the rate increase on appeal to the commission. He said it was "highly unusual" for a hearing examiner to reject a prior agreement because of one group's complaints.
Joseph said the cab companies are trying to improve service, but added that one of the key problems was attracting more drivers. That could be done, he said, by increasing the rate. He also said polls have shown people are willing to pay higher rates if the quality of service increases.
Bourland based his decision primarily on the testimony of James Gashel, director of government affairs for the Baltimore National Federation of the Blind, and other members of his group. They told of having to wait one or two hours for cabs and sometimes not getting them at all.
"These delays cause many problems in their personal and professional lives," Bourland.
While he found the proposed rate increase to be "reasonable in the abstract," Bourland said the companies do not do enough to "address the substantial service problems described on the record."
In his testimony, Gashel had recommended a "Priority Service Program," in which taxi companies would give priority service to customers who register with a company. In return, the priority service customer would pay a surcharge of $2 if the cab arrives within 15 minutes of being called.
Joseph said Gashel's proposal would discriminate against the poor.