Baltimore cab companies and an advocacy group have reached an agreement that could mean improved taxi response to telephone orders.
The group, the National Federation of the Blind, has alspromised to support a proposed increase in taxi fares in the city in return for the improved service.
Under the broad outlines of the plan, people ordering cabs by telephone would be charged an extra 75 cents or $1, but they would not have to pay the fee if a cab arrived more than 15 minutes after the agreed pickup time.
The agreement comes after the surprise rejection in late March of a proposed 19 percent fare increase by a hearing examiner for the Public Service Commission. The rate increase was supported by the commission's staff and the Office of the People's Counsel, the state office that represents consumers before the commission.
But testimony by a group representing the blind convinced hearing examiner O. Ray Bourland 3rd that the cab companies should not get the increase because of their poor record of responding to telephone requests for cabs.
Under the agreement, the National Federation of the Blind will support the rate increase. In exchange, three months after the rate increase is approved, the cab companies will present the commission with a proposal to improve taxi response to telephone orders.
PSC spokesman Frank Fulton said the five-member commission is expected to make a decision in two weeks.
"This is one of the most unique situations in the country," said Mark L. Joseph, president of the Yellow Transportation Co., one of the largest taxi companies in the city. "We have everybody in favor of the increase."
He said the taxi companies opposed a previous proposal that would have set up a special list of customers who would receive priority service for an extra fee. "That would be perceived as discriminatory," Joseph said.
But the companies support a uniform charge that is affordable. "We think a $1 charge is marketable," he said.
If the proposal is implemented, it would also mean that cab companies, for the first time, would have to give customers a definite time of pickup. "This is going to put the onus on the industry to give a time estimate to the customer," he said.
James Gashel, the director of governmental affairs for the National Federation of the Blind, said he is pleased that the cab companies have tied rates to the promptness of service. "The principle is there," he said. "Rates are related to service and I think that is a big step forward."
Despite the agreement, some details have yet to be worked out, Gashel said. Provisions still to be determined:
* The exact amount of the extra fee.
* How much notice customers have to give in scheduling a cab.
* Whether the driver or the cab company should give up the extra fee if the cab is late.
Gashel said a cab may be late because of the actions of the taxi company. "The driver should not bear the sole penalty," he said.