Starting next month, it could cost you an extra buck to call a city taxicab to pick you up.
In what taxi industry officials yesterday called "a historic decision," state regulators approved a plan to end a vicious cycle in the city in which customers complain taxis rarely answer radio calls, and cabbies respond that callers skip out before the car arrives.
Public Service Commissioner Claude M. Ligon approved a compromise hammered out by consumer and taxi representatives last month that will allow cabbies to charge customers $1 if they respond to a radio call within 30 minutes. Currently, cabbies charge 25 cents for radio call service.
The fee would be waived after 30 minutes had expired.
The plan, given PSC approval Wednesday, also permits cabbies to charge a $1 fine to customers who call cabs but then aren't there when the cab shows up.
The cab companies say they plan to ask for past fines when they arrive at a customer's house.
And they will keep a list of people who stand them up and deny service to those who keep calling without paying their fines.
Mark Joseph, president of Yellow Transportation Inc., said yesterday that the extra fee will lure more drivers to answer radio calls.
"A driver will be able to make an extra $10 or $20 per day" by answering radio calls, he said.
Mr. Joseph, owner of the biggest cab company in the city, said that the customer fine is also key to the plan.
"Consumers need to understand that you can't order a taxicab to come to your house if you don't intend to use it, any more than you would order four pizzas and expect to only pay for the first one that arrived," he said.
Consumer representatives, conceding that a 30-minute grace period was generous, backed the plan because they saw it as "a beginning step."
"I hate the idea of saying that people in the neighborhoods will have to pay more than tourists and business people," who can flag cabs on downtown streets, said James Gashel, director of governmental affairs for the National Federation of the Blind.
But, he said, "poor service has engendered poor practices among consumers. We have to break the cycle. This will only help."
Phyllis J. Winston, an attorney for the union that represents cab drivers, said last night that the drivers like the plan because it means a little extra money.
"There was no incentive to answer calls because they would show up and the customer was not there," she said, adding, "It was hard enough to get drivers in the city because of the low fares."
Addressing concerns that customers might get on the blacklist unfairly, William J. Rubin, a spokesman for taxi owners, said last night that the businesses had agreed to keep the list not by address but by individual.
Noting that a 50-cent miscall fee has been on the books but unenforced for years, Mr. Rubin indicated the taxi companies would likely cooperate with customers who felt they were being unfairly penalized.