More than 900 applicants are vying for the 68 Baltimore City taxicab permits to be handed out in a lottery this week by the state Public Service Commission.
The lottery, to be conducted Thursday, comes after a settlement between the PSC and Baltimore cab companies, which had blocked an earlier distribution of the cab permits scheduled in August.
The prizes in the drawing, which will take place at 1 p.m. at the War Memorial Building on Gay Street, are permits that have been surrendered to the PSC over the course of the last few decades.
They will be joining the other 1,083 permits that are in circulation.
Only taxicab drivers with at least six months of experience in Baltimore and current permit holders are eligible. While individuals own and operate cabs independently, they are required by PSC regulations to join one of the several cab associations, which provide common radio service.
The number of taxis allowed to operate in Baltimore is limited by the number of state issued permits, which has not changed since 1946.
While the PSC does not recognize the permits as having any value, the permits are routinely sold among cab companies.
The permits to be raffled started coming back to the PSC in 1960s as the result of financial problems of various taxi companies, according to Richard P. Page, director of transportation for the PSC.
In 1986, the commission started a review process to determine what to do with these permits. This finally resulted in the PSC scheduling a lottery in August. But this was canceled after the cab companies were able to get a court injunction issued against the action.
A settlement was then reached between the taxi companies and the PSC.
A key point in the settlement requires that the reissued permits become transferable after four years. Under the terms of the August lottery, the permits would revert back to the commission if the owner decided not to operate a cab.
This was an important issue to the taxi companies, which felt that the permit should carry some value. "You have difficulty enforcing standards because they [new permit holders] have nothing to lose," said Mark Joseph, president of Yellow Transportation Inc., the city's largest cab company.
Joseph also said the companies were concerned about the absorption of the extra permits into the system and how that might affect earnings for other cab drivers.
It would also mean less revenues to the cab companies that rent taxis to drivers. However, Joseph said the effects should be minimal.