Taxicab rate increase sought

Robey says proposal from Columbia Cab is unacceptable

April 14, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Taxicab riders in Howard County will be paying more for transportation soon if the county government approves a request for a rate increase.

Frank Osei-Bonsu, owner of Columbia Cab, the largest operator in the county, is asking for a fare that would match the rates in Montgomery County, which are the highest in the Baltimore-Washington region.

Under the requested rates, an average five-mile ride for one person with luggage would cost $2 more than the current $7.60 fare, the cheapest in the region.

That's too much, said County Executive James N. Robey, who must approve any proposed rate increase and forward it to the County Council for a vote.

"I thought that was a bit high. I've asked for some more information," Robey said this week. "I want something more in the middle. That wasn't acceptable."

Osei-Bonsu, who has owned the 20-year-old cab company for the past eight years after working as a driver, says he and his drivers need the increase. "Since 1991, we've never asked for a rate increase," he said.

Smaller county cab owners agree. Richard Atta-Poku, owner of the four-cab Mini-Star Taxi, and Mehdi Mahmoudi, driver-owner of the one-vehicle Action Cabs, both in Ellicott City, support the request.

The cost of insurance has doubled, Osei-Bonsu said, and other costs, such as vehicle prices, maintenance and parts, also have increased substantially. He says his office costs have jumped from $130,000 to $238,000 a year. Gasoline prices have increased recently, he said. All 60 Columbia Cabs are bought, owned, insured and maintained by the driver-operators, he said.

Drivers pay fees

The drivers pay the company a weekly flat rate ranging from $60 to $120, and the firm dispatches them to pick up fares. Osei-Bonsu said the lowest weekly rate is reserved for a few veteran drivers, but most pay the higher amount. In addition to buying their cars, the drivers must pay the $1,000 it costs to have a rate meter installed, although Osei-Bonsu said he lends drivers the money and allows them to pay it back.

Several drivers waiting for fares Monday said they work six to seven days a week and net from $80 to $100 on good days. But business is down in spring and summer, they said. If their car needs repairs, they earn nothing while it is in the shop. "No matter how many fares you get, you still have to pay [the weekly fee]," said one driver, who didn't want his name used.

Surcharges proposed

Among the additional charges Columbia Cab has requested is a series of surcharges, such as $2 extra for rides between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. and $1 extra for more than three grocery bags, each piece of luggage, pets not in cages, an additional passenger, using a credit card and trips outside Howard County.

In addition, Osei-Bonsu wants the right to display a flat, hourly rate of $32.50 to allow him to compete with flat-rate carriers such as The Airport Shuttle. But shuttle owner Don Eames objects. "That's not the way cabs run. I don't charge by the mile," he said. The shuttle is regulated by the state's Public Service Commission, not by the county.

Rate comparison

On a per-mile basis, Howard's current rates are at least 80 cents lower for the first mile than other metropolitan jurisdictions. Each additional mile after five costs $1 in Howard, compared with $1.20 to $1.40 in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George's counties, according to a comparison done by the county's Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits.

The County Council has approved legislation allowing cabs to remain in service until they are 10 years old, instead of the previous five-year or 200,000-mile standard. The law also prohibits smoking in cabs.

Osei-Bonsu said the change from five to 10 years as a maximum age was needed because newer cars are built to last longer and are expensive to replace.

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