Owners seek cab fare increase

Higher business costs offered as reason for first raise in decade

May 26, 1999|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

Appearing before the Public Transportation Board last night, Howard County cab companies pleaded their case for the first fare increase in nearly a decade.

Four cab companies operate in Howard -- including Action Cabs, Mini-Star and Columbia -- and they each charge $6.60 for a five-mile ride.

Last month, they requested a $2 increase for the same distance, a rate identical to that for cabs in Montgomery County. But County Executive James N. Robey called the request unacceptable.

The board said it will discuss the request at its June 22 meeting.

Board chairman Jeffry Barnett seemed to support the cab companies.

"It's [been] eight years without a raise," said Barnett, director of transportation for Eyre Bus Service. "I'm in the transportation business myself, and I don't think there's any question."

Frank Osei-Bonsu, the owner of the county's largest taxi company, Columbia Cab, proposed a fare increase in mid-February. The need for one was "due to the increasing cost of day-to-day operations," he wrote in a letter to David Hammerman, county director of Inspections, Licenses and Permits.

Osei-Bonsu had provided the board with a set of charts that showed that since 1996, costs have skyrocketed for replacement of new and used vehicles, insurance, advertising, maintenance and office operations. Increases ranged from 25 percent for advertising to 186 percent for insuring used cars, the charts showed.

"If you look at other companies, they have not been able to stay in business," Osei-Bonsu said last night, adding that his company serves about 1,200 riders per day.

One of his customers, Columbia resident Muriel Sumner, said that the increase is deserved.

"The drivers have always been courteous, the cars have been clean. I don't know where I'd be if not for Columbia Cab," said Sumner, a member of the Passenger Advisory Group for the Howard Area Transit Service. "I would recommend the raise because the service is excellent."

Osei-Bonsu also wrote that he would like to see the rates reviewed every two years because of the increasing business costs.

Avis Corbin, chief of Inspections, Licenses and Permits, said it's up to the cab companies to request reviews. She said the companies have had the option to request fare increases since the last one in 1991, and have voiced their intentions to do so over the last several years. But they chose not to, until now.

Mehdi Mahmoudi, the operator of one cab company known as Action Cabs, said that higher rates could make it possible for him to hire more drivers and buy more cars for his Ellicott City-based company.

"If they increase the rates, if cab drivers can make more money, then more people will be interested in driving cabs," said Mahmoudi, who provides between eight and 12 rides per day. "I cannot tell them that you can make $150 per day. You may make $50 per day."

Board member Andrea Baskinvoiced concern about extra charges that were proposed.

For example, riders would be charged an extra $2 for late-night trips and for those in heavy snow, and $1 for additional passengers, luggage, three bags or more of groceries, pets and paying by credit card.

Baskin also expressed concern about customer service, such as long waits.

"While I appreciate the rising cost of business, I would like to see some plan for customer improvement," Baskin said.

Osei-Bonsu said Columbia Cab has such plans in mind.

"I believe you, I just want to see it in writing," Baskin said.

Pub Date: 5/26/99

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