Board suggests raising cab fare $1

Transportation panel OKs increase, seeks consumer protections

June 24, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A taxicab ride in Howard County will soon cost an additional $1 if the county's Public Transportation Board has its way -- but board members want something in return.

In exchange for granting a portion of the cab owners' request for more money, the board voted 4-1 Tuesday night to require a customer grievance policy that includes posting a phone number for complaints in each cab, courtesy training for drivers and a yearly passenger satisfaction survey.

County Executive James N. Robey and the County Council will make the final decision.

The request for higher rates, submitted in February, would have imposed surcharges for late-night trips, grocery bags, luggage, pets and payment with credit cards, in addition to higher base and per-mile charges. A 5-mile trip for one person would have cost $2 more, equaling rates in Montgomery County.

"We examined it, measured it up against other jurisdictions, and we thought their request was out of line," said board member Richard F. Kirchner, explaining why the board approved only the $1 increase.

Carl Balser, the county's transportation planner, said board members wanted a simple, easy-to-understand initial fare increase.

"In the board's discussion, they emphasized this was a first step. There may be further increases. The $1 increase made the whole change understandable," he said.

Owners of three cab companies say that increasing the base fare would not sufficiently increase drivers' incomes, but that it would penalize poor people who use cabs for short trips.

"We weren't happy at all," said Columbia Cab owner Frank Osei-Bonsu, whose 60 cabs dominate the county market.

Two operators of smaller companies were sharply critical of the board's recommendation.

"I'd rather have nothing than scare my customers [with the higher rate]," said Action Cabs owner Mehdi Mahmoudi.

"I believe it was not fair," said Mini-Star Cabs owner Atta Poku. "You are squeezing the poor people. It doesn't make any sense."

Charge called `regressive'

Z. Andrew Farkas, the dissenting board member, also objected to the extra $1 per trip, calling it "regressive," because the charge wouldn't vary, whether the trip was two miles or 20.

Two taxi users offered different views of service.

Muriel Sumner, a Columbia retiree who depends on taxicabs and is a member of the Howard Area Transit Service passenger advisory group, praised Columbia Cab Co.

"I don't know where I'd be without Columbia Cabs," she said, referring to infrequent bus service.

Courteous and punctual

She said the drivers are courteous and punctual, and their cabs are clean -- a marked contrast to what she has experienced in Washington.

"My life was hell in a D.C. cab. Some of those guys couldn't even find the White House," she said.

But Transportation Board member Andrea Paskin -- the transportation director of a large nonprofit group in Columbia that spends up to $60,000 a year for cabs, usually for disabled clients -- said service problems have occurred.

"Off and on, I've had problems with politeness and timeliness," she said, explaining why she pushed for complaint surveys and courtesy training for drivers and dispatchers.

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