Taxicab rates at BWI set to rise

Arundel drivers note high gas prices in seeking 20% increase

March 31, 2000|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

The cost of hailing a taxi at Baltimore-Washington International Airport is expected to rise soon to help offset the rapid rise of gasoline prices -- a business cost that cab companies say is cutting into profits and making it hard to keep drivers.

BWI Airport Taxi -- the only taxi service licensed to pick up passengers at the airport -- and other Anne Arundel cab companies have asked for an increase of more than 20 percent. If approved, the cost of a 15-mile ride would jump from $19.90 to $24.55, assuming no heavy traffic slows the trip.

The chairman of the Anne Arundel County Council, which governs cab rates in the county and at the airport, supports an increase, noting that Anne Arundel has not granted one since 1991.

"Nine years is a long time without any rate increase, and now they're being hammered with an increase in fuel costs," said Council Chairman Daniel E. Klosterman Jr., a Millersville Democrat.

Just how high rates will go remains to be seen. Officials in the administration of County Executive Janet S. Owens say they think 20 percent is too much, and Klosterman does not want his county to have the highest cab rates in the region.

The new rates could take effect as early as May, and cab company owners in Anne Arundel say they cannot wait much longer.

"Hallelujah, it's been a long time," said Dan Setzer, assistant general manager of BWI Airport Taxi.

"Nobody likes to pay more for any service," Setzer said, "but I hope the public understands this increase is absolutely necessary to continue providing service."

Setzer estimates that even without factoring in higher gas prices, cab companies deserve 28 percent to make up for inflation during the 1990s. But he said he is willing to accept less "out of deference to customers."

Cab fares to the airport would not be affected unless they started in Anne Arundel. Rates are based on the locality in which a cab picks up a passenger.

Reacting to high gas prices, the state Public Service Commission recently approved temporary rate increases for cab drivers in Baltimore and Baltimore County. The surcharge, 30 cents per ride in the county and 35 cents in the city, will remain in effect until July 1.

If Anne Arundel cab companies get their way, taxi fares in the county will be among the highest in the region. They propose a $1.80 pickup charge -- the initial fare for getting into the cab; only Howard County has a higher origination charge, $1.90.

Anne Arundel companies also want to charge $1.50 a mile. That would put them on par with Montgomery County as tops in the area.

Currently, Anne Arundel cabs charge a $1.60 pickup fee ($2.10 at the airport) and $1.20 per mile.

Cab companies say they're not being greedy. "We have to get a rate increase or we won't be able to stay in business. It's that simple," said Emmett Willis, owner of Associated Cab in Glen Burnie.

Willis said he has lost nearly 10 of his 50 drivers in the past year.

At A.A. Taxi in Odenton, where drivers pay for all their gas, filling the tank often costs more than $30 a day, compared with $20 before gas prices began rising a few months ago. Drivers say they often take in just $80 a day from fares before expenses.

"Without drivers, you don't have a taxicab business," said Carl G. "Dutch" Holland, a former county councilman hired by Anne Arundel taxi companies to lobby the County Council. An increase has been in the works since May, before gas prices rose, and only lately has taken on a sense of urgency.

Setzer said most airport customers are business people who could absorb a 20-percent increase. Elsewhere in the county, riders tend to be elderly or poor.

Supporters of a rate increase say the change for most trips would amount to a couple dollars. And, they say, with the Mass Transit Administration cutting back on bus service in Anne Arundel, taxis are a major mode of transportation for those without cars.

"If it gets to the point where cab companies can't get drivers or can't afford to pay insurance and gasoline, then we don't have the vehicles on the road for people that need them," said Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle, a Linthicum Democrat.

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