The Robey administration is proposing new taxi surcharges that could boost the price of a ride to Baltimore-Washington International Airport by as much as $5, but would make no adjustment for higher gasoline costs.
The proposed surcharges, designed to bolster the finances of Howard County's cabbies, would affect nighttime rides, credit card transactions and other special circumstances.
"It's going to make a big difference, especially for attracting more drivers here," said Atta Poku, owner of the four-vehicle Mini-Star cab company.
Poku said many drivers like to work in Howard County, but can make more money in Montgomery County or Baltimore. He hopes business will pick up enough to allow him to put two more cars on the street.
Frank A.K. Awuah, manager of Columbia Cab - the county's largest with more than 60 drivers - said the proposed $2 surcharge for rides between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. could help keep more cabs on the road at night.
"At night, there are insufficient drivers," Awuah said. Drivers, who own and operate their cabs, also set their own hours, but too few choose to work at night.
The surcharges would add $2 for rides between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., and $2 for trips to other counties. Riders would pay an extra $1 for credit card transactions and $1 for having more than six grocery bags. Riders would also be responsible for tolls.
Under that formula, the cost of a nighttime ride to BWI, paid with a credit card, would increase by $5.
Some drivers would benefit more than others.
Mehdi Mahmoudi, owner-operator of the one-car A-Plus, Action Taxi, doesn't drive at night or accept credit cards. He said the plan to increase fees "helps a little bit, but not too much."
The new surcharges, in a bill pre-filed for introduction to the County Council on Monday, mirror recommendations made in late April by the county Transportation Board.
A council vote should come in July, and if approved, the surcharges would take effect as soon as the resolution is signed by County Executive James N. Robey.
"One question to ponder is whether if the rates do go up, would other companies be lured to come to Howard County? Have low rates kept other companies from coming in?" asked Carl Balser, the county's transportation planner.
Howard cabs have been the cheapest in the area, but neither the transportation board nor Robey supported a request for a 50-cent per trip gasoline surcharge.
"It was too vague. They simply asked for a 50-cent surcharge. The board felt they didn't know at what point it would stop if prices came down," Balser said.
Cabbies in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and in Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties have been granted fare increases to offset higher gas prices.
Fares rose $1 per trip in Montgomery this spring, 50 cents in Washington, 35 cents in Baltimore and 30 cents in Baltimore County. Anne Arundel County allowed taxis to increase fares 20 cents a mile.
The Howard County Council approved a slight increase in mileage rates in January, providing drivers an extra 5 cents for the first mile and an extra 20 cents for each additional mile - the first increases since 1991.
MallaceAddowand RazaqGbadamosi, drivers for Columbia Cab, said the proposed surcharges will aid them more than the January mileage increase.
"It will help," Addow said, while waiting for a fare near The Mall in Columbia. He works some nights but doesn't make enough toward the weekly fee he must pay the company. And sometimes passengers at night take a cab to Baltimore and hop out without paying, he said.
Both drivers said they must pay the company $1 for each credit card transaction to cover processing costs, so the new surcharge would merely reimburse them.
The January fare increase was so small "it didn't do anything," to offset steeply rising gas prices, Addow said.
And he's not worried about higher rates attracting more drivers or cab companies.
"Competition is welcome," he said. "I put my wares out. You put your wares out. People have a choice."