Bill would tie taxicab surcharge to gas price

County Council to consider instituting sliding scale of fees

June 04, 2006|By PHILLIP MCGOWAN | PHILLIP MCGOWAN,SUN REPORTER

A fuel surcharge that Anne Arundel County taxi drivers collect may soon be tied to the price of gasoline under a measure before the County Council tomorrow night.

The Anne Arundel County Council will hold a public hearing tomorrow on emergency legislation that, if passed, would establish a sliding scale of gas surcharges that would change each April and October based on the average price of gas in Maryland. Annapolis passed a bill last year that instituted a range of gas surcharges on taxi passengers.

Frank W. Ward, an assistant director for the county's Department of Inspections and Permits, said Friday that the bill is a response to calls from the taxicab industry to re-examine fuel charges in the face of volatile fuel prices.

Currently the county has a flat gas surcharge of $1 per taxi ride. Under the proposed fee schedule, a surcharge of $2 would be imposed for all cab rides through Oct. 1. That surcharge would drop to nothing if a gallon of gas fell below $2; it could climb to as high as $5 if gas hits $4.01 or more.

The county would rely on the gasoline price determined by AAA. The average price in Maryland is $2.95, contrasted with $2.08 at this time last year, an AAA spokeswoman said Friday.

A vote could come tomorrow night. The legislation would go into effect if County Executive Janet S. Owens signs it.

"Our sense is that it will get us through this year and into next year," said Ward, who added that he does not anticipate an overhaul of taxi rates before next year.

Some council members called on Owens in September to create a sliding scale of surcharges tied to gasoline prices, so that the local government could be more responsive to the plight of taxi companies.

All changes to taxi rates and surcharges must be approved by the County Council. During previous spikes in gas prices, taxi drivers were forced to wait for months for the local government to raise the surcharge.

By establishing a sliding scale of surcharges, Ward said, "we don't have to go back to the council every six months, year, two years, whatever."

From the county's perspective, revising surcharges is preferable to changing the rate schedule. Each time the council agrees to alter the rate schedule, more than 400 cab meters must be inspected, Ward said.

Meters are already inspected each fall, he said.

Industry leaders met three times with county officials, Ward said. They said they were pleased with the bill.

"I think that a sliding scale makes a lot of sense, given the uncertain cost of oil," said Robert Simms, president of Cab Connection in Glen Burnie. Simms said the surcharge scale "is necessary for drivers to earn a livable wage." He worried, though, that rising transportation prices would hurt seniors and others on subsidized incomes.

Rising fuel costs last summer spurred the County Council in September to allow taxi drivers to collect a $1 fuel surcharge. The move came when gas prices in some parts of Maryland hovered near $3.50 because of the destruction caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The Annapolis city council responded in October by approving a sliding scale of surcharges that would be tied to gasoline prices. That law adds a 50-cent surcharge when gas prices are between $3 and $3.99 within the Annapolis area, and a $1 surcharge for rides to most other county locations. If gas prices increase to $4 a gallon or above, the surcharges would jump to $1 and $2, respectively.

Simms said he and others in the taxi industry wish that "we didn't have to pass this cost along to the public, but we don't have a choice."

Ward said the county bill also seeks to clarify rules regarding multiple passengers.

It would add a $1 charge for each passenger older than 8, beyond the first rider. It would also permit Anne Arundel officials to adopt an amended rate schedule for passengers who agree to share a cab to separate destinations.

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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