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City Council approves $1 per person cab surcharge for night fares

Monday, February 6, 2012 by Michael Kanin

The Austin City Council has approved a $1 per person taxi cab rider surcharge that will be applied during the city’s high volume service period, 9pm to 4am. The move comes after the idea received unanimous approval from the city’s Urban Transportation Commission.


Assistant Transportation Director Gordon Derr told Council members that the $1 fee was also widely endorsed by both cab drivers and franchise owners. “There generally seemed to be a consensus that the $1 per passenger was a better way to go,” he said. “There were a couple of drivers who had concerns about it, but the majority of the drivers who participated, and franchise holders, and the UTC were supportive of the $1 per passenger.”


The $1 per person surcharge comes instead of a flat $2.50 addition to the drop fee – the charge a rider incurs as soon as a cab driver starts the meter. The hike in the drop fee was co-sponsored by Council Member Kathie Tovo during deliberations at the Jan. 26 Council session. Not convinced that $1 per person would be adequate, Tovo provided the only vote against the concept at the first reading of the new ordinance.


This week, Tovo told her colleagues that, with the drivers on board, she could get behind the $1 per person fee. “It’s my understanding, based on going back to the taxi drivers’ association and hearing from the drivers, that they do now support this dollar per passenger,” she said.


Officials, franchise owners, and cab drivers hope that the new fee will give more drivers added incentive to pick up night shifts. “The holistic solution is to encourage more drivers to drive at night,” said Yellow Cab Austin President Ed Kargbo. “There are people who would like to utilize taxis, but because there aren’t enough cars on the road at the times that they want them, they use other means of transportation.”


After the hearing, he elaborated on his statement. “There are two solutions here that need to be pieced together,” Kargbo told In Fact Daily. “There needs to be an incentive for drivers to work at night. We didn’t create that proposal, we didn’t present that proposal, but we support that. In addition to that, yes we think there need to be more cabs available.


“What you experience is that there are drivers who want to drive at night, but who don’t own a vehicle,” he continued. “We’re saying, in addition to getting more drivers that own their cars to drive, there need to be more vehicles available on the road. The passenger is the other side of this, they want a car in five-to-10 minutes and we want to be able to get them a car in that amount of time.”


Kargbo also worked in a pitch for the Yellow Cab-backed Green Peak Demand Permit proposal. According to a release distributed after the hearing, the proposal “calls for the issuance of 50 green taxicab permits to be issued by City of Austin staff on a first-come, first-serve basis with no franchise given more than 60 percent.”


Permits would be issued directly to the cab companies, who would, in turn, offer day leases –as  opposed to the current week lease standard – for drivers to operate the vehicles. Yellow Cab couched the proposal as another solution to the lack of peak-hour drivers. “These alternative fuel taxicabs would address the need for increased service during periods of peak demand,” read the release.


At the hearing on Jan. 26, council members expressed their concern that any new fee would have an unfair impact on low-income Austin residents (See In Fact Daily, Jan. 30, 2012). In light of that issue, Council Member Laura Morrison asked both Derr and Kargbo for data that could illustrate what portion of the population used taxis during peak-hours.


Kargbo produced his data at Thursday’s hearing. “Eighty-five percent of the trips dispatched between 9pm and 4am from May 9 through the end of the year were trips outside downtown,” he said. “It’s consistent with the point that we were trying to make last week that city-wide service is still needed during that time.”


On the back of the map, Yellow Cab further detailed its case. There, he argues the “trips actually serve a far greater number of passengers, as any taxi can transport as many as four passengers at a time.”


There is currently a four-person cap on passengers per trip. Council has indicated that it may increase that limit for vehicles that can accommodate more riders at a later date.

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