Everyday costs may rise in Alexandria

In the coming months, Alexandria residents might see a rise in the cost of cigarettes, longer hours for parking meters and credit card machines in the city’s 700-plus taxicabs.

At the end of a long day’s work Saturday, the Alexandria City Council took several actions that could affect residents’ everyday life.

City Manager Rashad Young proposed raising the city cigarette tax from 80 cents to 90 cents a pack. That move would bring an extra $334,000 to the city, on top of the $2.6 million that the tax now raises.

If this stays in the city budget, which will be decided May 6, it would be the highest local cigarette tax in the region, topping the City of Fairfax’s by 5 cents.

When visitors or residents go out for the evening and must park at a meter, they might have to spend more: Young has suggested extending the operating hours of parking meters from ending at 7 p.m. to ending at 9. The extra two hours would generate an additional $320,000 in revenue, he said.

This decision will also be finalized when the city budget is decided.

Finally, the council wrestled with an attempt to require all locally licensed taxicabs to accept credit cards for payment. The city staff recommended there be no surcharge for using them, that cabbies be allowed to preauthorize fares, and that written receipts include the date, amount charged and cab number.

The most controversial provision was the requirement that Alexandria’s seven cab companies determine which credit card machine would be installed in the taxis. Drivers, who are independent contractors, objected, arguing that they would have to pay for the machines and processing fee for each transaction without being able to choose machines that offer lower fees. The city staff said it would be better for the city to work with seven companies than with 700 drivers.

Spencer Kimball, president of Alexandria’s biggest taxi vendor, Yellow Cab, said his firm bought all the back-seat machines in its fleet. The company charges only what’s needed to cover ongoing costs, Kimball said. He suggested the city cap the fees to ensure that drivers would not be overcharged, and the City Council asked the staff to come back to them this week with a new requirement capping the fees that the companies can charge drivers for credit card devices.

Patricia Sullivan seeks out news about Alexandria and Arlington County for the Washington Post.
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