Taxicab drivers in Arlington County are seeking an increase in basic nonrush-hour fares that, if approved, would make the county's cab fares the highest in the metropolitan area.
In a petition signed by 190 of the county's 1,529 licensed taxi drivers, the cabbies asked for an increase in the basic charge for the first mile of service from $1.80 to $2.30, and for raises in fees for extra passengers and baggage handling.
The petition, presented to the county's transportation commission this week, said the increases were necessary because insurance rates, the cost of living and inflation have all risen since 1981, when they last won a fare increase.
"I don't think people are going to get hurt because the increase is almost nothing. It's still very cheap," said Mike Teran, a driver for Red Top Cab, the largest of the county's seven taxi firms. Teran said his insurance costs have climbed from $900 annually two years ago to $1,750 this year.
"Most cab drivers work seven days a week, 15 hours a day to make ends meet," said Willie D. Smith, a Blue Top Taxi driver, who said he thought drivers should be able to recoup costs by higher fees for extra passengers, luggage handling or waiting time, instead of through increased mileage costs.
"We don't want to hurt grandma and grandpa going to the Safeway," Smith said, as he waited for passengers at the Ballston Metro station yesterday.
On a good day, Smith added, any of Arlington's cab drivers can make about $150. However, almost half of that goes into gas and fees a driver has to pay the taxi company.
Doris Allen, a retired Navy employe waiting for a cab at the Virginia Square Giant grocery yesterday, was not particularly sympathetic to the drivers' cause. "I think it's a ripoff. They charge plenty now," said Allen. "When I go to my doctor in Georgetown I take a cab. That adds $20 to my day already. So I think a rate increase would be too high."
The request's potential impact on the elderly and handicapped was also on the minds of members of the county's transportation commission, who declined to make a recommendation on the issue to the County Board, said Martin Kamarck, transportation commission chairman. The County Board is expected to vote today to advertise for public hearings on the issue in August when the commission will make its final decision.
John O'Neill, a member of the transportation commission, said he is not sure a case has been made for higher rates. "Somebody's got to persuade me . . . . Just saying, 'We'd like more money' is not persuasive."
Farouq Massoud, president of the Blue Top and Diamond taxi companies, and Neal Nichols, president of the Red Top and Yellow cab companies, said they are generally sympathetic to the drivers' requests. But both said they think any rate increases should come in other fees, and not from a rise in basic rates.
Besides the basic rate, the drivers also are seeking an increase from 60 cents for each extra passenger over the age of 6 to $1 for each extra passenger of any age. They also want baggage handling fees raised from 20 cents for each bag over the first two to 50 cents for each piece of luggage and $2 for foot lockers.
Besides the potential effects on Arlington residents and workers, Dick Barton, chairman of the county's economic development commission, said he expects commission members may be concerned about the impact on tourists.
In 1983, the latest year for which state figures are available, Arlington had about 1.5 million tourists who spent about $434 million, making the county the leader in tourist dollars spent in Virginia. The county's visitors commission is not expected to take a position on the issue.
County Board Chairman John G. Milliken said he could not predict what the board's sentiments might be on the requested fare increase. But, Milliken added, "We have always wanted to be, except for having the lowest taxes in the area, within the pack with the other jurisdictions. We don't want to have the highest cost of anything."