For the first time in six years, the Howard County Council will consider an increase in the county's taxi fares, largely because of gasoline prices, which have doubled during that time.
"As the normal cost of living increases and the price of gas keeps going up, we figured it was time," said Frank Awuah, operations manager of Columbia Cab, the county's largest taxi company, which sought the increase.
The resolution includes an increase in mileage rates and a first-time gasoline surcharge of 90 cents per trip. Sheila Tolliver, council administrator, said that under the proposed rates, a 10-mile in-county trip would cost $21.94, up from $14.95. A three-mile trip, more typical for most local passengers, would cost $7.32, an increase of $2.37.
Some passengers and council members said the measure, coming atop the Maryland Transit Administration's proposal to eliminate several bus routes in the area, would further limit public transportation options for residents on fixed incomes. A public hearing on the measure is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. July 18 in the Banneker Room of the George Howard Building, 3430 Courthouse Dr., Ellicott City. A council vote is scheduled for July 28.
The resolution would keep the fare for the first three-eighths mile at $1.90 and increase it for each additional one-eighth mile from 15 cents to 22 cents. The surcharge for trips outside the county would increase from $2 to $2.50, and the fee for credit card charges of more than $20 would rise from $1 to $2.50. The new fees would apply to all four county taxi companies, although Columbia Cab and Columbia Flyer are the largest by far.
Columbia Cab has a fleet of 55 to 60 cabs, operated by independent drivers, some of whom have lobbied the council to support the increase.
"It's about time," said David Valentin, who has been driving for Columbia Cab for three years. "Baltimore's already changed their fares; Montgomery's, D.C.'s have just gone up, too."
Valentin, 38, of Annapolis, said his passengers are "mostly elderly people going to the doctor, a lot of people going to work. About 25 percent of it is airport, but mostly it's people in and around town."
County Council member Ken Ulman (D-West Columbia) said he would like to see fares for short trips remain about the same, to assist residents who take taxis on errands.
"The bottom line is, we have a lot of people who don't have a car and buses that are close or effective enough," Ulman said. "There's a heavy burden [on cab companies] to convince me to raise rates, but . . . a rate increase may be appropriate."
Bob Frances, acting director of the county's Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits, said the proposed increase is in line with rates in neighboring counties. Rates were last increased was 1999, he said. "Gas was $1.10 a gallon," he said. "They're due."
Dick Kirchner of Transportation Advocates, a coalition of employers, senior citizens and transport providers, said that a fare increase is worth considering but that the group "has been concerned about poor service, [and] cabs that are not clean [or] reliable. A lot of seniors [and] disadvantaged people use cabs."
That is one reason, he said, his organization backed the creation last year of Neighbor Ride, a service that enlists volunteers to drive seniors at fees lower than cab fares.
Awuah, the Columbia Cab manager, said the county inspects cabs annually for safety. "On a weekly basis," he said, "we advise drivers on cleanliness and personal hygiene."
He said Columbia tries to pick up passengers within 15 minutes or "let customers know."