Cost of mayor's taxi tax proposal to be reviewed

City officials concluded a hearing on a controversial taxi tax Thursday to allow more time to review proposed amendments by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

The mayor's amendments would change an existing 25-cent per-passenger taxi charge to a 35-cent per-trip charge, and a 25-cent per-passenger limousine and sedan charge to a $1.50 per-trip charge.

The hike in the rate for limousines and sedans drew criticism from some in the industry at the hearing, and the City Council's finance committee and Rawlings-Blake's administration agreed to go into recess on the bill to hear more from the concerned parties.

"We suggested the recess after hearing from some limousine stakeholders who had concerns about the rate we proposed," Kevin Harris, the mayor's spokesman, wrote in an email.

Harris said the mayor's office is asking concerned companies to "open up their books and justify why the rate we have proposed should be lower and explain how what they are proposing would generate the same revenue for the city."

City finance officials initially estimated the tax would raise $1.3 million annually, but it has raised only about $21,000 since it went into effect Oct. 1.

Mark Thistel, president of Mount Washington-based sedan company FreedomCar, had proposed an alternative rate structure, which he said would raise a comparable amount of revenue for the city.

After the hearing Thursday, Thistel said in an email that the willingness on the part of the administration and City Council to go to recess was "evidence" that they want to find a solution for everyone.

"I don't think anyone is intent on causing damage to companies like mine," he said.

Still, he said the $1.50 charge per-trip would "literally run me out of business" as he tried to compete with new smartphone-app-based companies like Uber, which aren't licensed by state like taxis and limos. (The tax is designed to apply to trips arranged through firms like Uber as well, but Thistel has said he doubts Uber drivers will pay.)

"By delaying the vote today, the Mayor's office is attempting to rectify this formula, and has agreed to review our business models and records as a means of reaching a compromise. I am grateful for that," he said. "If it doesn't go my way, I'm sunk."

Harris said Rawlings-Blake's administration "remains open to additional compromises" if companies like FreedomCar can "come up with a viable alternative."

"If not, we continue to support this proposal or the current tax put forward," Harris said.

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