Area taxi riders facing 10% surcharge


Taxicab passengers may soon be paying the price of the Persian Gulf conflict.

The Maryland Public Service Commission is expected tomorrow to review a request by Baltimore County taxi companies for a 10-percent surcharge on every ride. The commission has already approved higher fares in Hagerstown and is considering a request from Cumberland taxi operators complaining about spiraling fuel costs.

Baltimore cab companies plan to file a rate increase request with the commission later this week, according to Mark L. Joseph, president of Yellow Transportation Co., one of the largest taxi operations in the city.

Joseph cited increased insurance costs, fuel prices and various other expenses as the reasons for the rate request. He declined to give details until the filing is made.

The commission regulates the prices, operation and safety of taxis in Baltimore and Baltimore County, Hagerstown and Cumberland. Elsewhere in the state, taxis are regulated by the jurisdictions in which they are located.

Baltimore cabs have not had a rate increase since 1984. A 1987 rate request was turned down because the commission said the cab companies did not submit sufficient financial evidence.

"We are way behind the times," Joseph said, adding that the companies are now united and will present the necessary information. "All our ducks are in a row to make a convincing case," he said.

One of the benefits of higher rates will be more cabs on the street, Joseph said. "If the drivers are adequately compensated, there will be more drivers on the street," he said. Joseph also noted that Baltimore has the lowest cab fares of any major metropolitan area in the nation.

Joining Yellow in the case will be Sun Cab Co., Diamond Cab, GI Veterans Cab and Royal Taxi Cab, Joseph said.

Baltimore County taxicab drivers are losing $6 to $10 a day, estimates Jeff Leone, manager of Valley Cab Co., which operates cars in Owings Mills, Pikesville, Reisterstown and surrounding areas.

Valley Cab drivers, as well as many others in the county, work under a type of contract that means the taxicab owners do not pay for gasoline, Leone said.

"The drivers pay for the gas, so actually it's the driver who suffers in this case because it comes directly out of their earnings," Leone said.

Currently, cab fares in Baltimore County are $1.50 for the first 1/9 of a mile and 10 cents for each additional ninth of a mile, Leone said.

"If this crisis was ever over and gas was reduced back to its original prices, then probably the surcharge would be rolled back," he said.

Gregory Carmean, the executive director of the commission's staff, said it would be "unfair" to deny rate increases in taxicab fares in light of increasing prices for gasoline.

The commission last week approved the request of Hagerstown taxi operators, who include George Turner, owner of the 26-car Turner's Taxi, and three private drivers.

Yellow Cab Co. in Cumberland filed a request with the Public Service Commission two weeks ago for permission to add a 10-cent surcharge, said Yellow Cab owner Glen Lee.

"We certainly need to do something because [gas] is a big chunk of our money. That is our profit," Lee said.

Yellow Cab makes no profit now, according to Lee, and would be unable to operate if it were not allowed to increase its prices in accordance with the price of gas.

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