Angry senior citizens, furious that their sedan service might be forced to raise its minimum fare to $5, took turns bashing the Maryland Public Service Commission at a heavily attended public hearing last night.
"It's a hell of a way to give public service," said Bill Raith, one of the speakers. "There's something rotten when this slips by. I thought the PSC was supposed to be on the public's side."
A regulation raising the minimum fare for sedan services -- which can take customers by appointment only and cannot pick up random fares -- was approved at a PSC meeting in November at the urging of cab companies, who said the sedan services are costing them business.
The regulation was approved without comment from sedan service operators or the public.
The PSC decided to reopen the matter after a public outcry led by Steve DeLapp, owner of Towson Sedan Service, who bused in many of the seniors from several apartment houses and condominiums in Towson. He also collected 1,500 signatures on a petition protesting the increase.
In a meeting earlier yesterday before PSC hearing commissioner Joel Bright, Lee Klavans, a lawyer for the Taxi Association of Baltimore City and County, proposed a six-month moratorium on the increase so the PSC could fully study the problem.
"We thought this was the proper approach to give the PSC more time for study," Mr. Klavans said.
Mr. DeLapp rejected the idea. His lawyer, Matthew Azrael, said, "He doesn't want to go through this again and end up in the same place six months from now."
Mr. DeLapp has not yet raised his minimum fare from its present $1.60, although other sedan companies have.
At both hearings, Mr. Klavans and taxi cab officials said the competition from sedan services would weaken the cab companies, which have to provide service around the clock where the sedan services don't. They also said criminal checks on sedan service drivers are not required.
All this was brushed aside by the senior citizens who crowded into a large room at Rodgers Forge Elementary School last night.
"Towson Sedan is fantastic," said Gloria Nordhauser. "They come on time, the cars are clean and the drivers help us with parcels."
Hazel Middleton wanted to know, "Can you just go to the commission and raise prices?"
Dr. Sharon Hughey, who is blind, said, "I need a level of services that the sedan company can give me and the cab companies can't."
Mark Joseph, president of Yellow Transportation in Baltimore, criticized some sedan service practices as being "unscrupulous," and said they "cherry-picked" the best customers while cab companies have to serve anyone who asked for a ride.