Area cab fares easing

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore taxi customers will see a decrease in fares next week but cabdrivers are protesting the change because of fewer fares in the poor economy, other increasing expenses and rising gasoline prices.

As of March 1, the rate will decrease by 55 cents, lowering the cost from $2.20 to $1.65 per mile. In addition, the flat rate that riders pay for trips from downtown hotels to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport will decrease from $30 to $22.

Goitom Gebre-Ab and Tsegaye Yitbarek, both drivers for about two decades, said the notice about the decreased surcharge arrived on the same day as a letter announcing that their dues and insurance costs would increase by $6 per week. Everything is more expensive, even motor oil, they said.

"We are already suffering," Gebre-Ab said.

The state Public Service Commission regulates taxi rates in Baltimore, Baltimore County and Cumberland. Since 2005, the commission has adjusted rates twice each year based on the average Maryland gas price in January and July.

If the price varies more than 20 percent from the last review, meter rates are adjusted in March and September.

PSC spokeswoman LaWanda Edwards said the commission is sympathetic to the drivers' situation.

"For the consumers, in this case, they will see a little bit of relief the next time they take a taxi ride," she said.

In a separate filing, two taxi companies have petitioned the PSC to change meter rates, and the commissioners will hear their case next month.

Drivers say that gasoline prices were lower last month and are already rising. According to AAA Mid-Atlantic, Maryland's average gas price was $1.73 in January and $1.89 in February.

The commission "should make sure the format they've adopted is the fairest way to both the drivers and the consumers," said Alfred LaGasse, chief executive officer of the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association, which represents transportation companies. He described the PSC's flexible rate adjustment as a "valid concept," yet he wondered whether there were a more effective method that would account for expenses that have already begun to rise.

Baltimore has about 1,151 taxicabs but about 1,700 licensed taxi drivers, Edwards said.

Taxi drivers plan to protest today at the Public Service Commission offices in Baltimore as well as at City Hall.

"We're just asking for people's understanding. We just want to be able to continue to make a living," said Michael Okolie, vice president of the Cab Drivers Association of Maryland, an organization that represents about 75 drivers.

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