Schenectady County

Council: Add gas fee to cab fares

Gas prices have gone so high that the Schenectady City Council is willing to raise the cost of taxi
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Gas prices have gone so high that the Schenectady City Council is willing to raise the cost of taxi rides without demanding the sorts of customer service improvements they have required in the past.

In Monday’s council committees meeting, the council indicated its willingness to allow cab companies to tack on $1 to short trips and $1.50 to long trips because of fuel costs. A public hearing is set for June 23 before the council takes action.

If gas drops below $3.50 a gallon, the surcharge would drop to 50 cents for trips that cost less than $5.05 and $1 for all longer trips. If gas continues to rise and crosses the $4.50 per gallon mark, the surcharge would automatically rise 25 cents for all trips.

Councilwoman Barbara Blanchard said the formula unfairly penalizes riders who take short trips. If they normally take a $5 ride, they would see a 17 percent hike in their fares, while those who take a $10 ride would see an 11 percent increase. A per-mile rate increase would be fairer, Blanchard said.

“I’m thinking the rates should be increased and that’s that. It would make it fairer,” Blanchard said.

Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden argued that the gas surcharge would be easier to remove if gas prices fall. Cabbies could simply stop adding the extra fee, instead of recalibrating their rate meters and printing out new rate decals for the cabs.

“It’s a simple change,” Van Norden said.

But Blanchard said it was unrealistic to assume that the surcharge would ever be removed.

“Gas prices are not going to go down,” she said.

She was the only council member to express any dissatisfaction with the proposal.

This is not the first time the taxi companies have asked for an increase because of rising fuel expenses. But in previous years, they have backed off after the council raised a series of complaints about service, particularly the cabbies’ habit of honking to summon fares.

The loud noise irritates neighbors — especially during normal sleeping hours — and the cab companies were able to get a rate increase in 2001 only after promising to keep their drivers quiet.

The council declined to increase the rate or add a surcharge after that point, responding to each request with criticism about service and the continued honking.

Now, however, with gas prices above $4 a gallon, committee Chairwoman Denise Brucker said criticism about service was irrelevant.

That didn’t stop Blanchard from bringing up the honking issue. She has repeatedly complained that she often hears cabbies beeping their horns, even when their fare is walking out the door toward them.

Gary Valenti, who manages Central-Brown and Blue & White, said he’s told his cabbies to lay off the horns. But, he said, his employees are afraid to get out of their cars, and many of them feel he can set no rules because they “own” the car while they work.

He added that when dispatchers get a call late at night, they ask for a call-back number so they can tell the customer when the cab has arrived.

“If it’s 5:15 a.m. on an airport call we don’t want to hear the horn either. So we’ll say, ‘Mrs. Smith, can you give us your phone number? We’ll be happy to tell you when the cab’s out front,’ ” he said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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