SCHENECTADY -- A local taxi company is lobbying City Council for more independence when it comes to setting fare rates in the city.
Phil Gibbs, of Electric City Taxi, made his appeal to council members during the Dec. 17 meeting. He said greater autonomy would allow taxi businesses to keep up with a rising minimum wage and would level the playing field against ride-sharing companies.
“Every other store or business in America, they want to raise their price, then boom, it’s done,” Gibbs said. “[Uber and Lyft] set their prices however they want. If it’s 8 a.m. and it’s busy, and they don’t have a lot of cars out there, boom -- they can spike your price.”
Gibbs said his business has been hurting ever since minimum wage hikes began in 2016, in an effort to bring it up to $15 per hour. The minimum wage just increased by another 70 cents on Dec. 31.
What hasn’t gone up since 2016 are the taxi fares. Gibbs said taxi companies have to have City Council approval for any rate increases.
In 2016, Gibbs said, the taxi base rate -- the amount charged for the first half-mile -- went from $3.50 to $4. That was the first change since 2001, when the base rate went from $3 to $3.50. Every eighth of a mile after the first half-mile costs another 25 cents.
The rates are the same for all taxi companies in the city and only apply to trips within Schenectady.
Gibbs said the increases that have been implemented have been absorbed by fees, such as the requirement to get drivers fingerprinted every two years. That costs approximately $90 per driver, he said. Gibbs also said when the 2016 fare hike took place, the cost for the medallions, which must be purchased for each cab to operate in the city, went from $250 to $500.
Those are expenses that ride-sharing firms Uber and Lyft are not required to take on in the city, Gibbs said.
“You get a raise, and then [the city] put a raise for fees on it,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs suggested local taxi companies get together, form a commission and agree to set rates that would be charged within the city.
Independent Councilman Vince Riggi said the request was fair and valid. He said that, with minimum wage going from $10.40 to $11.10 per hour on Dec. 31, taxi companies are unable to recoup that increase.
“I think just the hourly pay raise is enough to justify a raise in rates,” Riggi said. “That’s a cost they have to incur and eat.”
City Council President Ed Kosiur said he wants to be able to strike a balance that is good not only for taxi companies but also for the ride-sharing companies.
Kosiur acknowledged, though, that the rates for taxis in Schenectady are some of lowest in the Capital Region.
It’s an issue he said the council will need to further investigate.
Kosiur also said the council didn’t want to raise rates too high in 2016 because they wanted to be fair to residents who live in poverty-stricken areas. Kosiur said many of those residents rely on taxis for transportation.
Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo also highlighted that point, as she said the council needs to keep the best interest of city residents in mind when deciding rates. But she also understood taxi companies' need to lobby for their livelihood.
“The conversation about how we dovetail those two is important,” Perazzo said.
There is also the question of how any rate increase would affect the Capital District Transportation Authority’s proposed ordinance to unify regulations for taxi companies in the region. The council considered that ordinance last year but eventually tabled it, pending an investigation of concerns brought by taxi companies.
The CDTA ordinance would bring uniformity to the regulation of taxi companies in the Capital Region, including cab cleanliness, insurance coverage and passenger fares.
Jaime Watson, spokeswoman for CDTA, said in an email that the authority had not heard about the request by Gibbs for more independence, so they couldn’t comment on it. The transportation authority, though, said it still plans to work with area municipalities that have not approved the CDTA oversight ordinance.
Kosiur said he plans to meet with CDTA to discuss the ordinance on Jan. 11. He said he hopes to put the ordinance on the agenda for the council’s Jan. 21 meeting. If not, he said there will at least be a discussion about it.
Gibbs said signing on with CDTA would just put taxi companies in the same position they are now -- with little control over fares. As long as the city is still considering that ordinance, Gibbs said, he still wants to seek independence for taxi companies.
Riggi noted that the transfer of power to CDTA hasn’t happened, and that the city still has the power to make decisions on the rates for the taxi companies.
“[Gibbs] is certainly coming to the right group with his concerns,” Riggi said.