Taxicab fares are climbing again in Arlington, to help drivers cover the cost of high gasoline prices in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
The Arlington County Board voted unanimously last Saturday to repeal a 50-cent gas surcharge, which was imposed on an emergency basis this past summer, and replace it with a 20-cent-per-mile increase. The changes will take effect on Nov. 1.
The mileage charge will rise from $1.60 to $1.80, an increase of 13 percent, and there will be a hike in the waiting-time fee, from 20 cents for every 35 seconds to 30 cents for each 48 seconds.
“Please keep in mind the point of this is not to punish Arlingtonians but help us drivers,” Alfredo Reyes, an Arlington cab driver who cannot afford to live in the county, told the county board. “If you ride with me for a week you will see how difficult it is to make a living.”
Taxicab drivers pay for their own gasoline and do not receive any subsidy from their employers to defray the costs. The most recent fare increase was implemented in December 2003 and the county board enacted a 50 cent surcharge in June on an emergency basis.
“The volatility in fuel prices continues to affect us all,” County Board Chairman Jay Fisette said. “This adjustment ensures 100 percent of the increase will directly benefit taxi drivers who have been hurt by high fuel costs.”
THE AVERAGE PRICE of regular grade gasoline in Arlington last weekend was $2.97, according to AAA’s Web site. The new regulations will make a cab ride in Arlington more expensive than in Fairfax and Alexandria, for trips in excess of three miles, but will still be cheaper than short-distance rides in Washington and Prince George’s County.
The changes in policy were made so those taking short trips were not paying a disproportionate share for cab’s gasoline use. Under the new regulations a one-mile trip would be 20 cents cheaper than it currently is, while a 10-mile journey will increase by $1.60.
“The person who is going one mile to buy groceries should not be subsidizing the person going to Dulles,” said Chris Zimmerman, the county board’s Vice-Chairman.
Representatives from the main cab companies operating in Arlington — Red Top and Blue Top — urged the board to raise the mileage fee and retain the 50-cent gas surcharge.
“We should err on the side of the cab drivers who provide such a valuable service to the community,” said Charlie King, vice president of Red Top Cab company. “This increase is not enough and our drivers are looking at other lines of work.”
THOUGH HIGHER GAS prices are hurting drivers’ bottom lines, it is the cab companies’ hefty charges for use of vehicles that makes it difficult to earn a living, said Lou Gatti, a former taxi driver and owner of the Quarterdeck restaurant.
Zimmerman castigated Red Top for not doing more to aid their drivers, who pay the company approximately $100 a day for use of their cabs, as gasoline rises escalate. King retorted that Red Top lowered its drivers fee by $5 a day over the summer and promised not to raise the amount in the future.
Board members chastised the cab companies for not purchasing hybrid vehicles, like the Ford Escape, that possess a higher gas mileage than regular cars and would save their drivers a sizable amount of money.
“I don’t understand why you are hesitant to try these hybrids,” said board member Paul Ferguson. “You guys have to take the lead on this.”
Representatives from the Red Top and Blue Top cab companies agreed to participate in a hybrid pilot program by the end of the year.
But John Massoud, head of the Blue Top cab company, said hybrid cars were currently too expensive for his business to purchase in large quantities and doubted whether they would be capable of surviving the wear and tear taxis incur.
The board also asked the transportation commission to explore the possibility of providing certificates to additional cab companies to operate in Arlington.