Fares Enough?

Fares Enough?

Board may approve higher rates for taxi rides in Arlington.

After only 18 months driving a cab, Manpreet Randhawa has seen his income fall. As the national economy grew worse, he said, people were less and less likely to ride a cab.

“We would get 20 jobs before the recession,” said Randhawa Monday morning, as he waited for a fare in Ballston. “We get 14 to 15 jobs now.”

One of the biggest problems for cabdrivers in Arlington has been higher costs over the last few years, costs that were not matched by rising fares. High costs for maintenance and fuel hurt independent cab drivers even more. Tonight, at a recessed meeting, County Board members may address that problem by raising taxi fares for cabs based in Arlington –the first taxi rate increase in the county since 2000.

Higher fares will mean more money in Randhawa’s pocket. Most of his money comes from the cab company for which he drives. “Tips are 15 to 20 percent,” he said, looking around at the high rises in Ballston. “People living around here don’t tip that much.”

If board members approve one of two proposed rate increases, drivers should see more money in their paychecks, said Richard Best, a staff member in the county’s Public Works Planning department.

“The cab industry has had expenses increase for the last several years,” he said, “increases in gas, in maintenance and insurance. Gas has gone up and down, but mostly up.” In response, he said, Arlington drivers have been working hard to make the same amount of money.

Drivers’ other response has been to stop driving a cab, said Charlie King, vice president of the Arlington Red Top Cab Company. “If drivers can’t make a decent living, we start to lose them,” said King. “Experienced cab drivers don’t grow on trees, and we’re extremely fortunate with our drivers.”

<b>HIGHER FARES</b> come out of cab passengers’ pockets, though, and under the two proposals board members will consider tonight, most passengers could expect their fares to rise by 4-9 percent.

“A majority of trips are to the airport,” said Best. “The typical fare is 4.2 to 4.5 miles.” Under current fares, that ride would cost about $9.05. Under a rate increase proposed by the taxi industry, that ride would cost $9.55; under rate increase proposed by county staff, it would cost $9.50.

The biggest difference between the two proposals comes for the shortest and longest rides. Staff rate proposals would put the biggest rate increase for the longest trips, while the taxi industry would give a much bigger increase to shorter trips.

“We look at them as two good options, that will increase a driver’s take-home pay by four to nine percent, per trip,” said Best.

<b>MORE MONEY</b> for a ride could come as a surprise to many taxi passengers in Arlington, said Larry Holloway, a bellman at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Crystal City. He and other bellmen at the hotel hail cabs for hotel guests heading to the airport, and to meetings around the region.

Holloway said Monday he didn’t know about the possible increase in fares, and a fare increase that’s a surprise to bellmen is also a surprise to hotel passengers. “No one was aware that there was going to be an increase,” he said.

But Holloway didn’t expect it to make much difference to the average cab passenger. “For guests, it shouldn’t make a difference,” he said. “But it could.”

That’s what concerns County Board member Walter Tejada. “I want to minimize the burden on the average person,” he said, and that will be his primary concern going into tonight’s meeting.

But minimizing the burden on the average person could also mean looking out for cab drivers, he said. “Insurance, maintenance and fuel costs have increased since 2000,” the last time cab fares increased, Tejada said. “It’s always tough when it comes to increasing any kind of fee that affects the general public.”

So the real concern may be those four-mile trips that make up most of Arlington’s cab fares. “That could be a ride from the supermarket back to their apartment, as opposed to the person who takes a ride to Rockville,” said Tejada. “I go to the airport once or twice a year, but I’m going to take a cab locally more often. Either way, it looks like there’s a need to catch up to inflation.”

The biggest factor may be public input, he said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if people came to oppose this, and if someone has a better solution, we’re all ears.”