Cabs to tax peak hours fee


Elisabeth Dillon

Jaimie, who declined to give his last name, gets in a taxi downtown Wednesday evening. Beginning on Monday, Austin taxis will start charging a $1 surcharge for passengers riding during peak evening hours every day of the week.

Alexandra Klima

Austin taxi services will begin charging a $1 fee per passenger during peak evening hours in less than a week, city of Austin public information spokesperson Leah Fillion said.

The Austin City Council voted in favor of the fee proposal on Feb. 1 as the city of Austin continues to help regulate the local taxicab industry, ensure its safety and make sure drivers are certified, Fillion said.

Since each contractor chooses his or her work hours, the $1 surcharge will provide an incentive for Austin taxi drivers to offer more rides in the evenings, she said. Evening service is more difficult for taxi drivers than non-peak hours and encompasses a different crowd, Fillion said. Austin taxicabs have a high demand in the evening, and the city of Austin wants to ensure that passengers looking for a cab are able to find one, she said.

The $1 surcharge will go into effect on Monday, Feb. 13 and will occur from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. everyday.

City Council members are also proposing an additional surcharge if intoxicated passengers vomit while riding in a taxicab.

Yellow Cab Austin general manager Ed Kargbo said the city of Austin’s initial proposal was to charge a $2.50 fee per passenger during peak hours, which would have given the city of Austin the highest drop rate in the state of Texas. The drop rate is the dollar amount present on a cab meter prior to its departure.

“Our first consideration was the lower to middle income folks who would not necessarily be able to afford such a hike on cab fares,” Kargbo said. “We realize not all cab riders are well off, so we came up with the proposal of reducing the charge to $1 per passenger.”

Kargbo said signage will be required in each taxicab to inform the passengers of the surcharge.

Biology and pre-med junior Taylor Brasher said he and his friends get rides to and from downtown in “underground taxis,” unlicensed cab drivers who use their own cars to provide rides for a fee. Underground taxis are known to be cheaper than licensed cabs and usually don’t expect a tip.

He said by charging more during peak hours, licensed taxicabs will most likely lose business with the competition of undercover taxis.

“[The underground taxi driver] will drive by the E-bus stop around 11:30 p.m. asking if anyone needs a ride downtown and will come and pick us up on Sixth Street whenever we call the driver back,” Brasher said. “I mainly use either the underground taxis or the E-bus for a ride home, but you have to get lucky enough to squeeze onto the always-packed West Campus buses.”

In conjunction with the ground transportation department, enforcement officers attempt to root all of the illegal taxi operators out, Kargbo said.

At today’s City Council meeting, Kargbo said he will present a proposal asking for 50 additional Austin taxicab permits to be used only in alternative fuel vehicles such as hybrids, compressed natural gas vehicles and electric cars.

“We are proposing to try out various types of fuel efficient vehicles, which will not only benefit our industry but also car manufacturers as well,” Kargbo said. “More permits also means that licensed cab drivers without access to cars can utilize the alternative fuel vehicles in peak evening hours.”

Radio-television-film and psychology junior Francis Roman said she considers taxicabs a reliable form of transportation but thinks that the fee increase will give the extra push to taxi drivers to perhaps be more available during peak hours.

“I think it’s always important to have transportation to and from your destination,” she said. “People, especially college students, need a safe and efficient way of getting home.”

Printed on Thursday, February 9, 2012 as: Cabs to add peak hours fee