Some OC Taxi Operators Seeking Fare Increase

OCEAN CITY – Different options were proposed to offset the increase in costs to run a taxi cab in town during Wednesday afternoon’s Police Commission meeting.

In February of 2010, the Mayor and City Council voted unanimously to approve an ordinance that would instill a $1,500 taxi medallion as a requirement to operate a cab in the resort and a number of other changes to cabbie laws and fees.

Now with the increase in gas prices along with the position the economy is in, the majority of taxi cab companies in town are asking for fare increase.

Larry Bode, owner of Casino Express Taxi, began the discussion at this week’s police commission meeting.

“With the raising price of gas and everything else…we’re having a problem making ends meet,” Bode said.

Bode said that along with taxi medallion renewal fees there are a lot of costs adding up on medallion owners and taxi drivers.

Bode asked the council to consider an increase in the mileage rate which is currently set at 22 cents for every tenth of a mile, recommending not changing the startup fee but changing the 22 cents to 30 cents every tenth of a mile.

“We are asking for your help to give us an increase to help everybody offset their expenses and to keep the industry professional,” he said.

Nite Club Taxi Manager Michael Pawlowski pointed out to the commission that the majority of taxi companies in Ocean City support the taxi fare increase. Pawlowski recommended $2.80 to $3 per mile, from the current $2.20 charge per mile.

Ocean City Taxi owner Carl Kufchak, who also spoke on behalf of Wayne White, owner of City Cab, recommended not increasing taxi fares.

“The headlines should not read that taxi rates are going to get an increase,” Kufchak said. “I think the taxi owners and drivers should take a hold of the responsibility and not count on the consumer right away.”

He explained that the typical Ocean City visitor comes to town with an “x amount of dollars” they want to spend. If the taxi fare increases, the consumer is going to end up spending less money either at restaurants and bars or by not riding in a taxi.

Kufchak added that the price to ride in a taxi needs to be consistent among all taxi companies. By drivers discounting rides, the industry becomes inconsistent and overly competitive.

“In reality what’s going on in the industry is there are still drivers out there that are discounting rates from what the meter says,” Kufchak said. “If there is still room for a discount then why do they need a rate increase for gas?”

Chuck Stooksbury of American Veterans Taxi said that discounting a cab fare is a way to get customers. His experience is when gas prices start to go up the people getting in his cab asks how he is making it with the gas prices.

“The average American is a fair person,” he said.

Stooksbury recommended a split season fare and suggested setting the fare at $2.50 a mile during the off-season and $3 a mile during the busy season.

“We have to face the reality like any other business in town that we have to make some money during the season,” he said. “You can only give away so much without a mechanism to get something back.”

Ruth Carpenter of AbouTown Taxi is against the rate increase and said “I have more of a Wal-Mart mentality, instead of the price it’s the volume.”

Councilman Doug Cymek said that what he was getting out of the discussion is the increase in cost to run a cab is relying mostly on gas prices.

“The medallion owners are not asking for a rate increase,” he said. “I think what we’re heading for is a temporary surcharge.”

Police Chief Bernadette DiPino explained that the current starting fee to ride in a cab is $3.20. She said the last time a $1 surcharge was implemented to the starting fee was when gas prices increased to $4 a gallon.

An option was put on the table to reinstate the $1 surcharge and place a sign/sticker in the cab explaining why the fare increase due to gas increases.

Wayne White of City Cab said, “I don’t want the rate increase but I don’t mind the dollar surcharge because the company has the option to do so without having to change the meters.”

Mayor Rick Meehan asserted that most industries in town during the last year or so have had to discount.

“We have to do what we have to do to make all of our businesses and industries sustainable,” he said. “There is an adjustment that needs to be made whether it’s an increase in rate or in the form of a surcharge.”

DiPino recommended studying the options more and calculating what the fair increase would be. She also suggested looking at what other jurisdictions are doing in a situation that gas prices go up.

“If you do a surcharge, it will probably be the simplest way to go about it without tampering with the meter system and it can be taken away when the gas prices go up and down,” she said.

On Thursday, DiPino said, “I think the council is going to look at a scale between 22 and half cents to 25 cents…or the dollar surcharge. What we heard yesterday is it is the drivers who are really incurring the increase in the gas prices and that is why I think if we’re going to make an increase because of the gas prices that’s where it should go.”