OCEAN CITY – The majority of the City Council voted this week to pass an increase in taxi fares, which was an unscheduled item during this week’s meeting and caught some council members off guard.
The topic was most recently discussed at a Police Commission meeting and a Mayor and Council meeting in March. Both times there was no action taken on a taxi fare increase because owners in the taxi industry could not come to an agreement.
This week the owner of Casino Express Taxi Larry Bode addressed the Mayor and City Council on the increase and was the only taxi fleet represented in the room to speak on the unscheduled item. He spoke on behalf of the Taxi Cab Association, which includes 30 cab companies in Ocean City that support a fare increase.
According to Bode, in July of 2008 taxi owners attempted a fare increase and the council denied their request because it would have required a mid-summer change.
“We are trying to alleviate that,” Bode said.
Bode also reported to the Mayor and City Council that the Taxi Cab Association is opposed to the $1 surcharge to alleviate gas prices, which was recommended made by cab owners who are opposed to a fare increase.
In past discussions, Ocean City Taxi owner Carl Kufchak and City Cab owner Wayne White said they disagree with the proposed fare increase.
“We want to keep the rates where they are,” Kufchak said in March. “We don’t want to raise the rates, and we don’t want to scare people away. We are in a recession.”
He added that if gas prices are to continue to increase he would be in agreement with charging a $1 surcharge, which would go into the drivers pocket because the drivers are the ones who pay for gas.
During the March council meeting, Councilman Brent Ashley made a motion to increase the maximum taxi fare to 26 cents every tenth of a mile, which is currently set at 22 cents, and all cabs would have to be consistent with the fare rate. The motion did not pass in a 3-4 vote.
City Solicitor Guy Ayres explained that the current ordinance sets the maximum rate a taxi can charge, a taxi is not required to charge that maximum fare, and it also allows the driver to discount their fare.
This time around in hopes to have the matter settled Ashley set the same motion only this time taxi cab owners would have the option to increase their meters to the maximum rate of 26 cents.
Mayor Rick Meehan pointed out that the proposed motion would increase the rate 40 cents a mile, and by using the average 15 miles per gallon would mean a cab would make an extra $6 per gallon of gas.
“Don’t you think that is quite a jump,” Meehan said and suggested a compromise.
Willing to compromise, Ashley changed his motion from an increase to 26 cents per tenth of a mile to 24 cents, which would charge an additional 20 cents every mile, instead.
Councilman Lloyd Martin was concerned over the fact that other cab company owners were not present to speak for themselves.
“We should find an equal balance and hear from all the taxis,” Martin said. “It’s hard for to me vote for something like this.”
Martin added that the resort town of Atlantic City charges $13 to go anywhere in any cab. Changing the fare from $2.20 a mile to $2.40, plus the initial fee of $3.20, a cab ride will cost around $27 to ride from one end of Ocean City to the other.
“That is twice of what they charge in Atlantic City,” Martin said
Council President Jim Hall asserted that there will never be an agreement among the taxi industry.
“I have been doing this a long time, there will be no agreement in this room if you bring all those taxi people down here,” he said. “If you want, do this now to get through the summer season and then look at where gas is after the summer season.”
Jim Hall added that the motion does not mandate those opposed to the increase and they are still fully able to discount their fares as well.
The council voted to pass the motion to give a cab company owner the option to increase their taxi fare to a maximum of 24 cents per tenth of a mile in a 4-3 vote, with Councilman Lloyd Martin and Councilwomen Mary Knight and Margaret Pillas in opposition.