The cost of a typical cab ride in the city would go up by 19 percent under a compromise rate proposal unveiled Thursday by taxi industry executives.
The revised plan was filed two months after some taxi owners pushed for an increase that would have raised some fares by as much as 40 percent. The original request spurred concerns among some Common Council members, who have the power to regulate taxi rates in Buffalo.
Under a compromise advanced by taxi companies that represent about three-quarters of all local operators, fares would increase by 60 cents a mile. The existing $2.30 "drop rate" charged for the first one-sixth of a mile would remain unchanged.
The cost of a two-mile cab ride, which is fairly common in the city, would go up by 17.9 percent. A four-mile ride would cost about 22 percent more, while longer rides would increase by as much as 26 percent, said Gerald Chiarmonte of Airport Taxi. Most fares in the city would increase by an average of 19.2 percent, he said.
About a dozen taxi operators met Thursday with a Council subcommittee and presented an analysis documenting the impact that rising gasoline prices, insurance premiums, workers' compensation costs and other expenses have had on the industry.
"Since Sept. 11 (2001), there has been a downturn in the transportation and travel business, and costs have skyrocketed," said Chiarmonte. "We need the increase for survival."
A few Council members have publicly said they think some type of fare increase is warranted, and they praised taxi operators for adjusting the original plan, which faced rough sailing in City Hall.
"They've scaled down the increase, but this is still a working document," said North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr., chairman of Thursday's meeting. "This isn't the end of the issue."
The full Council will consider the rate proposal Tuesday, but lawmakers are expected to send it to committee for review. A public hearing will likely be held within several weeks. Golombek said any rate increase won't take effect until at least January.
Niagara Council Member Dominic J. Bonifacio Jr. was among those who were skeptical of the original rate plan. He said the new plan that would raise average fares by just over 19 percent is more reasonable.
"This is a good proposal that I can support," Bonifacio told taxi operators.
Some taxi operators are also asking the Council to change the law and require all cab companies to charge the same fares. The current law prohibits cabbies from charging any more than the set rate but does not prevent them from charging less. Some inner-city operators have said they never imposed the 50-cent gas surcharge approved four years ago because they cater largely to the poor and thought it was a good business decision to be the lowest-priced company.
But industry officials claim almost every city in the nation mandates uniform rates. They argued that the current system gives customers the impression that they're being ripped off by companies that charge approved rates.
The Council also asked supermarket executives Thursday to be more aggressive in cracking down on people who transport shoppers to and from stores without having the proper license, vehicle plates or insurance. Golombek said if the city can take aim at these "scab cabs," it might help reputable operators even more than a rate increase.
"If we get after these illegal drivers, there will be a lot more fares for the licensed operators," he said.