Taxicab owners and members of the City Council seemed to move a bit closer Tuesday on the subject of a fare increase and set another meeting for 7 p.m. next Tuesday to which members of the city's Taxicab Commission will be invited.
"I think we all got a better understanding," said Councilman John G. Accardo, who called the meeting. "We have to understand your industry better and what the problems are and how to solve them."
The owners of the five taxi companies in the city told Accardo that their problems are rising fuel, insurance and worker's compensation costs and going without a rate increase for six years. Despite Accardo's efforts to find somewhere else -- such as Medicaid subsidies -- to increase their revenue, many of the companies said individual fares are their bread and butter and that is where they need the increase.
Only Edward C. Hanson of Rainbow Taxi Co. said he relies on Medicaid calls for a majority of his business. Hanson said with only four taxis and two livery cars, he has carved out a niche by low bidding on Medicaid contracts. Without that contract, he said, he cannot compete with companies with 50 cars that can get there faster.
"I work cheap. That's how I stay alive," he said.
Jeanette Cassatt of Patriot Taxi agreed with other owners that the uniform bidding Accardo proposed would not work. Anil Jain, an owner of Blue United, said competition is how they stay in business.
Cassatt and others said they don't want Medicaid business, which can involve driving all over the county to hospitals and nursing homes any time of the day or night when they get a call.
They said they make more in the same amount of time on calls in the city from people who have to get to work, shopping or appointments, even though they average only $3 to $4 a trip. Cassatt, who doesn't publish her phone number and relies on word of mouth, said she routinely carries the same passengers to the same places.
And the taxi owners said they are among the taxpayers in the city who have been hit by higher taxes, sewer and water rates whom the Council says it is trying to protect.
Cassatt and Philip Considine, owner of Falls Taxi, produced 500 signatures from customers supporting the increase.
Cabdrivers also objected that cabs from Erie County regularly come into the city to pick up tourists whom they brought here from the airport. They said they lose 60 percent to 70 percent of the summer tourist trade to Erie County cabs. But they said they are not allowed to pick up fares in other cities, including Buffalo, Lockport and North Tonawanda.
Accardo said he would look into tightening the city's ordinance to make it more difficult for outside cabbies to pick off the lucrative tourist trade.
Council members also expressed their concerns about the condition of taxis, the appearance of drivers and their behavior toward customers. Councilwoman Barbara A. Geracitano said she has had calls from many senior citizens who said they wouldn't mind paying more if they were treated better.
"Courtesy goes a long way in your business," she said. "You focus on our problems and we'll focus on yours."