City, cabs level for fares

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City, cabs level for fares
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For more than six months, Alexandrias cab industry has been working with city officials for change.

But the most basic concern taxi rates, unchanged since 2008 is not part of the current discussion. Rather, a more nuanced set of regulations are the focus: The number of dispatch calls a driver must take each day and the process of transferring from one company to another.

Under taxicab ordinance enacted in 2005, companies are obligated to respond to two dispatch calls per day per driver. But with more than 700 drivers spread across the citys six main cab companies, there arent always enough dispatch calls to go around. 

Soon after the 2005 ordinance went into effect, drivers started leaving companies that attempted to comply for ones that didnt swelling the ranks of some companies while others suffered losses.

The end result of that cycle could be disastrous for the people that use the dispatch service almost exclusively, including the citys elderly population.

The problem is the city still has an obligation to our residents to be able to provide this taxi service and we cant have the dispatch companies evaporate to zero because theres a lot of people that rely on taxicabs, said Bob Garbacz of the citys transportation department.

Three drivers standing outside Hotel Monaco last Wednesday lamented the overly crowded taxi market more than 700 cabs in a city thats just five miles wide and the dispatch requirements, which they said often turn into fruitless no-shows. Fewer dispatch calls would free them up for more fares, they said.

Sometimes we wait for the customer for a half-hour, 45 minutes and they dont show for dispatch calls, said Abdul Narin, an Alexandria cabbie for about six years. If you are very lucky you can make some money with the computer. If youre not very lucky, you might not.

The recommended changes, which will be discussed further at the Traffic and Parking Board public hearing this Monday, reduce the two-call mandate to just one call per driver per day for companies that try to comply.

Additionally, only companies that comply could accept driver transfers, according to a city memo. Caps would be placed on the percentage of drivers joining or leaving a single company.

While some drivers might feel that the new scheme could limit their mobility, Garbacz said the intent was to encourage compliance, preserve the dispatch-call market and not be too heavy-handed on the companies.

Rather than having a stick to beat them over the head when theyre not making compliance, were trying to build a mechanism to encourage it, he said.

Another proposal calls for taxicabs operating in the city to accept major credit cards for payment, according to a memo.

These are all minor tweaks to existing code, its not a major overhaul or something like that, said Tim Sites, vice president of Alexandria Yellow Cab, the largest of the citys taxi groups with more than 280 drivers.

Rate changes the most direct change that would affect passengers and drivers were addressed briefly during the citys annual review of the taxi industry last November, but that issue quickly gave way to meeting the dispatch-call quota and driver-transfer concerns.

Out of last falls review session came work group that, with representatives from the citys cab companies, put forth the series of recommended reforms to the taxicab portion of the city code.

At an informational meeting last Monday afternoon at Patrick Henry elementary school, city officials explained the recommendations to roughly 40 cab drivers.

The current schedule for changes to the taxi regulations has the City Council weighing in with the final say in October, Garbacz said.

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