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Sides line up on Anchorage taxi proposal

Posted: Tuesday, March 25, 2008

ANCHORAGE - Supporters and opponents are lining up on Proposition 8, a voter initiative that that would deregulate taxi cabs in Anchorage.

Proponents say the initiative would result in more taxi cabs serving the residents of Alaska's largest city. Opponents says unsuspecting riders would be gouged by cabbies eager to make money.

If Proposition 8 passes, it would make taxi permits far cheaper and easier to obtain.

Now, there are 158 cab permits. Each cab permit is worth about $100,000.

If the proposal passes, the number of cabs would be unlimited, and each permit would sell for $1,425. Regulations for cab safety, fares and drivers would remain the same.

Opposition to the proposition is mostly coming from people who own cab permits now. The group has raised at least $200,000 to help defeat the measure, according to a recent filing with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

The initiative originated with Ryan Kennedy, a political science graduate of the University of Alaska Anchorage who teamed with his former economics professor at UAA, P.J. Hill, to craft the proposition.

Kennedy, a former aide to Assemblyman Paul Bauer, believes a free-market taxi system is best for the public.

"Wasilla is deregulated," he said. "Is it is a den of thieves?"

Jorge Saldana is a Bolivian-born cabbie who's been driving in Anchorage for more than three years.

"I don't feel happy what has happened; (permit owners) are losing everything," Saldana said, "but I am also looking out for myself, you know what I mean?"

The system is lucrative for some, but leaves many others out.

"The way it is now, it's impossible for any new drivers to have his own business," he said. "That means we are gonna stay a slave, for the rest of our lives, working for somebody."

Steve Colt, a UAA economics professor who isn't involved with the initiative, said the proposition fits with the free-market ideas economists often support.

What's missing from the initiative is a way to compensate those who will lose money on their investment, Colt said. For that reason, he doesn't support it.



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