Taxicab companies in Juneau are trying to convince the city the current fare rate isn't fair for their drivers.
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With the increase of gas prices in recent months, taxi drivers are feeling the pinch at the pumps. As a result, the cab companies are asking the city to increase the city-regulated per-mile rate for passengers from $2 to $2.30.
The public comment period on the ordinance change ends at 4:30 p.m. today and the Juneau Assembly will look at the issue at its regular meeting on Monday at 7 p.m. in its chambers.
James Harris, owner of and a driver for Juneau Taxi and Tours, said an increase in the fare is necessary for the local cab companies to stay afloat.
"You can never be happy having to charge more money because you want to stay competitive and low, but on the other hand it's a huge chunk of pay that drivers are paying on gas," he said.
Harris said the average driver spends about $70 per day on gas. He said other costs, such as maintenance, have increased as well because of surging gas prices.
"It's not us being greedy," Harris said. "It's the oil companies being greedy."
He said it's hard for drivers to make money when gas prices are more than $3 a gallon and his vehicles are getting an average of about 12 miles a gallon.
"Sometimes you'll go home with 100 bucks in your pocket, and sometimes you'll go home with less than you started with."
The last cab fare increase was in May of last year when the flag-drop rate, or the initial cost of getting into the cab, was raised from $2.10 to $3, said Maria Gladziszewski, special projects officer for the city manager's office.
"The per-mile rate hasn't changed for a number of years," she said.
Gladziszewski said city officials decided to consider a change to the per-mile rate instead of the flag-drop rate because it would generate more money on longer rides that use more fuel.
Andrew Beattie, owner of and a driver for Capital Cab, said most of the miles a driver racks up on any given day are spent shuttling between fares.
"An average driver drives between 150 to 250-plus miles, and out of those miles maybe 100 of them are revenue miles," he said.
Beattie said about 70 percent of his business is by locals, whom he thinks will understand the necessity of raising the fares.
"This 30 cents, I think all of our clients are aware of the costs that we incur to provide the service," he said. "And if we don't do this increase, we're pretty much going to put ourselves out of business."
Asked whether the increases will affect the number of passengers taking cabs, Beattie said many people rely on cabs when commuting to work or home from an evening on the town.
"It's just like cigarettes and beer," he said. "You can put the prices up all you want. They'll talk about quitting drinking and they'll talk about quitting smoking, but most of them won't."
Gladziszewski said the ordinance's wording would be flexible, allowing companies to charge up to the rate, but not requiring them to charge a specific rate. The current ordinance mandates the rate.
"We thought it was a good idea to let the companies be more flexible," she said.
Gladziszewski said this would allow the cab companies to lower rates if fuel prices go back down without having to go through the legal process of having them change.
Harris and Beattie both agreed the wording change would be bad for business.
"I don't think there is going to be any support for any of the wording change because none of the drivers want to get into a rate war," Harris said. "The whole point is for everybody to make a living and not to fight over the business. The only people it's going to hurt are the actual drivers."
Gladziszewski said people can submit public comments to her e-mail at email@example.com, or send them via fax or drop them by the city manager's office.