Juneau taxi owners press for idling fee

Cabbies propose they charge standard 75 cents a minute to wait

Posted: Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sitting in an idling cab may soon cost you.

Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

Juneau's taxi companies are asking the city to allow taxi drivers to keep the meter running while idling in traffic, saying the extra fees are needed to offset high gas prices that are eating away their profits.

"Because of the gas costs, we have to find a way to afford to do it," said Shane Williams, owner of Evergreen Taxi.

Taxi drivers in town currently charge customers an initial fee of $3.40 plus mileage, which is at 22 cents for a tenth of a mile.

Unlike many other cities, cab drivers in Juneau don't automatically charge customers for time spent sitting still. According to city law: "Waiting time does not apply to halts of the vehicle for reasons beyond the control of the passenger, such as delays caused by traffic or road conditions."

The cab owners are proposing that taxis be able to charge the standard 75 cents a minute for idling, a standard waiting fee.

"This is the standard. This is normal everywhere else," said James Harris, owner of Juneau Taxi and Tours, adding that cab drivers are paying upwards of $80 a day on gas. "This is a necessity."

In a letter to the city, owners for the city's cab companies said that changing the rules would be the "easiest way to get a rate increase." The city last approved a rate increase for taxis in 2006, back when gas was more than a dollar-a-gallon cheaper than its current average of well over $4 a gallon.

Cab drivers' pain at the pump is magnified by the fact that they drive cars that average under 20 miles a gallon. Williams said he'd like to own and operate more fuel-efficient cars, but the large sedans and minivans he operates are readily available, versatile and hold up well over time.

City Manager Rod Swope said the city is looking into cab owners' request. He said he's open to the idea but the earliest possible time the Juneau Assembly could approve a change in law would be in mid-August unless a special session was called.

While sitting at the airport Tuesday afternoon waiting to pick up a fare, taxi driver Kathleen Westbrook said she'd like to see an increase in rates per mile, as well as instituting an idling fee.

"It doesn't take that long for the lights to change," she said.

The longtime taxi driver said the freedom of being her own boss and deciding when and where she was going to work was "addictive," but $1,000 a month price tag for fuel was starting to take a toll.

"You're almost to a point you don't want to do it anymore," Westbrook said.

It's a sentiment Evergreen Taxi owner Williams said he's familiar with. He said high fuel costs have made it difficult to find willing drivers, who he said can walk away from a day's work with about $100 left after expenses.

"You can't keep guys around for that kind of money," Williams said. "Especially for a 12-hour shift."

• Contact reporter Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or alan.suderman@juneauempire.com.

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