Council weighs adding gasoline surcharge to cab fares

Relief for Chicago cab drivers facing high gas prices and declining profits may come in the form of a surcharge on taxi fares, but some drivers say it's not enough.

Mayor Richard M. Daley today introduced an ordinance to the City Council that would allow a fuel surcharge pegged to rising gasoline prices to be added to fares.

The proposal would add a 50-cent surcharge to taxi fares when the average price of gasoline in the Chicago Metropolitan Statistical Area is between $2.70 and $3.20 per gallon for seven consecutive business days. The surcharge will rise to $1 if the price of gas exceeds $3.20 for seven consecutive business days.

Average fuel prices will be determined by the AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report.

The price at the pump averaged $3.14 per gallon in February of this year.

"We are trying to give relief to taxi drivers with the rise of gas prices," says Commissioner of Consumer Affairs Norma Reyes.

Notices posted inside cabs will notify passengers of any surcharge changes.

Concerns about drivers manipulating the surcharge increase at the expense of unsuspecting customers were dismissed by Reyes, who said her department would be monitoring the price of gas closely.

"The onus is not going to be on the passengers," said Reyes. "We will have information. We will send out advisories."

She added, "If you're in a cab and someone tries to overcharge you, call 311 and we'll investigate it."

Many Chicago cab drivers would prefer a fare increase, something they've not seen since 2005.

Taxi driver Melissa Callahan estimates that the average taxi driver is spending $50 per day on gas.

"A 50 cent to $1 increase is not the release we need from soaring gas prices," says Callahan.

Callahan, who heads the Association of Unified Professional Drivers, said a badly needed fare increase was among the issues that catalyzed a strike of Chicago taxi drivers last July. She says a petition for a 25 percent increase has been languishing in the City Council's transportation committee since last year.

George Kasp, an independent operator who's been driving for 35 years, says it's better than nothing.

"We'd prefer a permanent increase, but the surcharge is fair enough for now," says Kasp.

"At today's prices, it would be $1. For an average of 20 to 30 rides that's about $30 more," says Kasp. "But it could cause people to take the extra off of their tip. At the end of the day," he says, "it amounts to an extra $10 to $15."