Cost of cab rides may go up

Chicagoans will pay an additional $1 to hail a cab under a plan approved yesterday by City Council's transportation committee.

The committee okayed a taxi surcharge pegged to the price of gasoline prices in order to address complaints from cab drivers burdened by the high cost of fuel. If approved by the full City Council on Wednesday, the surcharge will take effect April 28.

Many cab drivers who testified before the committee  reluctantly endorsed the surcharge, saying they'd prefer a permanent fare increase instead.

The proposal would add a 50-cent increase to taxi fares when the average price of gasoline in the Chicago area stays between $2.70 and $3.20 for seven consecutive business days. The surcharge will rise to $1 if the price exceeds $3.20 for the same cycle.

The city's Department of Consumer Services will determine the surcharge using the AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report.

Commissioner of Consumer Affairs Norma Reyes says her department will post brightly colored signs in the passenger section of cabs to alert customers to the fluctuating surcharge and will issue bulletins and update the department website on the increase on a regular basis.

Under current law, Reyes says, surcharges only last for 60 days. That means cab drivers must petition the City Council to renew the surcharge.

The new ordinance would free aldermen from having to approve surcharges every two months.

Peter Enger, spokesperson for the United Taxidrivers Community Council, an umbrella organization of advocacy groups for cab drivers, voiced concerns that the surcharge would provide inadequate relief and prove irritating to customers.

"We feel like the $1 surcharge is unfair to driver and passengers alike," says Enger. "Short fares are penalized, by increasing a $5 fare for example by a significant percentage, and meanwhile, $1 will do nothing to cover the gas costs of a 20 or 30 mile fare."

"What we need is a long-term and permanent solution, just like any other profession in the country," says Enger, who noted that Illinoisans who work for a minimum wage will see their pay increase in steady increments through 2010.

The UTC is calling for a 16 percent permanent increase in the fare, based on what they estimate to be a 30 percent increase in the cost of driving a cab for the average driver since the last fare increase in 2005.

Reyes says drivers will not be able to petition for a fare increase again until next year. At that time, she said, she will be willing to consider the idea anew.