An association of cab drivers is threatening a city-wide strike later this month unless 16 percent fare hikes are in place by January.
The United Taxidrivers Community Council, which claims to have several thousand drivers on board, says it will stage a strike later this month if city leaders do not impose a permanent fare hike by Jan. 1.
“We surveyed 3,500 drivers and they want to strike. They want to strike yesterday,” the group’s chairman, Fayez Khozindar, said today. “They are anxious to take action.”
However, Consumer Services Commissioner Norma Reyes says the United Taxidrivers Community Council "does not speak for a majority" of cabbies and that the group was playing with fire by promoting a strike.
The group in October decried the elimination of a two-tiered customer surcharge in place since May that was designed to offset rising fuel costs. The last of the charges expires at 12:01 Friday morning.
The surcharges required passengers to pay an extra 50 cents per ride whenever the price of regular unleaded gas "equals or exceeds" $2.70 a gallon for seven consecutive days, and a $1 surcharge when prices topped $3.20 a gallon for a straight week.
A gallon of gas in Chicago costs about $3.52 when the surcharges took effect. The average price for a gallon if regular unleaded in Chicago today is $2.45, according to www.fuelgaugereport.com, a AAA Web site that logs data from self-serve stations.
Taxi drivers cannot petition for higher fares until May 2009, and city leaders have said they plan to consider a permanent fare hike at that time.
But the cabbies say they can not wait for relief. Khozindar says drivers have gone without a fare increase in four years, and the surcharges were a confusing temporary fix that have left them no better off than they were last spring.
“The surcharge has never been a solution for our dilemma. We are asking for a reasonable fare increase to meet our needs to take effective immediately,” Khozindar says.
“Honestly, if the city will not respond to our demands immediately, we have to do something and force the city to do it because people won’t have enough money to even get by.”
Amy Lee is a Chicago-based journalist. She covers transit issues for the Daily News.