Kathleen Horan, Reporter, WNYC News
Kathleen Horan is a staff reporter for New York Public Radio, covering the neighborhood beat. She also reports 'Reset', an ongoing series documenting police-community relations in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
By the end of the summer, the cost of a taxi trip may be more expensive.
The Taxi and Limousine Commission is poised to vote this week on the first taxi fare hike in six years. The proposed increase would boost fares by 17 percent.
Cab driver Badr Battaoui, 29, said the daily cost of leasing the taxi and medallion, rising gas prices and 5 percent drivers are charged per credit card transaction add up.
“The bills are expensive,” he said during a short break from his 10-hour shift at the corner of Second Avenue and 1st Street. “I'm not going to tell you that I'm poor, but I don't save up that much, you know? I have student loans. My wife has student loans. We have kids."
Cab drivers are also hoping that the TLC will end high credit card fees and institute a driver health fund, which the city is considering for the first time.
Veteran cabbie Brij Jihingen, who has chronic illnesses such as diabetes, said he has been waiting 25 years for a health fund that would set aside 6 cents per ride.
"I have sugar, blood cholesterol and blood pressure-- you name it I have it,” said Jihingen, who, like many of his fellow drivers, does not have health insurance.
A health fund, he said, would show the city values its taxi drivers.
"Because we are working for the city as well… you can see a normal person's health and a taxi driver’s health -- you can recognize a taxi driver from a distance...here's a cab driver coming.”
(Photo: High gas prices are one of the many reasons cabbies say they deserve a fare hike. Kathleen Horan/WNYC)
Taxi passengers have mixed feelings about the proposed increase.
John Salvo, who runs a Soho art gallery and lives in New Jersey, said comparatively, taxis are cheaper in New York City than many other cities like San Francisco and Las Vegas.
"They actually do a pretty good job and it’s a pretty fair bargain so perhaps rates should go up a bit,” he said.
Gayle Brown, who lives in Manhattan, said she rides her bike most places and takes cabs only when she’s wearing heels or heading to or from the airport. But she feels for the drivers.
“Well, everybody is pinching and food is going up, everything is going up”, she said. “I don't blame people for trying. Cab drivers aren't rich. You can see that.”
Of course, not all customers are on board.
Sherri Lynn Graham from the Bronx doesn’t think drivers don't deserve it.
“I think it’s crazy because they're not polite people sometimes, and they don't stop for black people sometimes,” she said. “You know, you want an increase then you should give us the service that we need.”
Also being considered is the elimination of the per-swipe fee of 5 percent cabbies must pay on credit cards, and instituting a flat $9-per-shift charge instead. Fleet owners vehemently oppose the proposal.
Michael Woloz, spokesman for the fleet organization the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade said “the $9-a-shift increase is not an increase at all—also, it’s far less than the 5 percent.”
Woloz said he thought the proposal was a punishment to medallion owners who are currently pursuing a lawsuit against the city to block a plan that would allow livery cars to accept street hails.
While drivers are hoping for a fare hike with no increase in the lease rates, many longtime passengers, like Gina Cecala, 80, of Manhattan are ambivalent about paying more for a ride.
"Dollar more, dollar less — don't bother me, beats walking,” said Cecala, who takes cabs several times a week. “They want it, they get it. That's it.”
The TLC is holding a public hearing on the fare proposal today [Monday] and is expected to vote on the measure this Thursday.