HOUSTON – Houston's airport director presented a plan that would guarantee a taxi company at least one of two contracts to provide shared-ride shuttle service to pick up and drop off airport passengers at their homes.
City Council's Transportation, Infrastructure and Aviation Committee did not vote on whether to recommend the proposal to the rest of council, saying it wanted to study the plan further and consider the matter in November.
Despite the effort to make the proposal more palatable to taxi companies, scores of taxi drivers who attended the committee's meeting were not pleased.
As they have done since the ‘80s, taxi drivers urged council members not to allow door-to-door shuttle service, saying it would hurt business because shuttles carrying more people would charge much lower fares.
"We struggle every day to pay our bills," said Denise Cooper, a driver for Liberty Cabs. "A lot of taxi drivers are forced to live in their cabs because they can't pay their bills. Bringing in shuttles will only force more drivers to live in their cabs."
Richard Vacar, Houston aviation director, has been asking the council for two years to allow the city's airports to provide a shared-ride shuttle service, saying Houston is the largest U.S. city without such transportation.
Shared-ride shuttles typically charge half the fares of taxis, Vacar said.
After first making the proposal in August 2002, Vacar backed off because taxi companies said business had been hurt by the reduction of airport passengers after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Vacar reintroduced his proposal last month to the committee, saying airport traffic had picked up to pre-9/11 levels. Vacar said the city should contract with two companies to provide the service, because that number would generate competition and not overly dilute the potential market.
Thursday, he presented an alternate proposal that would reserve one of the two contracts for a company that has Houston taxi permits. To be considered for the proposed contract, a company would need at least 25 vans that could carry seven to 11 people, and use alternative fuels for at least 15 percent of its fleet fuel needs.
Vacar said he proposed the alternative plan because a consultant hired by the city underestimated the impact that a shuttle service would have on taxi companies. He did not have the corrected figures available.
Joe Chernow, the Yellow Cab CEO who spotted the mistake, said the consultant underestimated the economic impact on local tax companies by $4 million a year.