Taxi Operators Ask for Fare Changes

Posted on November 3, 2004 by LCT Staff - Also by this author - About the author

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. – Local taxi operators are arguing they should be compensated for their time, not just the miles they drive. The increasing number of traffic bottlenecks scattered around town, they say, makes it tough to make a living.

"The thing is, you're not getting paid, it's nerve- racking," said Tony Pognacci, a Framingham native who has been driving for Tommy's Taxi on and off since 1978 and has watched worsening traffic take away revenue. "We're not asking for anything unusual. It's something that's done all over the country."

Jo-Anne Thompson, the owner of Tommy's Taxi, went before the Board of Selectmen recently and asked for two fare changes. One would add a fee for time spent idling in traffic and another would add a fuel surcharge to cover escalating gas prices.

Selectmen tentatively set a public hearing on the matter after which they will make a decision.

Thompson told selectmen that roadwork and traffic have made it difficult to find drivers willing to work for the standard 40 percent commission.

Currently, taxi rates in town are $2.50 for the first three- fifths of a mile and 50 cents for each additional fifth of a mile (or fraction thereof). Drivers can charge for waiting time at stops at the rate of $22 per hour.

The problem, Thompson said, is that a driver sitting in traffic for 20 minutes could earn as little as $2.50 for that time, of which he or she only sees 40 percent, not including tips. The rest goes to Tommy's Taxi for gas, maintenance and overhead for costs.

The new fee structure she is proposing would add 50 cents for each period of 88 consecutive seconds when the vehicle is going less than 6.3 miles per hour. The second request would add a fuel surcharge of between 50 cents and $1, depending on the size of the fare. Drivers would not share in that fee; it would go to the company for supplying the gas.

The last rate change was four years ago in 2000.

The change would affect any cab company operating in Framingham. The rate is based on where a customer is picked up, so although JFK Taxi is based in Natick, it would still benefit from the change because it does a lot of business in Framingham, according to owner Tim Kelley.

"I totally agree with her proposal," said Kelley, referring to Thompson's plan. "It's reasonable. I believe that it's due to us."

He said he plans to attend the public hearing on the matter.

There is some concern that a rate hike would be hard on low- income residents, many of whom cannot afford cars and rely on taxis for grocery shopping and errands.

"There's been a resistance to change taxi rates in the past because it affects our poorest people," said Christopher Ross, chairman of the Board of Selectmen.

He said the fuel surcharge was backed by a particularly good argument, but he wondered whether it might make more sense to simply increase fares rather than implement the dual mileage and time rates.

Ross said more information is needed at the hearing, including what nearby communities charge.

Thompson said she hopes an increase will allow her to find more drivers and improve service, as there have been complaints of long waits for taxis.

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