Faced with higher gas prices, cabs can increase fares

By Johnny Jackson

Faced with higher gasoline prices, cabs in Clayton County could raise their rates to offset some of these costs without having to ask anyone's permission. So those leaving their cars parked across the county and riding a cab to the airport could be seeing higher rates.

Unlike some public utilities like electricity, no approval is needed to increase the fares.

Harry Osborn, an attorney in the Clayton County's Commission's staff attorney's office said individual taxicab companies are able to set their fare rates.

”Back in July of 2004, I think the board of commissioners felt strongly that they didn't want to be in the business of setting fares,“ Osborn said.

Back when that decision was made, gasoline was selling for about $1.50 a gallon, compared to the more than $3 a gallon now being charged.

”It's terrible,“ said Carlos Olu, bustling about trying to run a business that relies so heavily on gasoline. He manages Payless Cab in Jonesboro, and he said rising gas prices have adversely affected the business.

Those price spikes present a dilemma for some taxicab companies, who make the choice to either increase their fare rates or suffer possible losses to fuel purchases.

While deciding not to be in the business of setting rates, on July 20, 2004, the Clayton County Commission completed an ordinance that, for the first time, placed strict regulations on taxicab operations throughout the county.

The regulations were developed to serve the purpose of making business among taxicab companies and drivers and their patrons fairer and lawful. A little more than a year later, those involved said the new regulations seem to be working pretty good.

Michael Smith, chief attorney in the county commission's staff attorney's office, said of the new regulations: ”Typically, it's because of service and doing something to help the citizens in terms of the conditions of the taxi cab. It makes sure you don't have, in some locations, too many companies trying to operate.“

A main purpose for developing the taxicab and drivers ordinance was the consideration of protecting the public.

In that way, Riverdale Assistant Police Chief Samuel Patterson said the rules in the ordinance probably stems from public complaints.

”Most of why we do (anything) and what we do is predicated on the response of the citizens,“ Patterson said. ”I don't see it as a public safety issue unless there is a complaint on the part of the citizen.“

He said the city's police department has done what it can to be sure there are no illegally operated taxicab companies within the city of Riverdale, adding that the one company licensed to operate in Riverdale moved its operations.

Part of the taxicab ordinance requires that taxicab drivers post driver's and vehicle's permit in full view of passenger, and wear identification badges.

Information about the taxicab company, including its fare rate, must be clearly visible as a permanent affixment to the vehicle.

The ordinances states that the police department shall conduct an investigation of each applicant for a taxicab driver's permit and a report on the investigation.

”We would cite them and give them a citation,“ Patterson said about violators of the new ordinance. ”They'd have to explain to the magistrate why they are operating. But most taxicab companies want to operate within the confines of the law. Typically, most companies are cooperative.

”The problem we have is that that's not something we typically do on a routine basis; we make those entities-the county and the state-aware, though.“

Eddie Huff, owner of E75 College Park Cab Service, said, ”A lot of cabs out here don't go by the law, especially in Clayton County. I have to pay $140 a year for my business license and inspections. Some cab companies don't do that much.“

Huff has been driving for taxicabs for 10 years now. But he said his business has declined with the influx of many other taxicab companies in his area of operation and rising gas prices, prices that have doubled since he started his own business a little more than a year ago.

”Every year, it gets worse and worse, slower and slower. It makes it kind of rough for cab companies when you have to pay so much a year.“

Osborn said he does not expect any changes to the ordinance in the near future, although, he said changes are possible if the need presents itself.