- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 17, 2004

NEW YORK — The number of yellow cabs here — a lifeline for residents and visitors alike — may soon increase and with it the cost of a ride.

The proposal, which has the backing of the mayor, the City Council and the state, is all but a foregone conclusion, especially since they believe that adding 900 cabs to the fleet could bring in about $190 million in revenue from the sale of taxi licenses.

The only catch is that officials also favor a fare increase of anywhere between 25 percent to 33 percent, plus a possible $1 surcharge for taxi rides during the morning and evening rush hours. The base fare of a cab ride is $2; each additional one-fifth of a mile costs 30 cents. There is a 50-cent surcharge between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Not all taxi drivers are keen on the idea. They say more yellow cabs means more competition and less pay.

“The city wants to raise money without taxes,” said Bhairavi Desai, director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. “But the mayor shouldn’t balance his budget on the backs of taxi drivers who work 70 hours a week.”

So far there has been no public outcry, probably because most New Yorkers are used to rising costs and know that the price of hailing a yellow cab has remained stable for some years. In fact, taxi fares in the city have not gone up since 1996.

In recent years city residents have complained about the apparent scarcity of cabs. Between the rush hours of 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. when there is a shift change, taxis with “Off Duty” signs cruise the streets, often picking up passengers only if they are going in the direction where the cabby is headed.

The proposal to expand the fleet by 900 over the next three years grew out of an impact study ordered by the city to determine how it would affect traffic and the environment. The study concluded that the traffic congestion resulting from additional cabs would be offset by an adjustment in the traffic-light sequences. There would be no significant effect on air quality. The study also recommended that a fare increase in the neighborhood of 25 percent would allay drivers’ fears of a market glut.

Although a final decision will come after public hearings and approval by the Taxi and Limousine Commission, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has already included revenue from an initial sale of licenses in this year’s budget.

Once the plan gets a green light, the first wave of new taxis could be on the streets by June.

Writing in City Journal, a publication of the conservative think tank the Manhattan Institute, Howard Husock said the mayor’s reasoning is flawed. He contends that a quarter of the yellow cab fleets already stands idle because it’s not economically attractive for people to drive taxis.

“As the businessman-mayor will remember from Econ 101, you don’t respond to sagging demand by raising prices. You will only chase more customers away,” Mr. Husock said.

Bruce Schaller, a former commission official who works as a consultant to the industry, says he believes the sale of licenses would result in better taxi service.

“Higher driver incomes are associated with lower crash sites,” he said in a recent analysis.

Taxis have been in use in the city since 1899. Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia signed a law introducing taxi licenses in 1937. In those days, 13,566 taxis patrolled the city’s streets and licenses cost $10, compared to 12,187 today at a cost of more than $200,000 each.

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