Burlington taxi companies will be shifting gears over the next few months after the city council passed a new ordinance Monday night.
For the last 45 years most cab companies have charged by the zone with flat rates from point to point. Starting in October, taxis will be required to use meters.
Late Tuesday afternoon, taxi-driver Bradley LaGoy hit the road en-route to pick up regular passenger. He's been driving a cab for the last three years. "It's the only job I've had where I'm warm in the winter and cool in the summertime," he said with a smile.
Minutes later, the cab pulled up to a community gym in Winooski and Steve Alderman jumped into the passenger seat. Alderman says he's a frequent passenger in Benway Cabs. "Just about daily," he clarified.
Alderman says he'll spend about $150 on cab rides each week. But, that figure is likely to change.
In October, cab rides beginning or ending in Burlington must be metered with a mandated rate structure. Getting into the cab will cost $2.50, and a rider will pay $2.20 a mile after that. While stopped at a light or in traffic, the meter will run at $31.20 an hour and each ride will cost a minimum of $7.50. Cabs hailed from the Burlington Airport's queue will also charge an additional $4.00.
Alderman's costs are likely to drop, but not everyone will be so lucky.
"We'll see how it goes," said LaGoy, "I mean we don't know because we've never run meters."
Back in the office, the cab company's manager Wanda Robar said it will cost her about 20,000 dollars to upgrade her fleet of two dozen soon-to-be-metered cabs. She said the new price structure should produce similar costs for riders and be simpler for visitors to understand. "It's fair for the people that are downtown as well as the outer-lying areas," she said.
Green Cab owner Charlie Herrick also hailed the move to meters. "We were the first cab company in town to install meters," he said, "and so I think it's a move forward for the industry."
Herrick said he worries though that minimums could confuse passengers when the bill is higher than the meter. While confusing, he said passengers rarely asked for an explanation of the zone system as long as the quoted price sounded fair.
Many of the effects of the new ordinance won't be known until it takes effect. It is clear that those getting rides back to campus from bars will be paying a bit more and those with longer commutes within the city a bit less.
The council decided to address cab rates in part because residents reported wildly differing fares being charged for identical trips. Those we spoke with say only enforcement can completely stop shady practices but meters should cut down on the problems.
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