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City Hall OKs $76,000 for cab fare study that could pave way for hike

Updated: July 15, 2013 7:09PM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has authorized a $76,359 consulting study of taxicab fares and driver income that an influential alderman said Wednesday could be a prelude to Chicago’s first fare hike in eight years.

“If the study comes back and says that everything we’ve put in place was not enough, it may be time to give them an increase,” said Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee.

“They’re entitled to more money — just like everybody else in the work force — [to cover increases in] the cost of living or whatever.”

The $76,359 contract to conduct a “taxicab industry study-rate of fare” was awarded this week to Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates.

It calls for the San Francisco firm to “collect and analyze electronic data” from meters and GPS with an eye toward identifying where cabs are going, fares riders are paying, how often they’re taking cabs and how much money cabdrivers are earning.

The RFP asks the consultant to “review and assess the current taxi rate of fare” and provide “written recommendations on the rate of fare, based on, but not limited to, comparisons with other jurisdictions and taxi industry best practices.”

The consultant is further asked to provide “research-based recommendations” on how City Hall can “achieve its overall goals for the taxi industry, ranking recommendations by cost and length of time for implementation.”

The request-for-proposals for a more sweeping study was initiated before Emanuel took office. Two parts were subsequently done in-house and set the stage for industry reforms that quadrupled the number of fuel-efficient and alternative fuel cabs.

Jennifer Lipford, a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, refused to say whether the new study would be a prelude to a fare increase.

In an e-mail to the Chicago Sun-Times, she would only say, “The mayor’s taxi reforms have upgraded our fleet with safer, cleaner and more accessible cabs to serve Chicago. We received a proposed ordinance in April for a fare increase and the city is currently reviewing it.”

Veteran cabdriver George Kasp wants Chicago cab riders to pay 13.2 percent more for the average five-mile trip.

Two months ago, Kasp filed a citizens fare hike ordinance that seeks to raise the cost of entering a cab — known as the “flag pull” — to $3.25 for 1/7th of a mile instead of the current 1/9th.

In addition, Kasp wants to raise the mileage charge — from 20-cents for every additional 1/9th of a mile to 30-cents for every 1/7th of a mile.

That would raise the cost of the average five-mile ride with five minutes of waiting time by 13.2 percent — from $13.91 to $15.75 — still well below New York, which has a $2.50 flag pull, $2.50-a-mile and $30-an-hour waiting time.

Boston charges $2.60 for the flag pull, $2.80-per-mile and $28-an-hour. In San Francisco, it’s $3.50 to enter, $2.75-a-mile and $33-an-hour. Las Vegas charges $3.30 to enter, $2.40-per-mile and $30-an-hour.

After the ordinance was introduced, Lipford argued that cabbies were paying up to $21-a-day less for fuel because greener taxis now make up more than 50 percent of the fleet.

Kasp was not appeased.

“Many vehicles are not hybrid. My vehicle is not hybrid. I’m not saving anything,” he said then.

“We haven’t had a raise in eight years. The cost of living during that period is up 17.8 percent. All we’re trying to do is stay even. Get us out of the gutter of being among the lowest fares in the country.”

Chicago cab fares have been frozen since an 11.7 percent increase imposed by the City Council in 2005. The last increase before that — 16.6 percent — was approved in 2000 and tied to a controversial requirement that cabdrivers answer at least one radio call each day in underserved communities.

Emanuel’s reforms raised the lease rates drivers pay — by as much as 31 percent for the most fuel-efficient vehicles — while cabbies claim they walked away virtually empty-handed.

The mayor’s only concession to drivers was to make the $1 fuel surcharge permanent and to fold it into the cost of entering a cab, known as the “flag pull.”

Several times in recent years and months, drivers have attempted to press their case for higher fares by organizing a taxicab strike in Chicago.

But, almost all of those strike threats have fizzled as cabbies who function as independent contractors and routinely work 13-hour-days are reluctant to leave the street for even a few hours for fear of losing money.

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