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Veteran cabdriver proposes fare hike

Updated: May 28, 2013 7:57PM

Chicago taxicab riders would pay 13.2 percent more for the average five-mile trip, under a veteran cabbie’s proposal to raise fares for the first time in eight years.

Cabdriver George Kasp is trying again to convince the City Council to raise fares — even though drivers have come up empty since 2005.

Kasp has 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 one-seventh of a mile instead of the current one-ninth.

In addition, Kasp wants to raise the mileage charge — from 20-cents for every additional one-ninth of a mile to 30-cents for every one-seventh of a mile.

Kasp says his proposal 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.

That’s still well below New York, which has a $2.50 flag pull, $2.50-a-mile and $30-an-hour waiting time, he said.

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.

Rosemary Krimbel, commissioner of the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, is currently reviewing the fare hike request.

But, her spokesperson Jennifer Lipford appeared to lay the groundwork to shoot down Kasp’s request when she noted that reforms championed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel more than a year ago had more than quadrupled the number of fuel-efficient and alternative fuel cabs.

“Greener taxis now make up more than 50 percent of Chicago’s taxi fleet and increase driver’s take-home pay by up to $21-per-day in fuel savings,” Lipford wrote in an e-mail to the Chicago Sun-Times.

“The new ordinance also gave drivers the benefit to request a fare increase at any time without needing to collect petition signatures.”

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, said this week he was not inclined to approve a fare increase because the mayor’s taxicab reforms had already put more money in drivers’ pockets.

Kasp begs to differ.

“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. Keep up with the cost of living. Get us out of the gutter of being among the lowest fares in the country,” Kasp said Wednesday.

Kasp scoffed at the claim that drivers are saving $21-a-day on fuel.

“That’s just crazy. Many vehicles are not hybrid. My vehicle is not hybrid. I’m not saving anything,” he said.

“Hybrids aren’t the answer to drivers making a decent living. There’s a shortage of drivers, mostly because of the low pay drivers get at the end of the day after paying for their lease and gas.”

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.”

That’s nowhere near enough to make a difference. Cabbies are still driving 13-hours-a-day and making less than $5-an-hour, they contend.

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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