POSTED ON JANUARY 14, 2009:
Taxi Scam Over?
Outrageous cab fees under scrutiny, soon to be recalibrated, says city council
If you have ever arrived at a destination in Tulsa, then had your eyes pop when your cab driver turned around and told you the fare, you are not alone. During a January 6 City Council committee meeting, councilors called cab rates in Tulsa "bizarre and unpredictable," "incredibly expensive" and "way out of line with the market," among other negative descriptions.
In an attempt to resolve the problem, the council has tasked Tulsa International Airport officials with recommending a reasonable rate that might be imposed on cab companies, which now set their own rates. Airport officials frequently handle complaints from cab customers who feel they've been ripped off, especially because cabs at the airport often charge an "optional" $8 departure fee in addition to their other charges, which typically include a $1.50 to $2 charge to start the meter and a per-mile charge that customers say ranges from $1.50 to $3. Passengers are also charged for time spent sitting in traffic, and additional fees are applied for having multiple passengers and sometimes for luggage.
Airport officials said taxi customers often accept the $8 fee because they don't realize they are not obligated to take the cab at the front of the line. Customers can also call a taxi that is not on site to avoid the $8 surcharge.
The $8 departure fee is meant to compensate cab drivers for the time spent waiting in line for a customer at the airport. The airport also charges taxi drivers $1 each time they enter the arrivals area at the airport.
Specific mileage rates have not yet been discussed with the City Council, but it seems clear they intend to change the city ordinance to eliminate the $8 optional departure fee. Councilors noted that the $8 fee and high mileage rates are often the first and last impressions of Tulsa for a visitor who travels by plane. In some instances, it can be cheaper to rent a car than to take a cab to your destination.
First Impressions of Tulsa
Some cab drivers have also reportedly refused to serve customers whose destinations were nearby and therefore not very profitable. Refusing a customer for that reason is prohibited by city ordinance.
"It's a tremendous embarrassment for the city to have this kind of problem," City Councilor G.T. Bynum said. "I've spoken with a lot of [visitors] from outside the state ... and they had almost universally positive things to say about the city and the people here. But when I really picked on them for, 'What was one thing you would point out that we ought to be working on?' They said the lack of access to cabs and the bizarre and unpredictable fee structure. If we can address that, I think it would be a huge step forward for us."
Councilor Eric Gomez also touched on the lack of access to taxis, saying it is a problem that could lead to impaired drivers getting behind the wheel and endangering themselves and other residents.
"If you can't get a cab, you're more likely to get in your car and drive at the end of an evening," he said. "So this is something that can not only affect the image [of Tulsa] that is projected for citizens who visit or other people who visit Tulsa, but it can have a profound impact on public safety."
Airport officials have met with representatives from local cab companies and told them the $8 surcharge is likely going to be eliminated, Tulsa International Airport Director Jeff Mulder said at the City Council's Jan. 6 committee meeting. He said he plans to send a specific detail of proposed rates to the cab companies by Jan. 9 and would be ready to again discuss the matter with the City Council on Jan. 27.
Mulder confirmed that rates from the airport to downtown are "relatively high" in comparison to rates from airports in other cities.
A typical rate in Oklahoma City is $3.80 for the first mile and $1.80 for each additional mile, according to a May report in the Oklahoma Journal-Record, which said cab companies had raised their rates to cope with soaring gas prices.
Airport officials are expected to recommend a rate for taxis citywide, which would then need to be approved by the City Council. The airport could also set flat rates for trips from the airport to destinations or zones throughout Tulsa. If the airport were to set airport-specific rates, it would need to establish a commission to review those rates annually.
A zone system could also be set up for the entire city.
"This has been a pebble in my shoe for a long time, even before I got on the council," Councilor Bill Martinson said. "We really are way out of line with the market, and I think it reflects poorly on the city.
"This isn't any kind of vendetta against the cab companies -- that's not it at all. I think we need to figure out some way to come up with some sort of rate system that better reflects the market ... nationwide."
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