OCEAN CITY – After much discussion from various cab companies in Ocean City, the City Council decided this week to not increase fares, which some had suggested was needed.
Last year there was an increase in cab’s maximum initial fare of $3.20, maximum mileage charge of $2.20 per mile (22 cents every 10th of a mile), and the maximum wait time of 33 cents per minute was established as Ocean City’s code on taxicab rates.
Larry Bode, owner of Casino Express Taxi, spoke to the council representing the majority of taxi fleet owners who support a taxi fare increase. He recommended the fare increase from 22 cents to 30 cents every tenth of a mile.
“This is a subtle increase to every 10th of a mile,” Bode said. “We do not want the upfront fee increased we feel it creates sticker shock.”
Councilman Brent Ashley said he is all for supporting the small businessman and made a motion to approve Bode’s recommendation.
Ocean City Taxi owner Carl Kufchak spoke on behalf of himself and Wayne White, owner of City Cab, who do not want to see the proposed fare increase.
“We want to keep the rates where they are,” Kufchak said. “We don’t want to raise the rates; we don’t want to scare people away. We are in a recession.”
He said that if gas prices are to continue to increase he would be in agreement with charging a $1 surcharge, which would go into the drivers pocket because the drivers are the ones who pay for gas.
City Solicitor Guy Ayres stated that the ordinance sets the maximum rate a taxi can charge, a taxi is not required to charge that maximum fare.
“You need to have consistency in the industry,” Kufchak said. “When tourists come to town, they feel unsafe and uneasy if they’re getting into one cab being charged one price and getting into another and being charged another price…and that’s the problem that we had in the past.
In attempts to “compromise”, Ashley amended his motion to change the fare from 22 cents to 25 cents every 10th of a mile, and a minute later amended his motion again to 26 cents a 10th of a mile.
White of City Cab asserted that for those fleet owners who had already paid to have their meters set during inspections would have to pay again to have their meters re-set to the new rate. He also said that in the past owners were forced to change their rates, meaning they never had the option to keep their rates lower than the fare written in the code.
Century Taxi owner Ken Hovance said that he is in favor of the increase but did not agree with companies having an inconsistent rate.
“If you remember in the first place, everyone had different prices,” Hovance said. “People were price shopping and it was too much of a problem. That is why … you made all of the taxis the same price.”
A few years ago, Ocean City regulated taxicab fares to create consistency amongst cab companies. Prior to that, there was no code placing a minimum or maximum on cab fares, creating chaos in the taxicab community.
Council President Jim Hall said for those taxi owners who don’t won’t to raise their price, he isn’t going to make them do it.
“You can’t have it both ways,” Jim Hall said. “You all need to get together and figure out what you need to do.”
White asserted that he will pay the recalibration fee of his fleet’s meters but he is going to lower his meter, not increase it.
“We are going to be right back where we were,” Hovance said. “It’s going to make it worse for everybody.”
Councilman Doug Cymek said that the taxi rate needs to be consistent so nobody is “running rampant”. He added that if the council created a mandatory increased rate everybody’s meters would be the same but it would be the owner’s decision on whether or not they chose to discount the fare.
“I see reason to keep them consistent,” Mayor Rick Meehan said. “I think the rates should be the same rates for everybody … we want to think of the customers as well. If the customer sees different prices on the doors, it is going to cause them some anxiety, and it’s going to cause problems.”
The motion on the floor was to increase the maximum rate to 26 cents every 10th of a mile and all cabs would have to be consistent with the fare rate. The council voted 3-4 and the motion did not pass.
“They can get together and bring it back to us,” Council President Jim Hall said.