Cab drivers propose fee

Students who rely on taxicab service for transportation after the T stops running around 12:30 a.m. may find themselves digging a little bit deeper into their pockets in the next few months.

Cab drivers will formally request an additional $1 surcharge on fares to compensate for rising gas prices at a hearing Boston police officials scheduled for next Wednesday. According to the Boston Police Department (BPD), the hearing will be conducted by Mark Cohen, the director of licensing for the BPD.

Senior marketing communications major Zachary Weil said that although he occasionally uses taxis after the T stops running, the slight price hike will not curb his cab use.

“Taxis are so expensive [that] adding another dollar isn’t going to have any effect,” Weil said.

Taxicab officials say the surcharge is a necessity.

“We are trying to help the driver because the cost of gas has skyrocketed,” said Metro Cab Association, Inc. General Manager Steven Sullivan.

Sullivan, who drove a cab for 35 years, said the average driver working a 12-hour shift used to spend $10 to $12 on gas. But now, as gas prices have begun to rise steadily due to oil refinery destruction by the recent hurricanes in the Gulf Coast, Sullivan said gas for the same mileage can now cost up to $40.

According to an Oct. 5 report by the U.S. Department of Energy, gasoline prices rose by nearly 35 cents per gallon between Sept. 26 and Oct. 3, with prices now reaching up to $3.14 per gallon. For Boston-area taxi drivers, the added gas expense comes directly from their daily income, Sullivan said.

“We are trying to push for the $1 surcharge because, at the end of the day, the surcharge would leave the driver with $20 for gas, which in turn means $20 more for their families,” he said.

The Boston Police Department’s Hackney and Carriage Unit, which is in charge of everything from setting fare rates to leasing taxicabs, will be responsible for approving the surcharge. The department has received over a dozen requests from taxi drivers and three taxi associations (the Independent Taxi Operators Association-, the Boston Cab Association and the Top Cab Association) have filed written requests.

“The police department is responsible for the well-being of the taxi owners as well the consumer,” Boston Police Department Media Relations Commander Sergeant Thomas Sexton said. “We are in the middle on this issue. We must consider both sides in order to determine what is equitable and fair.”

Boston cab fares are already ranked by Schaller Consulting, a national firm specializing in the cab business, as the fifth most expensive in the country.

Sullivan said he is confident that the new fee will be accepted since Mayor Tom Menino supported the surcharge. Menino’s office could not be reached for comment, but The Boston Globe reported on Oct. 8 that the mayor is also in support of the raise in the fare.

“I think Mayor Menino is very reasonable and considerate of the taxi industry,” Sullivan said. “He has been on the side of the workers in the past, and I think he will be again.”

Emerson students who want to avoid the fare increase have other options to consider, such as the college’s escort service.

“I don’t mind a surcharge, but if I can use the escort service to get back to the dorm, I will,” said sophomore writing, literature and publishing major Hillary Lawson.

Emerson’s Escort Service operates between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. and is free of charge. There are service limits, however, as it only goes as far as Massachusetts Avenue and Tremont Street on each side of its route, and must either pick up or drop off students at an Emerson facility, according to the Emerson College Police Department (ECPD) Web site.

According to Christy Letizia, the Off Campus Student Services coordinator, students can stick with public transportation and use the taxi vouchers offered by the ECPD.

Letizia recommended that students leave in time to catch a T or bus. If a student must take a cab but does not have enough money, Letizia said the student can pick up a voucher immediately after the ride and the fare will go on the student’s tuition bill.

Many students said the potential surcharge would be a small price to pay in a time when the cost of gas is soaring nationwide.

“High gas prices are affecting us all so it’s to be expected that we are going to have to pay a little more for a taxi ride,” freshman TV/video major Brook Runyan said. “Even though many of us college students don’t have a lot of money, I think we can spare another dollar for the driver.”