County set to consider raising taxicab fares

The Pierce County Rules & Operations Committee approved plans yesterday to move forward on an ordinance to increase taxicab fares in Pierce County.

If the Pierce County Council approves the ordinance, fares would increase from $1.80 to $2.25 for the first 1/9 mile, and from $.20 to $.25 for each succeeding mile. Passengers would also pay a $2.25 “drop rate” (the cost for entering a taxicab), a $1.00 charge for each additional person per trip, and $.50 for each one minute of waiting time.

The last time taxicab fares for unincorporated Pierce County increased was in 2001. According to John Brown, owner of Ft. Lewis Taxi and a proponent of the ordinance, a fare increase is long-overdue — particularly in light of climbing gas prices.

“It doesn’t help me,” said Brown, who presented the idea to county officials in April. “It helps the drivers. By the time drivers fill up their cars and pay their leases, the cost of gasoline is killing them.”

Brown estimates that rising gas prices have cut income by 20 percent for taxicab drivers countywide.

Nearby municipalities have made similar moves to combat the cost of fuel. On April 1, the City of Seattle increased its drop rate from $1.80 to $2.50, and its per-mile rate from $1.80 to $2.

Three weeks later, the City authorized a temporary fuel surcharge of 50 cents per trip for taxi service originating in Seattle. According to the City, the surcharge was intended to “help offset the economic impact of recent extraordinary increases in fuel costs paid by Seattle taxicab drivers.”

In Olympia, the drop rate is $3.50; the per-mile rate is $2.50.

Brown notes that the increase proposed in the Pierce County ordinance is still less than the rates charged in Seattle and Olympia. “It’s nowhere near Seattle’s rates,” he says. “Pierce County can’t sustain that kind of business.”

Brown calls the proposed fare increases “realistic,” and adds, “The price isn’t going up by dollars. It’s going to cost riders more, but it’s a teeny little bit.”

Based upon the Pierce County Rules & Operations Committee’s recommendation, the council will vote on the ordinance — #2005-29 — during an upcoming meeting. The public will have the opportunity to comment during that meeting.

Taxicab operations in the South Sound have recently received attention from city leaders.

Last year, the City of Tacoma began a discussion aimed at updating the draft version of a taxi ordinance that would regulate maintenance and cleanliness of vehicles, as well as the training of cab drivers. An earlier version of that draft ordinance required small-cab operators to purchase newer cars, lease office space, and hire a dispatcher. During a public meeting on Jan. 20, 25 taxi drivers and owners shared concerns about the ordinance. City staff are expected to update Tacoma’s Economic Development Committee on the status of that proposed ordinance this summer.