OLEAN — City officials got some feedback from local taxicab operators before moving to remove price controls on cab fares.
On Tuesday, the Common Council’s city operations committee heard from Michael Auman, owner of Alle-Catt Taxi, and Rex Bennon, owner of STT Taxi. The members of the committee present voted unanimously to prepare a resolution lifting cab fare restrictions, but still requiring companies to report their rates annually to the council. That resolution is being forwarded to the city attorney to be drafted, and could come before the full council before the end of the year.
Under city code, enacted in 1971, the Common Council must fix the rates of operation for taxicabs. The current rate is $7.50 for any trip inside the city limits.
“You don’t tell Reid’s Food Barn what to charge for milk,” Auman said, noting no other businesses have their prices set by the council.
He added that taxes, insurance, minimum wage and other costs of doing business have continued to rise.
“The rate has not gone up since 2011,” Bennon said, “and our rates (of expenses) go up exponentially every year.
Eventually we won’t be able to operate,” he added. “I didn’t get into it to not make a buck.”
Alderman Kevin Dougherty, R-Ward 4, sponsored the resolution to lift the restrictions.
While there may be concerns of prices rising rapidly, Dougherty said he doesn’t believe the city will need to step in again.
“The free market will sort it out,” he said, noting if one raises rates too much, the other will pick up the extra business.
Committee Chairman Nate Smith, R-Ward 6, said that other similar-sized cities might not have government-set rates, but they are closely monitored.
“In Jamestown, it’s not controlled, but the rates are posted with the city,” he said.
The cab operators agreed that submitting rates would be a fair compromise.
Alderman Linda Witte, D-Ward 1, asked how the rates affect runs funded by the county Department of Social Services — the largest user of taxis in the city
Auman said that DSS does not follow the same rate as the city, as a government agency is not required to follow the city’s rules.
“Basically, they tell us what we can charge — they’ll give you so much a mile or so much an hour, and you take it or not,” he said, noting that while it’s a lower rate than what is allowed by the council, “I make it up in volume.”
(Contact City Editor Bob Clark at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @OTHBob)