Yesterday, the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) approved a rate increase for its taxicab and limousine division. The decision received mixed reviews as dozens of drivers, owners, and concerned citizens packed a room at 3101 Market Street, the organization’s headquarters. The increase was the last item of business on the agenda as the crowd waited anxiously for a chance to speak on the issue. Proponents believe a rate increase is the most practical solution to drivers struggling to stay afloat due to increased fuel costs. Opponents feel that a price increase will trim an already shrinking ridership making it more difficult to earn a living.
The proponents of the increase were not allied on a specific type of increase (airport flat rate, per mile charge, or higher start for the meter) but agreed some increase was necessary. James Walker, the unofficial leader who has been in the industry for two decades, said a “fare increase is not enough to affect competition.” Another driver named Mohammed fumed about how he has been losing money an every trip to the airport and that the minimum should be moved from “eleven dollars to eighteen or twenty.” He also feels that the per mile charge should be increased all the way up to $2.40 per mile. Another enraged man who has been a cab driver since 1981, said in reference to the cost of operation for the drivers, “If anyone can calculate under 60,000 [dollars/year] I will quit the business today.”
The opposition is led by Ronald Blount, President of Taxi Workers Alliance (TWA). Blount said outside before the meeting rather bluntly, “nobody wants it.” The group was very well-organized and maintained a strong presence long before the meeting started. The co-organizer of the group, Tekle, is a driver and owner. He said in a conversation outside the building, “TWA doesn’t want a meter increase” and that business was best when “the meter was at $1.80, not $2.70″ The group was also backed by members of the community, many of which clapped after each speaker against the proposal. All sympathized because the PPA announced on on January 15 that a forum would be held on January 17, two weeks before the tentative date of February 1 that had been announced in December. “The drivers were treated unfairly then and have not been heard in this matter,” one concerned, unaffiliated resident said.”
After the board listened to six people speak, the chairman, Joseph Ashdale, asked if Mr. Nye, the expert panelist on the issue, still favored a rate increase. He said the “board recommends wholeheartedly” the increase which was promptly followed by a unanimous vote. Blount then stated that a petition of over 500 drivers signatures would be given to the chairman as well as the members of the board working on the issue and that a claim for an injunction would be filed immediately.
Blount then gave an anecdote of driver, Abrahim Baryam, attacked at gunpoint on January 29. The driver could not be helped due to a faulty GPS system. GPS systems became mandatory in all cabs two years ago and have fallen under heavy criticism that they do not function properly anywhere other than Center City and the airport. The GPS systems also are under fire for the “privacy and civil rights issues” in the words of Megan Williamson. Williamson and Todd Wolfson led members of the Media Mobilizing Project in handing out yellow fliers opposing the GPS system policy for the Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania. Williamson said they were “here to support the taxi drivers” and the “GPS system is broken, it’s benefiting the GPS sompany.”
“The issue is pending investigation and I cannot comment” Ashdale said. “ETS has until February 22 to initiate changes which must be flawless for two months. If it is not, we evaluate and go from there.” The statement was greeted with hostility from virtually everyone as the systems cost drivers $18 per month and cause an estimated 80% of jobs to be lost due to the system operating 10 minutes slower than real time. Only one driver, Khalid Alvi, spoke in favor of the GPS system. He recently received his first functional unit since the mandate.
The bottom line is that ridership has plummeted as fewer consumers can afford taxi service due to a floundering economy. No policy change is guaranteed to improve the lives of riders or drivers. The most important message to be taken from the meeting is that drivers should organize to form one voice; conflicting arguments only encourage the PPA board to disregard the incongruence and do what it wants.
Related: “Taxi Fares Will Increase In June“