San Marcos City Councilmembers Gaylord Bose, left, Ryan Thomason, center, and Kim Porterfield, right, at last week’s city council meeting. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
After push-back from local cabbies last week, the San Marcos City Council nixed a $10 fare cap originally proposed for inclusion in a new taxi law. However, fare caps may be on the council’s next agenda, depending upon the outcomes of further meetings with local taxi companies.
The cab ordinance had been placed on the consent agenda with several other items, having passed first reading on Jan. 5. But Councilmember Chris Jones pulled the item for discussion after cabbies from Aloha Taxi spoke out against the $10 cap during the citizen comment period.
“The other cab company we talked to was fine with the cap,” Councilmember John Thomaides said. “To be clear, it’s not $10 total, but $10 per stop.”
A representative for Hays Taxi Service addressed the council on Jan. 5 and gave his blessing to the ordinance, including the cap and a prohibition against charging for multiple customers.
Thomaides and Jones are on the city task force established to update the 40-year-old taxi ordinance. Jones and Thomaides offered some resistance to the prospect of passing the new law without the fare cap.
Task force members had been unable to reach representatives of Aloha Taxi while the ordinance was being formulated. But Aloha Taxi owner and operator Willie Kennon spoke out against the fare cap and the prohibition against charging for extra riders at last week’s city council meeting. Kennon said he will go out of business if he cannot charge more than $10 for rides, especially those that are long.
“Right now we charge a $5 initial pickup fee and $2 a mile after that, and then $1 per additional passenger,” Kennon said. “And the reason why we charge for additional passengers is, trying to get people in the car … with every passenger, you’re adding a couple minutes onto your trip. Getting them in the car, paying out at the end — they’re usually splitting the fare — it just takes time, and they’re proposing that we’re not allowed to charge for additional passengers, too.”
Kennon said additional passengers put more wear and tear on the vehicles, adding weight and, therefore, adding fuel expenses.
Jones said San Marcos Police Department (SMPD) Chief Howard Williams originally suggested a fare cap of $25, which the task force was “very much against.” Jones said the task force settled on $10 as a marketable number appealing to late-night downtown revelers. Thomaides also said that the point of setting a $10 cap was to get people to use cabs more often.
San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz, the cap’s most vocal critic last week, said taxi businesses should be allowed to “thrive” and the city ought to sit down with cab operators again to consider other options. Narvaiz said rides should be affordable to customers without forcing taxi companies out of business and without encouraging them to cut costs in ways that may inconvenience or even potentially harm their customers.
Jones and Thomaides argued that since the task force had already given enough consideration to the concerns being raised, the ordinance should be voted on that night as it stood. Jones relented, however, after Williams revealed that there is no ordinance specifically limiting the amount of advertising space available on cabs. Jones said that because cabs do have the ability to sell ad space, he would be in favor of changing the cap to $20 and setting fares associated with downtown pickups at $10 if possible.
Kennon, who bought out Corridor Cab in August, said advertising would not offset the loss of revenue forced by a proposed fare cap. Kennon said he was not planning on using very much vehicle surface area for ad space, as he purchased ad carriers — large lighted signs fixed to the cabs
“It’s a lot of work to go out there and sell somebody for an advertisement,” Kennon said. “And that’s money that I would like to retain for my business.”
After Narvaiz again argued for tabling the item, Jones said the task force could reconsider ideas such as metering and setting caps for trips of less than five miles. However, Jones argued that the council should vote on the rest of the ordinance that night to afford a swelling downtown population –Texas State’s spring semester began that day — the ability to hail cabs. The old ordinance prohibited cabs from patrolling.
Councilmembers voted unanimously in favor of the ordinance, minus the fare cap. After last week’s meeting, Kennon and aspiring cab company owner Aric Bromonsky said they would attend the upcoming task force meetings and advocate meters instead of fare caps and campaign against the proposed prohibition on charging for additional customers.Email | Print