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Uber Technology Driving Up Taxi Costs - Fares Could Increase By April
3/11/2015 4:23:02 PM

Staff Reports

Charleston taxi rates could increase in a few weeks if city council approves a new rate schedule. Presently the rate is $5 for one fare picked up and deposited anywhere on the peninsula. That rate will increase to $7 per fare and then double from 9 p.m.-3 a.m. if a new ordinance is approved. Council is expected to vote on the ordinance in April.

Charleston Dist. 3 Councilman James Lewis sat in on council’s Traffic and Transportation Committee meeting last week and was asked to provide some perspective as the committee considered the ordinance. Committee Chairman Bill Moody said he asked Lewis to share his thoughts as the committee pondered how to create some equilibrium between rates charged by new Uber drivers and traditional companies. Uber uses technology-based systems to locate and charge fares. The technology gives them a distinct advantage, Moody said.

In Charleston’s tourist and entertainment driven night life, the technology allows the nationally franchised Uber system to capitalize on the unfamiliarity and gullibility of riders, he said. A smart phone application allows fares to call for rides rather than depending on local taxi companies. The system is much more efficient though exponentially more expensive. Conventional company drivers don’t make the same money, Moody said.

The city has to find ways to secure a place in the market for conventional companies and their drivers, he said. The rate for a taxi ride anywhere on the Charleston peninsula is a flat $5 for one passenger. Each additional passenger must pay $1 and a $1 surcharge can be added to the base rate when gas prices reach $4 or more per gallon.

But when a fare goes off the peninsula Uber rates can skyrocket. Charleston Dist. 7 Councilman Perry K. Waring said one would think competition would drive rates down, but trying to regulate taxi fares in a culture of immediate gratification and significantly greater efficiency through Uber’s application of technology has been like chasing a ghost. He said he won’t support the proposed new ordinance.

Lewis also is unwilling to support the ordinance being recommended by the traffic and transportation committee. But in the absence of strong opposition, it likely will pass, he said.

Moody said there still is time for the public to weigh in on the measure. He doesn’t expect a definitive vote on the ordinance until late April. Council meets each second and fourth Tuesday. The public can offer its input at those meetings, Moody said.

James Fordham, owner of Safety Cab Co. which continuously has operated in Charleston since 1934, in a previous interview said the $5 flat rate on the peninsula worked well for both drivers who need fair compensation and riders who need affordable rates. Fordham’s cabs operate primarily on the Charleston peninsula, but they’re getting increasing competition from independent cabs which work the lucrative weekend tourism trade.

Moody emphasized the committee’s goals are to consistently regulate the market, insure competition and to keep the transportation alternative affordable to workers and residents.

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