Come next summer, all Burlington taxi cabs will be required to have meters. But for the next 12 months, figuring out what your cab ride should cost — and whether you're getting ripped off — could be more confusing than ever.
On Monday, July 11, the Burlington City Council passed new taxi regulations. Among other things, the new rules will replace the city's "zone" pricing system with taximeters like you see in New York City cabs (and which all cabs servicing Burlington International Airport are already required to use). The overhaul was a response to chronic complaints that the zone system was ignored, unenforced and hard for passengers to understand. For example, the same ride could end up costing different amounts, depending on the driver.
The ordinance the council passed on Monday — City Councilor Paul Decelles, R-Ward 7, was the lone 'no' vote — requires all Burlington cabs to switch to taximeters by August 1, 2012. At that time, the city will set standard meter rates, i.e. $X.XX for the first mile, plus $Y.YY for each additional quarter mile.
In the meantime, cabbies can continue to use zone pricing, or switch to taximeters using rates based on the zone rates. Here's how City Councilor Joan Shannon (D-Ward 5), who helped draft the new rules, explains this transition period:
There are no "meter rates" as of right now for around the City. What Green Cab has done, and what others would be permitted to do, is to have a meter rate calibrated based on the zone rate. It would have to be "worst case scenario" for the cabs meaning that they cannot exceed the zone rate. The meter rate would only achieve the zone rate at the far end of the zone. It would cost less at the close end of the zone.
If you find this formula confusing now, just imagine trying to remember all that when you're half in the bag after a boozy night out with the ladies on Church Street. You might as well wear a sign on your back that says, "Charge me whatever you want, Mr. Cabbie Man. Just take me home!"
Taxi drivers are split over the new rules. Some think they're an overdue change that will level the playing field among competing cab companies. Others characterize them as a government overreach that will end up costing riders more money. Charlie Herrick (pictured), the owner of Green Cab VT, supports the switch to meters because it will lead to more predictable fares. Paul Robar, the owner of Burlington's largest cab company, Benway's Transportation is vehemently opposed. He has threatened to pull out of town if the new rules passed. We'll see if he makes good on his pledge to abandon Vermont's largest city.
Other highlights (or lowlights, depending on your viewpoint) of the new taxi ordinance:
- Children under 10 who are accompanied by parent ride for free.
- Service animals ride free (Dogs do, anyway. No word on service hedgehogs.).
- Cab drivers must stay within 5 feet of their vehicle while on duty.
- While in service, drivers are prohibited from the following activities in their cabs: sleeping; lounging; fully reclining; lying down.
- Drivers must be "neat and clean, both in person and clothing" and the following attire is prohibited: short shorts and short skirts; sandals; shirts too short to cover midriff; exposed boxers; sweatpants (there goes my hope of ever becoming a cab driver); and clothing with suggestive or vulgar pictures, emblems or writing.
- No smoking.
- No porn.
- Drivers can work no more than 12 hours in any 24-hour period.
Matthew Thorsen Photo