Council approves raise in taxi voucher fees

Taxi vouchers that are offered to residents will be increased to $5 from $3 for a one-way trip starting Oct. 1, but that won't guarantee better service.

The City Council at its Sept. 4 meeting approved the fee increase in order to reduce the city subsidy for the taxi rides. However, the companies that provide the service were sharply criticized for performance and will be advised of the complaints by City Manager John Pietig during contract negotiations.

"I am filing an official complaint with the companies," said City Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson. "I love the idea of [the vouchers], but the execution has not been great and you need to communicate that to the companies."

Each voucher is good for a ride for up to four passengers between any two points in the city as long as one of them is in the commercial zone designated in the Downtown Specific Plan or along Coast Highway between Viejo and Seventh streets. Residents can use the taxi vouchers from 5:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. Sunday.

Six cab companies currently are under contract with the city. Their fees are determined by the Orange County Taxi Administration and will not be affected by the fee increase nor by performance.

"You mean we will be paying more to get the same service?" Pearson demanded.

The city's subsidy would increase from $21,000 to a possible $50,000 in fiscal year 2012-13, under the present fee structure, Community Services Director Ben Siegel informed the council.

Subsidies have jumped in proportion to the popularity of the program, staff reported. The number of vouchers sold has increased about 80% in the past two years to 7,424 the last fiscal year. In fiscal year 2009-10, 4,151 vouchers were sold.

The program began in 2001 as another form of public transportation. At the time, residents paid a $2 voucher fee and reimbursement to the cab companies was $8 per voucher.

Currently, the cab company reimbursement is $10 to $13, commensurate with the fare established by the county authority, according to the staff summary.

Staff will be trying to negotiate changes in the agreements with the cab companies that would augment transportation options to the Third Street Centers, including free or reduced fares for seniors who live on streets that are difficult to reach by handicap-accessible van or shuttle.

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