Yohannes Mersha, a United Taxi driver, believes a proposed $15.50 minimum fare from Bob Hope Airport is, well, fair.
“But we have to serve the community, and if the community doesn't want it, that's how it goes,” said Mersha, who has been a driver for 15 years, serving the Burbank airport for about three.
The almost-but-never-was fare would have included a $13 minimum charge plus the usual $2.50 airport drop fee. But it's not happening, at least not now.
On Tuesday, the city of Burbank said the minimum fare, set to go into effect on Sept. 23, would not fly. Why? The Traffic Commission, which approved the change in August, doesn't have the legal authority to do, well, that.
In a statement, Burbank Senior Asst. City Attorney Richard Morillo the move should not be interpreted that it is “beyond the city's authority to allow minimum fares.”
Instead, Morillo said the current taxicab law does not allow the setting of such fees, and only the City Council can amend current city codes.
But if that’s the case, why did the Traffic Commission decide to proceed? To get an answer, I put in a call to Burbank Asst. Public Works Director Ken Johnson, the staff member who worked with the commission on this issue.
Johnson said he viewed the minimum fare as a surcharge, not a rate change. The legal department disagreed, and that's that, he said.
“We felt the commission had the ability to do this because they do have the ability to institute surcharges,” he said, noting a charge to offset high gas prices went through without need for City Council approval.
Johnson added that he hopes to have the council review the issue in November. That's fine with me, as this means the proposal will finally get the scrutiny it deserves.
Here’s what I mean: Though the decision was made in August, the first announcement of the change happened last week via a news release from the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority.
The authority, by the way, has no authority to set taxi rates; that is Burbank’s sole purview. The city sent out its own notice after I asked about it, and at least one council member said he had no idea the change was coming.
Mersha, for his part, said he was surprised that the fare change was set to go into place without council approval.
“That's how it's done in Los Angeles,” he said. “The commission makes a change, and the city council has to approve it.”
But Mersha also said he was troubled by my experiences as a customer. If you remember, I said I had been routinely scolded, glared at, and otherwise been made to pay for providing cab drivers with a relatively short in-town trip.
He said he has seen it all before: the grousing, the shouting and the anger from cabbies who get short rides. Mersha said that's just part of the deal: Some trips are long, others are short. It's just luck.
He says he hates that a few drivers have created such a bad reputation, and he urges anyone who has a bad experience to complain about it.
When the city receives the complaints, Mersha said, the drivers are penalized. If they get too many complaints, they don't get work.
That makes sense to me. Driving a cab is a hard way to make a living, and good and polite drivers like Mersha shouldn't be dragged down by their rude colleagues.
DAN EVANS is the editor. When he isn’t bugging his friends for a ride from the airport, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 637-3234.