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JFK cab fare increase not enough for drivers

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“It should be higher,” said Jack Dym, who has been a cab driver for 50 years and has appeared in Time...

By Betsy Scheinbart

The flat rate for yellow cab fares from Kennedy Airport to Manhattan has gone up to $35 from $30, but many cabbies say it is not enough of an increase.

“It should be higher,” said Jack Dym, who has been a cab driver for 50 years and has appeared in Time Warner Cable commercials as a typical cabbie, “because if you get stuck in traffic with the meter on, it would be more than $35.”

The Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade requested an increase to $45, a figure based on its own surveys. The board noted the $30 fare had not changed since 1995 and was based on a 1991 survey. The city Taxi and Limousine Commission authorized the $5 raise last week.

“We’ll take the $5 increase, but we’ve done a series of test runs and these fares come closest to $45,” said Michael Woloz, a spokesman for the board.

Even within the TLC, there were commissioners who wanted a higher increase, leading them to compromise on the $5 hike as a temporary measure before a larger raise is granted.

“The commissioners did not reach a consensus,” said Allan Fromberg, the deputy commissioner of the Taxi and Limousine Commission. “The $5 increase is an interim measure to provide relief for drivers.”

The measure will be revisited in three to six months, he said. The fare change was not influenced by rising gas prices, Fromberg said, but by an increase in passengers traveling to Manhattan, particularly to Lower Manhattan.

Woloz said the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade looks forward to the review and hopes for an additional fare increase at that time, Woloz said.

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance also hopes that review will yield a higher flat fare.

“We think the fares should be competitive, not charitable,” said Bhairavi Desai, a spokeswoman for the alliance. She said the $5 increase only amounts to a $1 raise per driver per year when the costs of leasing a medallion are considered.

“They are not making any money” on the trip to JFK, she said.

The fare hike will not affect livery cabs, which operate on their own, competitive fare systems. While fares from different car services to and from the airport will vary, all Yellow Cab fares will remain constant, Fromberg said.

The commission conducted surveys over the past few months, letting meters run from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Manhattan and came up with an average fare of $35, Fromberg said.

Cab driver Papa Lay is happy with the new fare. “I think it’s great,” he said. “I think $35 is fairly reasonable.”

But not all cabbies agree.

Cabbie Medard Etienne said the rate hike would help, but it was not enough. He said it takes him an average of one hour and 15 minutes from JFK to Manhattan.

“I used to come here empty to pick up passengers, but now it doesn’t pay,” he said. After arriving at the airport, cabbies have to wait in a holding line to pick up passengers, a process that can take an additional hour and a half, he stressed.

Travelers from JFK to Manhattan will soon have an alternative to a taxi in the AirTrain, a $1.9 billion, eight-mile light rail system which will connect passengers with Howard Beach and the A train next year.

By 2003, the train will connect passengers with 740 Long Island Rail Road and E, J, Z subway lines at Jamaica Station.

In the interim, however, the AirTrain construction has slowed traffic on the Van Wyck Expressway to JFK, an added hindrance for cabbies, Woloz said.

“There are a number of factors; traffic congestion, construction; which add to time, and for a taxi, time is everything,” Woloz said.

Other alternatives to a yellow cab are shuttle services, which run about $18 per person, or car services, with fares depending on the time of day.

Despite these alternatives, Fromberg is not concerned about a decline in taxi riders following the fare hike.

“The $5 increase will not have any negative impact on those who would traditionally travel by taxi,” Fromberg said.

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 138.

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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