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Tax for taxis

Emerging artists Sherri Bunye and Robert Ross show their interpretation of the people, pavements, and skyscrapers of Orlando in “Street Seen,” a new exhibit at City Arts Factory Oct. 21 - Nov. 12.

Emerging artists Sherri Bunye and Robert Ross show their interpretation of the people, pavements, and skyscrapers of Orlando in “Street Seen,” a new exhibit at City Arts Factory Oct. 21 - Nov. 12.

Isaac Babcock

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With high gas prices failing to abate during the summer, the Winter Park City Commission has imposed a surcharge on taxicabs in the city that will help pay the bill.

But the new charge will stab riders in the wallet, costing them 50 cents to a dollar more to take a solo ride home.

The price hike came about in response to a surcharge imposed by Orlando after the City Council deemed gas prices too high for taxi drivers to be able to earn a living without a surcharge.

In Orlando that decision came on June 27, when the City Council decided that with the country’s average gas price hovering above $3.86 in April, it needed to reinstate a fuel surcharge it had instituted in 2008, when the price of gasoline jumped more than 50 cents in five months.

Winter Park added a surcharge after Orlando in 2008. That expired in March 2009. On July 11, the Winter Park City Commission unanimously reinstated the charge, effective immediately.

Both cities’ surcharges mirror each other, with a surcharge of $1 for rides starting or ending at Orlando International Airport or Orlando Executive Airport, and 50 cents for all other trips.

Winter Park Code Enforcement Director George Wiggins said that the city has a history of following Orlando with this type of ordinance.

“Every time Orlando adopts this, we reciprocate soon after,” Wiggins said. “This helps the taxi drivers. The taxicab drivers lease their cabs from the taxi companies. When the cost of fuel rises, it’s the drivers that lose out on the cost of fuel. “

Winter Park City Commissioner Carolyn Cooper said that she didn’t like that the last surcharges that took effect were still in place months after gas prices dropped to acceptable levels.

“We were over-recovering for that entire period of time,” she said. “For quite a few months, they were getting an emergency surcharge when the price of fuel was low.”

The seemingly late timing of the surcharge, well after prices reached their peak and subsided slightly, came from what Roger Chapin from Mears Transportation called a “regulatory lag.” He said that was the reason for the surcharge extension after the last fuel price spike subsided.

“Prices start to increase, then there are some rumblings that ‘Boy prices are getting high’… by the time the vehicle for hire administrator says ‘OK, it’s reached a certain level and prices don’t seem to be going down’, you’ve had 3-4 months of increasing prices already,” Chapin said, adding that drivers have to pay the extra fuel costs from their own pockets until a surcharge takes effect.

“They’ve suffered through several months of high gas prices before the regulatory agency could get to this,” he said. “The surcharge is not perfect but it’s immediate and it gets to the driver.”

Wiggins said that as a result of the slow regulatory response and the protracted surcharge after prices drop, the costs should balance out. “Again we’re in a period where the prices spiked for 4-5 months. So you’ve got nine months that they didn’t charge the surcharge, and nine months that they did and the price was below the median.”

The surcharge will stay in effect until the price of fuel drops below $3.40 for two consecutive months or on March 31.