Naked City

No Lone Star Cab, for Now

With the number of taxicabs already on Austin streets exceeding customer demand, the City Council last week turned down a request for a new taxicab franchise -- sought by a newly organized taxi-driver co-op -- to compete with the city's existing three franchise holders. At the same time, council members agreed to review the idea again when economic conditions warrant.

The council vote was 5-2, with Daryl Slusher and Danny Thomas favoring the proposal that would have allowed the fledgling Lone Star Cab Co. to compete with Austin Cab Co., American Yellow Checker Cab Co., and Roy's Taxi Co. The drivers who formed Lone Star Cab had outlined several goals for the franchise, including higher incomes, better benefits, and a share in company profits. They said drivers were forced to pay high fees to cab companies -- anywhere between $10,000 and $27,000 annually -- regardless of economic conditions that force some drivers to live in their cars.

Lone Star backers also noted that most comparable cities have far more than three companies holding taxicab franchises -- other major Texas metros range from five (in Corpus Christi, half Austin's size) to more than 30 (in Houston). The Lone Star proposal had originally involved issuing 100 new taxi permits, a number halved to 50 in a compromise with city staff. Instead, though, the City Council adopted the Urban Transportation Commission's recommendation to not issue new permits while the city's current formula -- which factors in both population growth and airport traffic -- still shows a surplus. According to that formula, it may be three years or more before Austin needs to issue more taxi permits.

Joe Chernow, president of the company that owns American Yellow Checker, told the council that the number of taxi trips in Austin has declined by nearly 25% since 2000, with even steeper drops in airport traffic. Local cab driver Hannah Riddering, a longtime member of the city Airport Advisory Commission, echoed the concerns of the cab bosses. "We really cannot deal with having more cabs right now," she told the council. "Let's not make the burden on the cab drivers and their families any more difficult."

Says consultant Mike Blizzard, hired as a lobbyist by Lone Star Cab, "I think the council was sympathetic to the goals of Lone Star but the timing couldn't be worse. The economy is down, ridership is down, airport traffic is down, and I think those concerns overrode the really positive things these folks were trying to do."

With its vote to deny the franchise, the council kept in place a moratorium on new taxi permits that went into effect earlier this year.

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Lone Star Cab Co., Daryl Slusher, Danny Thomas, Mike Blizzard

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