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July 13, 2011

Meters Coming to Burlington Cabs in 2012

Taximeter Come next summer, all Burlington taxi cabs will be required to have meters. But for the next 12 months, figuring out what your cab ride should cost — and whether you're getting ripped off — could be more confusing than ever.

On Monday, July 11, the Burlington City Council passed new taxi regulations. Among other things, the new rules will replace the city's "zone" pricing system with taximeters like you see in New York City cabs (and which all cabs servicing Burlington International Airport are already required to use). The overhaul was a response to chronic complaints that the zone system was ignored, unenforced and hard for passengers to understand. For example, the same ride could end up costing different amounts, depending on the driver.

The ordinance the council passed on Monday — City Councilor Paul Decelles, R-Ward 7, was the lone 'no' vote — requires all Burlington cabs to switch to taximeters by August 1, 2012. At that time, the city will set standard meter rates, i.e. $X.XX for the first mile, plus $Y.YY for each additional quarter mile.

In the meantime, cabbies can continue to use zone pricing, or switch to taximeters using rates based on the zone rates. Here's how City Councilor Joan Shannon (D-Ward 5), who helped draft the new rules, explains this transition period:

There are no "meter rates" as of right now for around the City. What Green Cab has done, and what others would be permitted to do, is to have a meter rate calibrated based on the zone rate. It would have to be "worst case scenario" for the cabs meaning that they cannot exceed the zone rate. The meter rate would only achieve the zone rate at the far end of the zone. It would cost less at the close end of the zone.

If you find this formula confusing now, just imagine trying to remember all that when you're half in the bag after a boozy night out with the ladies on Church Street. You might as well wear a sign on your back that says, "Charge me whatever you want, Mr. Cabbie Man. Just take me home!"

Greencab Taxi drivers are split over the new rules. Some think they're an overdue change that will level the playing field among competing cab companies. Others characterize them as a government overreach that will end up costing riders more money. Charlie Herrick (pictured), the owner of Green Cab VT, supports the switch to meters because it will lead to more predictable fares. Paul Robar, the owner of Burlington's largest cab company, Benway's Transportation is vehemently opposed. He has threatened to pull out of town if the new rules passed. We'll see if he makes good on his pledge to abandon Vermont's largest city.

Other highlights (or lowlights, depending on your viewpoint) of the new taxi ordinance:

  • Children under 10 who are accompanied by parent ride for free.
  • Service animals ride free (Dogs do, anyway. No word on service hedgehogs.).
  • Cab drivers must stay within 5 feet of their vehicle while on duty.
  • While in service, drivers are prohibited from the following activities in their cabs: sleeping; lounging; fully reclining; lying down.
  • Drivers must be "neat and clean, both in person and clothing" and the following attire is prohibited: short shorts and short skirts; sandals; shirts too short to cover midriff; exposed boxers; sweatpants (there goes my hope of ever becoming a cab driver); and clothing with suggestive or vulgar pictures, emblems or writing.
  • No smoking.
  • No porn.
  • Drivers can work no more than 12 hours in any 24-hour period.

Matthew Thorsen Photo

To echo the comments of previous posters, isn't it the private business's job to make "no porn" or "no sweatpants" rules and the public's job to decide which cab companies are worthy of their business? Isn't that why there are sites like Yelp?

Wha? Why can't a female cab driver wear a short skirt and sandals? Whose business is that but hers?

The politically correct "leaders" of Burlington have struck again. Congratulations, you are exposed for the religious fundamentalists that you really are.

All that zone talk reminded me of the Movie Airplane!:

Male announcer: The white zone is for immediate loading and unloading of passengers only. There is no stopping in the red zone.
Female announcer: The white zone is for immediate loading and unloading of passengers only. There is no stopping in the red zone.
Male announcer: [later] The red zone is for immediate loading and unloading of passengers only. There is no stopping in the white zone.
Female announcer: No, the white zone is for loading of passengers and there is no stopping in a RED zone.
Male announcer: The red zone has always been for loading and unloading of passengers. There's never stopping in a white zone.
Female announcer: Don't you tell me which zone is for loading, and which zone is for stopping!
Male announcer: Listen Betty, don't start up with your white zone shit again.
Male announcer: There's just no stopping in a white zone.
Female announcer: Oh really, Vernon? Why pretend, we both know perfectly well what this is about. You want me to have an abortion.
Male announcer: It's really the only sensible thing to do, if its done safely. Therapeutically there's no danger involved.

I think it's very telling that Benways is the most pissed off about this change since they are the bigest culprits of the "ignore the zone charge what you feel" policy. How is that to get from the NNE of Burlington (near the high school) to BTV it cost me $15 one week and three weeks later suddenly cost $23? Or to get from that same place to the Enterprise on Shelburne road costs $24 and $15 just a few weeks a part?

And of course that is if they actually remember to pick you up. Funny how Benways seems to "lose" reservations and then blames you. No discount, no apology, just a "get in the cab" smirk from the driver. If Benways wants to leave town, I think very few will miss them. Green Cab has my business now.

How bout we let people who own cars give each other rides for whatever is mutually agreeable. Regulations like this make it more expensive to get around and line the pockets of the big cab companies by driving more informal workers out of business. Shame on the city council...

@Jeff - There's the free market at work in your behavior - no need for BS regulations that make it harder for immigrants to make a living by the sweat of their brow. We're inching closer to the horrors of the corrupt medallion system of NYC:

These all sound great, except for the sandals thing. I mean, who wears shorts and shoes? If they can wear shorts (as long as they aren't "short shorts") but they can't wear sandals, then we are condemning them to look like dorks in shorts and shoes all summer. That might not be unconstitutional, but it's pretty damn uncool, maybe even bordering on inhumane. Otherwise, I'm glad Benways is getting snubbed, they had it coming, and this will be better for customers for sure. The argument that it isn't government's role is BS... government is supposed to represent the consumer and that's what they are doing here. If you apply the argument that the customer should decide, you could do the same thing with restaurants. I mean, why have health code? The customer can just choose a clean place! Actually, health code is there to protect us from eating contaminated food, and it's good for all of us that it's there. But the shorts and shoes thing, oh man, poor cabbies.

Can't city council just deal with the problem at hand & not go overboard? Yes, it would appear that instituting meters will provide the consumer with an easy to understand system but what will it do to the rates??

And why all this additional stuff???
• kids under 10 free = GOOD
• service hedgehogs = how could that have gotten past them?
• drivers required to be within 5' of cab at all times = what about a call of nature? and food & drink?
• no lounging = dictionary definition: to lie, sit or stand in an relaxed way. so they must be on full alert at all times; possibly stand at attention?
• dress code = REALLY?? then I expect the members of city council to abide by this standard AT ALL TIMES because you recently told us you are ALWAYS on the job.

Embellishment is lovely in decorating but not in policy making. Stick to the facts, folks!

The only problems I see with meters is that it will #1 make cabs more expensive for those who live further from downtown Burlington, Essex or Colchester for example. This will serve to discourage people from taking cabs who live in these areas which means either less people going out at night in downtown or more drunk driving. #2 It will make cabs to inexpensive for people who live in those same towns and are going only a short distance. For example Big Lots in Essex to the 5 corners in Essex for $5. For a cab based in Burlington, Essex is a long way to go for $5. But from downtown Burlington to the 5 corners it might run $15 on the meter, that is too much. Then again those towns are not in the jurisdiction of Burlington's regulations. After acquiring meters we plan to use them only in Burlington, Winooski, and South Burlington. We will have low flat rates for the outlying towns.

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