BANGOR, Maine -&nbspThe city’ s taxicab drivers and owners didn’ t have to do much convincing to get local officials to entertain their request for a pay raise.

Like everyone else who depends on fuel, members of Bangor’ s taxi industry say they are being driven to their knees by skyrocketing gasoline prices, which currently are close to $4 a gallon.

For relief, they have turned to the City Council, which regulates how much they can charge.

Bangor’ s taxicab drivers have not seen a rate increase since shortly after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. That increase, when gasoline cost about $3 a gallon, was the first they had received in five years.

At that time, city councilors amended the city’ s taxicab ordinance to require all cabs to have the same rates on their meters, namely $1.50 for the “flag fee,” which covers the first sixth of a mile, and 35 cents for each tenth of a mile after that.

The idea was to create a level playing field for drivers, who said they were being undercut by competitors from outside the city and by those who were negotiating flat fees for their fares.

Councilors also authorized a $1 fuel surcharge, which was optional for cabbies, but some cab company owners didn’ t like it and many drivers said they didn’ t collect it because it cut into what otherwise would be their tips. In addition, customers weren’ t sure what to make of it.

“The problem was where it wasn’ t on the meter, people were confused by it,” Mark Dalton, a driver for Airport-River City, said.

The fuel surcharge was repealed in April of last year.

During a meeting at City Hall Thursday with Council Chairwoman Susan Hawes and several city administrators, a group of taxi drivers and owners said it was time for another increase.

“Relief here for gas prices is very much needed,” said A-1 Taxi driver Andy Francis. “How to do it is the key.”

After some debate, the group agreed that a $1 increase on the flag fee was the preferred option, especially because it would help offset gasoline costs incurred when taxicab drivers had to drive across the city to pick up a customer for a short ride. The cost for each additional tenth of a mile after that would remain at 35 cents.

For the cabbies, the relief can’ t come soon enough.

Unless they own the cabs, most of Bangor’ s taxi drivers split half of the fare money they collect with the companies for which they work.

Cab drivers also are responsible for covering a number of out-of-pocket expenses, including gasoline, car washes and cleaning supplies and meals. They also must pay income taxes and contribute to Social Security, further eating away at their earnings.

They can keep tips, but it’ s hard to get cab drivers to talk on the record about tips, other than to say they rarely get them.

The proposed $1 increase is set to go before the council on Aug. 11. At that time, the council could either:

? Conduct a first reading that night and refer the matter to one of its subcommittees for review and a recommendation. The proposal then would return to the council for a second reading and adoption, likely at its Aug. 25 meeting.

? Waive the second reading and approve the increase on Aug. 11, which would make it effective 10 days after passage.

? Adopt the measure on Aug. 11 with an emergency clause, which would make it take immediate effect.

dgagnon@bangordailynews.net

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