Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Gas prices $4.48 in San Diego

The cheapest grade of fuel at the cheapest station in San Diego is $4.48 right now. I know Paradise Driver will probably laugh at my angst, but we're spending a literal fortune on fuel, and the ends aren't meeting, so to speak. I also know Europeans who read this will laugh, but it has to be considered that the American system is to keep taxes relatively low so that citizens can make their own lives, as opposed to a more socialized system, where control is largely kept by the state (public transportation, security, etc.). European gas prices are extremely high because of taxes, something Americans probably won't stand for. It was, after all, a tax dispute that resulted in the formation of the USA.

So when I popped open the San Diego Union-Tribune last week to see a front page article about the problems local taxi drivers are facing, my jaw almost hit the floor. You mean, somebody actually gives a damn about taxi drivers? Bus drivers belong to a union and have guaranteed raises and benefits. We get nothing. Trucking companies and airlines can raise prices and ad fuel surcharges at will to cope with soaring fuel costs, taxis cannot. We have to convince a government committee to meet and agree to a rate increase. And then what usually happens is the cab company owner simply raises lease rates to steal the increase in money (I mention this in more detail below).

I think it's especially interesting in San Diego -- the MTS regulates public transportation in the metro area, including buses, trolleys, and taxis. The main website is Visit that sight to see how much information is available to the public about buses and trolleys, and then see what's available for taxis. Can you say conflict of interest? I see the buses and trolleys being pushed constantly on billboards and radio and TV ads (and promotions). Taxis are a bad option for the public, according to the MTS (I base that on the advertising and their website), where our competition, buses and trolleys, are great. Taxi regulation, and the folks administering it, needs to be separate from competing forms of transportation.

Except for one big, glaring error, the Union-Tribune story was very good, and the things the MTS is supposedly going to do will help tremendously. I'll mention the error at the end of the excerpt:

    Kasem, who supports his wife and three young sons on the roughly $1,500 a month he clears in fares and tips as a driver with Orange Cab, said the $70 a day he spends on fuel has taken a big bite out of his already strained budget.


    The MTS is considering a proposal to ease the gas-pump pain with a $1 gas surcharge per trip for city cabs, as well as for taxis that operate out of the airport, which have a different fare schedule.

    The agency also expects to raise basic maximum rates from $2.60 to $2.80 for the starting fare, and increase the per-mile rate by 30 cents to $3.10 per mile for city taxis in areas regulated by the MTS, including San Diego, El Cajon, Imperial Beach, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Poway and Santee.


    Dan Chang, a San Diego cabdriver who splits a $600 weekly lease on a taxicab with another driver, said the rate increase and fuel surcharge could help.

    Then again, they could also prove a Catch-22, he said.

    Price increases tend to kill local business for a while, Chang said. And there's nothing to stop the 475 MTS taxicab permit holders, who lease cabs to drivers, from raising lease prices, which would dilute or eliminate the benefit.

Raising lease prices is a real problem. In the 3.5 years I've been driving cab, we've had two meter rate increases, immediately followed by a lease increase -- the cab company took our extra money from us. Nobody in our company has had a raise in 15 years or so. This time will be no different. I just started a pool among drivers. Will it be 30 days, 60 days, or 90 days before the owner takes our money? I wonder how the owner would feel if I organized a strike for our taxi zone? I believe I could pull it off. Hopefully it won't come to that.

Going from $2.60 per mile to $3.10 plus a $1 fuel surcharge will be very late, but very welcome -- at least until the money gets taken from us.

Here's the big error in the article. "Kasem", at the beginning of the article, says he spends $70 a day on fuel, and clears about $1500 per month. This is a massive lie. All the drivers in our zone laughed. We also appreciated that this Kasem guy is trying to make our plight seem worse than it actually is.

Here's the breakdown. Nearly all drivers in the San Diego metro area are at about 22-25%. That means we spend a daily amount on gas that is 22-25% of what the meter says. At $70 in gas, I know instantly the guy is making $350-400 per day in fares, and the average driver works six days per week. This guy is clearing $4k per month, after fuel and lease, easily. Easily. For him to say he's making $1500 is completely absurd. Our taxi zone has been extremely busy for two straight months now, and I never top $50 per shift in fuel, and sometimes I'm moving non-stop, earning as much as $400 gross, $300 net. Kasem is indeed a teller of tall tales.

I appreciate Penni Crabtree's work in putting the article together. There are hundreds of cabbies citywide who think she's a hero, but she'll need to speak to more than one driver next time to get a picture of earnings and expenses.

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