Taxi drivers push for relief from cab age limit

With hundreds of taxi cabs now unqualified to pick up passengers at the Atlanta airport, an Atlanta city councilman said he’ll seek a six-month reprieve from a new 7-year age limit on vehicles as cabbies pushed for relief at a meeting Wednesday.

Many drivers cannot afford to buy new cars, and “the elephant in the room is the new competition presented by new companies like Uber and Lyft,” said Dan Meachum, an attorney representing the taxi cab drivers association. “All major cities like Atlanta face this friction.”

The city council last fall moved to tighten the age limit for cabs making airport pickups from 10 years to seven, effective in 2017. Of 1,600 cabs in the city of Atlanta, about 630 have been approved under the new requirements, according to the city. The airport began enforcing the new age limit this month.

That change was part of a broader effort to legalize and regulate Uber and Lyft pickups at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, where they had previously been prohibited. The seven-year age limit on vehicles also applies to Uber and Lyft.

Many taxi drivers say they bought cars based on a 10-year age limit put in place in 2015, and now they cannot get a loan for a new car without paying off the older one. Although the vehicle age restriction only applies to the airport, cab drivers say there is also an oversupply of cabs in downtown and stiff competition with Uber and Lyft in the city.

C.T. Martin, who chairs the council’s transporation committee, said after a work session Wednesday that he plans to propose the six-month extension of the older, 10-year limit to the city council in March. Council member Joyce Sheperd raised the idea as a temporary measure “to give us time to vet everything.”

“I’m interested in whatever we can do… to try to make sure some people can get back out to work,” Martin said.

Meachum and city council member Felicia Moore are pushing to grandfather in existing vehicles older than seven years until they reach the 10-year cap.

But others say even that won’t fix the underlying problems of an oversupply of taxis in Atlanta and the high costs of operating a cab under the current system.

“We don’t need 1,600 cabs rotating through the airport, except when there’s a convention in town,” Martin said. “We tried to accommodate the number of people who have wanted to operate from the airport. Well, the chicken is coming home to roost… The numbers are just not working.”

But he said that eventually, the city will need to “come up with a principled stand: Do we support having cabs in the city of Atlanta?”

The city is also limited in how much it can regulate taxi cabs, under new state law deregulating the industry as Uber and Lyft expand.

Katrina Taylor Parks, deputy chief of staff for the city, said having all the taxis at the airport “is going to saturate the industry, and so it lessens the ability to compete anyway … We have to embrace change in some form or fashion.”

After the legalization of Uber and Lyft pickups at the airport, some taxi drivers say they waited six hours at the airport for a single ride, with hundreds of drivers waiting in the assembly lot for passengers. Another lot holds hundreds of Uber and Lyft drivers waiting for customers to request rides.

Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Roosevelt Council said if the airport signs up more cab drivers to pick up at the airport, it will be more difficult for each driver to get passengers. That issue “also needs to be considered in the context of everything,” he said.

Meachum said the average taxi cab driver earns about $30,000 a year and pays fees to operate the vehicles. Taxi drivers say the going rate is about $500 a month to a taxi company that owns or rents a CPNC, or a “certificate of public necessity and convenience” required to operate a cab that is similar to a medallion.

“There’s no way you have a permanent solution, without dealing with the CPNC…. The most difficult problem here is the cost of operating a taxi in the city of Atlanta,” said Ndubueze Alaka, who represents cab drivers. Uber has “the upper hand in every way.”

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