Atlanta City Council extends relief for taxi drivers

The Atlanta City Council is extending relief for struggling taxi drivers who can’t afford to buy new vehicles.

Cabbies spoke at city council meetings to raise concerns about increased competition from Uber and Lyft, which has cut into their income over the last several years, while the cost to buy vehicles skyrocketed amid supply chain issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The number of taxi drivers picking up passengers at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has plummeted, as many consumers opt to use Uber and Lyft instead. In the first nine months of the year, Uber and Lyft picked up nearly 2 million passengers at the Atlanta airport, while taxicabs picked up fewer than 286,000.

ExploreHartsfield-Jackson head: Taxis needed, but business model needs change

The city council on Monday extended for two years a reprieve from a requirement that cabs picking up passengers at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport be no more than seven years old. With the new measure, taxicabs can be up to 10 years old through 2024. The city has approved similar temporary relief measures in the past, and the seven-year requirement was set to take effect Jan. 1 if the relief was not extended.

Kevin Ross, an attorney representing the taxi industry, told members of the city council’s transportation committee that the relief “is extremely necessary.” While there are enough certificates — often called medallions — for more than 1,500 taxi cabs to operate in Atlanta, Checker Cab Co. president Rick Hewatt said he believes only a few hundred are in use. Some cab companies have gone out of business, he said.

Many cabbies have left the industry, according to driver Sharmarke Yonis. “We lost a lot of drivers,” he said. He said drivers are facing financial hardship.

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Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Balram Bheodari said with more older vehicles picking up passengers at the airport over the next couple of years, “it will mean just more diligence” by staff that inspect cabs for safety.

The rules regulating taxis apply for those operating at the airport, so cabs elsewhere in the city can be older. The vehicle age limit applies to taxi cabs as well as Uber and Lyft vehicles at the airport.

Taxi drivers originally wanted a permanent 10-year vehicle age limit, up from 7 years, but council member Alex Wan said because the high cost of vehicles in the market is “temporary, hopefully,” he felt a 2-year waiver was more appropriate and proposed that in a substitute measure that was approved by city council. Wan said the temporary waiver “keeps the option for us to extend it” in two years.

Taxi drivers also pushed for other relief measures, including higher rates for cab rides, but that has not advanced in city council.

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