Tomorrow, the Dallas City Council's Transportation & Environment Committee will take up taxis -- specifically, whether or not to cut cab companies a few big breaks in the middle of an economic downturn that's turned smack into oncoming business. According to briefing documents, calls to the airport are way down: from 980,710 in 1999 to 556,328 today. So too is hotel occupancy: Local hostelries are 58 percent full on average, an 8.5 percent dip after the 2006-'07 rebound that followed the dramatic September 11, 2001, downturn. And so some cab companies and drivers want the city to lower the combined single limit insurance from $500,000 to $100,000 in case of an accident; and they want to drive their cabs a little while longer -- at least one more year than the five currently allowed.
The council's taxi cab task force, which started meeting this spring, can't decide what to do -- they're pretty much split down the middle. Which means: Expect this to become a big issue as the NBA All-Star Game and Super Bowl XLV approach on the calendar. That's clear from the letters buried deep in the briefing.
Take, for instance, the August 6 petition signed by 870 cab drivers and to City Hall, in which they beg for relief and go after Yellow Cab for its "monopolistic practices" and "ruthless and barbaric driver treatment." (It echoes an April 6 missive to Linda Koop from a coalition of cab companies and Roy Williams calling for an investigation of Yellow Cab.) Alamo Cab's Tesfai Sbahtu also writes separately that "the times now are even worse than after 9-11."
On the other side you've got the bigwigs, including some at the city's tourism bureau, who are against touching a single hair of the existing policies.
Cassandra Matej, senior vice president of sales and services for Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, insists that lowering insurance rates and raising age limits for cabs ain't such a good idea with both the NBA All-Star Game and Super Bowl on the way: "We must ensure, with so much national exposure, that we're putting our best foot forward and not placing the traveling public at risk."
That's a sentiment echoed by the Hotel Association of North Texas in its almost-verbatim missive, as well as the Stemmons Corridor Business Association, the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce, the North Texas Super Bowl XLV Host Committee, Downtown Dallas, surrounding cities and even the owner of Executive Taxi.
John Crawford, president and CEO of Downtown Dallas, wrote earlier this summer, "While it is critical to Downtown development that we provide a business-friendly environment for taxicab operators (thus providing greater service for consumers), the standards currently in place are the result of in-depth study in recent years by Dallas and Fort Worth, as well as DFW airport. They are in [lace so that we ensure a safe and prosperous environment for all; therefore, we oppose any loosening of these standards."
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Bill Lively, president and CEO of the North Texas Super Bowl XLV Host Committee, concurs:
Super Bowl fans will be staying in hotels and attending events throughout North Texas. The National Football League estimates that sixty-five percent of all travelers coming to Dallas and the region for the game and its other experiences are corporate decision-makers. As such, the Super Bowl provides Dallas and the region with a remarkable marketing opportunity. With this understanding, it's very important that all of us ensure that our guests have a safe and enjoyable experience so that they will desire to return to Dallas and the region in the future for business meetings and leisure travel. Providing high quality and readily available taxicab ervice will be critical to achieving this objective.
What say you, William Shatner?