Leah Fillion

Jaimie, who declined to give his last name, gets in a taxi downtown Wednesday evening. Beginning on Monday, Austin taxis will start charging a $1 surcharge for passengers riding during peak evening hours every day of the week.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Austin taxi services will begin charging a $1 fee per passenger during peak evening hours in less than a week, city of Austin public information spokesperson Leah Fillion said.

The Austin City Council voted in favor of the fee proposal on Feb. 1 as the city of Austin continues to help regulate the local taxicab industry, ensure its safety and make sure drivers are certified, Fillion said.

Since each contractor chooses his or her work hours, the $1 surcharge will provide an incentive for Austin taxi drivers to offer more rides in the evenings, she said. Evening service is more difficult for taxi drivers than non-peak hours and encompasses a different crowd, Fillion said. Austin taxicabs have a high demand in the evening, and the city of Austin wants to ensure that passengers looking for a cab are able to find one, she said.

The $1 surcharge will go into effect on Monday, Feb. 13 and will occur from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. everyday.

City Council members are also proposing an additional surcharge if intoxicated passengers vomit while riding in a taxicab.

Yellow Cab Austin general manager Ed Kargbo said the city of Austin’s initial proposal was to charge a $2.50 fee per passenger during peak hours, which would have given the city of Austin the highest drop rate in the state of Texas. The drop rate is the dollar amount present on a cab meter prior to its departure.

“Our first consideration was the lower to middle income folks who would not necessarily be able to afford such a hike on cab fares,” Kargbo said. “We realize not all cab riders are well off, so we came up with the proposal of reducing the charge to $1 per passenger.”

Kargbo said signage will be required in each taxicab to inform the passengers of the surcharge.

Biology and pre-med junior Taylor Brasher said he and his friends get rides to and from downtown in “underground taxis,” unlicensed cab drivers who use their own cars to provide rides for a fee. Underground taxis are known to be cheaper than licensed cabs and usually don’t expect a tip.

He said by charging more during peak hours, licensed taxicabs will most likely lose business with the competition of undercover taxis.

“[The underground taxi driver] will drive by the E-bus stop around 11:30 p.m. asking if anyone needs a ride downtown and will come and pick us up on Sixth Street whenever we call the driver back,” Brasher said. “I mainly use either the underground taxis or the E-bus for a ride home, but you have to get lucky enough to squeeze onto the always-packed West Campus buses.”

In conjunction with the ground transportation department, enforcement officers attempt to root all of the illegal taxi operators out, Kargbo said.

At today’s City Council meeting, Kargbo said he will present a proposal asking for 50 additional Austin taxicab permits to be used only in alternative fuel vehicles such as hybrids, compressed natural gas vehicles and electric cars.

“We are proposing to try out various types of fuel efficient vehicles, which will not only benefit our industry but also car manufacturers as well,” Kargbo said. “More permits also means that licensed cab drivers without access to cars can utilize the alternative fuel vehicles in peak evening hours.”

Radio-television-film and psychology junior Francis Roman said she considers taxicabs a reliable form of transportation but thinks that the fee increase will give the extra push to taxi drivers to perhaps be more available during peak hours.

“I think it’s always important to have transportation to and from your destination,” she said. “People, especially college students, need a safe and efficient way of getting home.”

Printed on Thursday, February 9, 2012 as: Cabs to add peak hours fee

Lawrence Martinez walks past a parking meter, which may be no longer be free on weekends, next to Hickory Street Bar & Grill Tuesday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

Extended parking meter hours for the downtown area will go into effect next month. Based on last week’s city council vote, the city will enforce metered street parking from 1st to 10th streets between IH-35 and Lamar Boulevard between the hours of 6 p.m. and midnight on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

The new hours begin Sept. 6, but police will issue warnings instead of tickets until October, said Matt Curtis, spokesman for Mayor Lee Leffingwell.

Council members and city officials passed the ordinance last week but began discussing a change in enforcement hours in March because of concerns with crowding along downtown streets. After surveying approximately 8,500 citizens and receiving a response indicating that 75 percent of drivers preferred free parking, council members reconsidered enforcing metered weekend parking and used information from the survey to refine their policy.

“What we passed at the council meeting on Thursday reflected much of the feedback we received,” said council member Mike Martinez. “I intend to continue to listen to that feedback and will remain open to the possibility of adjusting the ordinance in the future to find the right balance to manage a public resource and ensure that downtown continues to thrive.”

Council members directed the city’s Transportation Department to continue developing further solutions to overcrowded parking spaces, including the possibility of Capital Metro transit in the downtown area at night.

The city will use additional revenue from extended meter hours to pay for the enforcement and operating costs of the ordinance and for transit improvements downtown, said Austin Transportation Department spokeswoman Leah Fillion.

Fillion said a button will be added to the affected meters intended to allow inebriated would-be drivers to buy time at their parking space into the next day.

“If you are able to plan ahead, you can purchase time into the next day,” Fillion said. “We understand there are some occasions that you can’t plan ahead, but if you can show proof you took responsible means home by taxi or bus, any ticket will be dismissed.”

Transportation Department members charged with drafting and putting these ideas into effect will report back to the city council in March 2012 to provide details on the ordinance’s effectiveness.

“In an effort to help the parking problem, our Transportation Department worked with several downtown stakeholders to come up with this plan,” Curtis said. “Austin is a big city. We grow very quickly, and our parking problems grow just as quickly.”

Printed on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 as: Downtown parking meter hours set to expand into nights, weekends.

Michael Loredo feeds the parking meter on Seventh Street and Congress Avenue on Thursday afternoon. A city ordinance has been passed to extend parking meter hours downtown, with the start date still under discussion.

Photo Credit: Anastasia Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

The City Council may once again postpone the extension of downtown parking meter hours, this time until at least January.

Council members Kathie Tovo and Laura Morrison will present a measure next week to delay implementation to allow for discussion on the impact the ordinance could have on downtown employees, Tovo said.

Current rules dictate parking meters operate citywide from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. downtown, said city of Austin Transportation Department spokeswoman Leah Fillion.

The new rules would extend citywide metered hours until 6 p.m. and include Saturdays, while downtown hours would extend to midnight, Fillion said.

The extension was originally voted on in March and was planned for implementation on Aug. 1, but was delayed to Sept. 6 and has endured opposition from the public, Tovo said.

“I’m concerned because I’m hearing from many downtown workers that this is going to be an additional cost for them,” she said.

Tovo said the delay would allow the council to revisit concerns that may not have been heard before the ordinance was originally voted on.

Additional time may also allow the council to find alternative solutions that will help mitigate any negative impact before the new rules are implemented, Tovo said.

Fillion said the idea of extending the hours is to create turnover in parking spaces so that visitors will be able to find parking through the later hours of the day.

Currently much of the parking spaces on-street are taken by employees who leave their cars parked until their shift ends later on at night, she said.

“Our ultimate goal is to reduce the condition downtown and try to make parking easier to find and encourage alternate modes of transportation,” Fillion said.

Extending hours for parking meters would persuade long-term visitors to park off-street and leave street parking to customers who will only stay for a few hours at a time, she said.

Fillion said there are more than 14,000 parking spaces downtown and that people often don’t realize this because many of them are in off-street garages.

The city is working with parking garages to provide downtown business employees with spaces at a discounted price or approximately $50 per month, she said.

Councilwoman Morrison said while the proposal was originally meant to increase parking turnover for businesses downtown it ended up going beyond only businesses and being applied to the entire area.

“I think that you could certainly adjust and diminish the hours or where it’s actually implemented as opposed to just all downtown,” Morrison said.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s spokesman Matt Curtis said the council has expected to make changes before implementing the new rules since it originally voted to extend the hours.  

Austin residents passed a $90 million bond to improve roadways and construct bike lanes and sidewalks on Tuesday.

Get Austin Moving, a political action committee in favor of the Strategic Mobility Bond, or Proposition 1, celebrated at Shoal Creek Saloon on Tuesday evening.

“It’s a smart decision for a smart city,” said committee treasurer Ted Siff. “Transportation solutions will happen faster, cheaper and better because the voters and the majority have passed Proposition 1.”

Mayor Lee Leffingwell said the City Council’s messages got across to voters that something needed to be done now to alleviate mobility issues.

“We have to make progress. This is the first step. Traffic is not going to be better than when it was this morning,” Leffingwell said. “We are already planning the next step. Gradually we’re going to get a handle on this thing.”

Leah Fillion, spokeswoman for the city’s transportation department, said they determined what projects should be prioritized through community input from different methods of outreach and surveys.

“We figured out a priority list with the highest wants in the community,” Fillion said.

Target start dates for construction depends on each individual project, Fillion said.

“Some of them are ready to go, shovel at the ready,” she said. “These projects would be immediately funded. Some projects are still ideas that need developing. All the projects would be in different stages.”

The most expensive project on the Strategic Mobility Plan will be spent on roadway reconstruction, with a proposed bond funding of $19.5 million. A boardwalk trail on Lady Bird Lake is budgeted for a proposed amount of $14.4 million.

Tom Wald, the executive director of League of Bicycling Voters, said with any growing city, officials need to pay more attention to different modes of transportation. He said people want more choices and safer routes.

“The idea of completing the bicycle network is to not just serve the needs of bicyclists but to serve the needs of more Austinites who want to bike but can’t because there’s not a complete and safe network,” Wald said. “The conditions right now are pretty poor. It’s going to take some time to complete the bike network.”

Transportation engineering professor Chandra Bhat said improving transportation issues would not be as effective as reducing demand on the roads.

“Investing money in simply improving roadways is a catch-22,” Bhat said. “You widen roadways and you design new roadways and more people want travel, and it gets congested again. That is an issue with pumping in money and only improving the supply side of it and not doing anything to reduce the demand.”

Bhat said he doesn’t think the proposition is going to relieve traffic congestion right away but has the potential to help in the long term.

“The improvements are a bit isolated, and can help relieve some congestion in certain areas,” he said. “But for a region as a whole, I don’t think it’s any kind of magic bullet that will relieve congestion tomorrow.”