Wednesday, March 16, 2022 by Elizabeth Pagano
Faced with a sharp drop in ridership, Austin’s taxi industry was offered a ray of hope at the last city council meeting.
Earlier this month, the Council unanimously approved a change which will have the municipal taxi license as its operating authority, ending the taxi franchise system in place since 1950. Mayor Steve Adler was absent during the vote.
As part of the resolution – which was apparently aimed at bolstering the reporting industry – the council asked the city manager to return by May 1 with recommendations to move the taxi stand from the airport to a more convenient location. Currently, taxis and rideshares are parked after arrival pick-up across an airport parking lot.
“I can tell you, as an airport user and as someone who has also heard this concern from others, there have been times when, when I returned, I actually asked someone one to pick me up and add a car to that long line of traffic because it’s so hard to get from the airport to the taxi stand,” said Board Member Kathie Tovo, who has made the amendment to study how the airport limits taxi pick-ups.
In short, Tovo said the current location of the taxi rank could discourage people from using taxis and add to the problems of a beleaguered industry.
“It’s an on-demand service. I have to believe there are people who arrive at the airport and don’t see a taxi waiting and have to make another arrangement,” Tovo said. “I think it should be treated differently.”
His concerns were supported by Angelo Atem, with ATX Co-op Taxi. In a letter to the Council, he explained that around 30% of his airport business had disappeared “because the Airport Authority hid us under a garage out of sight of our customers”.
“We need to go back to where we were,” he wrote.
Austin Airport Chief Jacqueline Yaft explained that due to a combination of traffic congestion, limited curb space and an ever-increasing passenger population, the city chose to move taxis and carpools in 2018.
“Traffic at the time was jammed up to (freeway) 71,” she said. Since the move, she noted, traffic at the terminal has been “manageable”, despite a recent return to pre-pandemic traveler numbers, with around 25,000 passengers arriving daily. This year, 20 million passengers are expected to pass through Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, nearly double what the terminal and sidewalk were designed to accommodate.
In addition, Yaft said, the airport is about to the overhaul of its baggage system, and that the construction will take up space in the arrivals area of the airport in the near future. “(We) don’t really have a lot of sidewalks to accommodate the number of passengers we’re seeing,” she said.
Yaft was also concerned that it would be unfair to geographically prioritize one type of ground transportation over others, given that all pay a fee to operate at the airport and that carpools – or “transportation network companies – pay higher fees.
However, as Pro Tem Mayor Alison Alter noted, taxi drivers are being asked to provide more community service than ride-sharing operators.
Taxis are licensed by the city, which requires 6% of vehicles to be ADA compliant. Additionally, federal law does not allow taxi companies to refuse service to people who use wheelchairs or have other disabilities. Transnational corporations are authorized by the state, and although they can offer options for disabled riders, they are not obliged to.
Council member Chito Vela added that walking longer distances could also prove difficult for elderly passengers. “I don’t want to generalise, but I think a lot of older people still rely on taxis and it’s hard for them to get there.”
The airport operates a tram service on the lower level of the car park. Yaft explained that the airport also allows special taxi requests and other arrival pickups for those who need them, and receives about six or seven such requests a day.
Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.
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