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Cab companies fight proposed luxury taxis

By LARRY DOUGHERTY

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 9, 2000


TAMPA -- The two companies that control most of the taxis in Hillsborough County are fighting a proposal by another company to start an enhanced cab service.

Resort Shuttle Inc. wants to operate so-called "luxury taxis," late-model Lincoln Town Cars with dark-suited drivers that charge considerably higher rates than ordinary cabs.

With January's Super Bowl expected to increase demand for transportation, Resort Shuttle kicked off its application hearing Monday before county regulators. One company officer said "there is a lot of business to be had out there."

Representatives of Yellow Cab and United Cab have filed notices in opposition to Resort's bid for 12 vehicle permits.

The two major cab companies, which each control more than 200 vehicle permits, are expected to try to debunk Resort's claim that there is a need for more luxury taxis here.

Population limits the number of taxi permits in Hillsborough, and the 12 being sought by Resort Shuttle are the last ones available of the 484 allowed by law.

Resort Shuttle already ferries visitors between Tampa International Airport and the Innisbrook and Saddlebrook resorts, in concert with an affiliate. Its managers are based in St. Petersburg.

Resort Shuttle's recent negotiations to provide limousine service to the new Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel in Tampa prompted protests from Yellow and United. They claimed Resort was undercutting the prescribed rates for limousine service. The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, which regulates taxis and other public vehicles, agreed, said Greg Cox, the commission's executive director.

While many consumers would see lower prices as a good thing, the taxis and limousines operate in a regulated market where rates are set by law.

Taxi cab rates recently increased for the first time in 13 years. The first mile now costs $2.65, and each additional mile costs $1.75. Limousine service goes for $40 an hour.

The luxury taxis being proposed by Resort Shuttle would charge $5 for the first one-fifth of a mile, and 40 cents for each additional one-fifth of a mile, Alex Shouppe of Resort testified Monday.

In exchange for the higher price, the consumer gets a well-dressed driver who always opens the door of a "classier-type vehicle," Shouppe said.

The hearing was expected to continue this week. A hearing master will recommend either approval or denial of the application to the transportation commission, which will then vote on it.

- Larry Dougherty can be reached at (813) 226-3337 or dougherty@sptimes.com

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