Airport says it's time to make 'emergency' taxi fare limits permanent

Maximums were created to combat reports of widespread price gouging after deregulation.<br>

Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune A sign sits atop the luggage carousel at the Salt Lake International Airport warning travelers to negotiate their fare with taxi drivers, Wednesday, July 20, 2016. There have been some complaints from airport visitors about largely unregulated taxi fares. Cabs no longer need to have meters, can largely charge any fare they want (with some exceptions in SLC itself), and need not tell passengers in advance how much they will charge.

For the past two years, Salt Lake City International Airport has declared price gouging by cabs there as an official emergency — so that it could use emergency powers to limit taxi fares within the city temporarily.

Now, Russ Pack, acting airport executive director, says it’s time to end a string of six-month-long emergency declarations and make those fare limits permanent.

AIRPORT TAXI FARE CAPS<br> $25 west of 500 East<br>$30 beyond that<br>No limit outside SLC limits<br>

“The only change would be to make it permanent, instead of temporary,” he said during a meeting Wednesday of the airport advisory board. He said the airport is sending that recommendation to the city council for its consideration and action.

The maximum fares for airport taxi rides to destinations in the city west of 500 East is now $25, and $30 within the city beyond that. No fare limits exist for destinations outside of the city.

Signs at baggage claim areas and at the city-operated airport taxi stands warn travelers about that, and urge them to negotiate final fares before entering cabs.

Last year, The Salt Lake Tribune reported about stacks of complaints filed with the city since deregulation of taxis in 2015 — which came as the city and airport began to allow ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft to operate there.

With deregulation, the number of cab companies in the city skyrocketed from three to more than 400. Taxis no longer needed to use meters — nor ensure they are accurate if they are used — could charge anything they wanted, and not announce fares until after they reached the destination.

For example, one woman complained she was charged $200 for a ride to Cottonwood Heights; several passengers paid $25 to airport hotels less than two miles away; one was charged $132 to Park City (which had cost him $85 previously); and another paid $160 to go to Snowbird (double earlier rates).

Because of complaints from area hotels and others, then-airport Executive Director Maureen Riley — who retired in June — took advantage of a law that allows her to address emergency conditions and imposed the current limits.

The city council could have overturned her declarations, but has allowed them to stand.

The current limits apply to destinations only within Salt Lake City. Taxis may still charge anything they desire elsewhere — which has led to some continuing complaints. Also, the city has received complaints about taxis that charge the maximum fares for short rides in the city that in the past would have cost much less.

With the Wild West situation on taxi regulation, Uber and Lyft have now captured half of the ground transportation market at the airport — with cabs maintaining the other half, said airport spokeswoman Nancy Volmer.

Even with the ongoing situation, Pack said he’s heard of very few complaints about fares in the month he has been the airport’s temporary director. “I’ve only had one,” he said. “Maybe people don’t know who I am yet.”

Some of the earlier written complaints were brutal.

“The only other cities where I have experienced similar confusion were outside of the United States in Third World countries,” Steve Kimmel wrote in one complaint.

Charles Rinke wrote, “This is so foreign compared to every other airport I’ve been to that surely dozens, if not hundreds, of people are getting gouged daily.”