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The Good and The Bad of More Cabs in Austin (Updated)

Tyler Pratt for KUT News
Cab drivers say more cabs on the street means less income and working longer hours.

Update (Nov. 2, 7:30 a.m.): Austin City Council members voted 5 to 2 Thursday to grant a total of 30 new taxi permits to two of the city’s cab companies.

Members of the Taxis Drivers Association of Austin had argued that there are too many cabs on the road and that they’ve seen a decline in income.

But the two cab companies say the new permits are necessary to help level the playing field between them and their larger competitor.

"[We are in favor of the vote] In order to improve our company's service to not only our passengers, but to our drivers. We've been waiting since December of last year to find out if were receiving 10 additional permits," Bertha Means of Austin Cab said.

Not all were in favor of the additional permits. Council Members Chris Riley and Kathie Tovo voted against the items.

"I'm not going to support the motion. I would propose that we take some time to see the next couple of months of numbers and see if that makes any difference," Tovo said.

Council members in support of the additional permits anticipate increased demand for taxis in November because of Formula 1 and other events scheduled around town.

Original post (Oct. 31): Members of the Taxi Drivers Association of Austin met at City Hall today to protest the plan to add 30 more taxi permits.  The additional permits are part of a two-part plan that already added 45 new taxi permits in July. The association says the market is already oversaturated with cabs and the new permits are making it hard for drivers.

"Driver income is down," says association president Dave Passmore . "There is a decrease in ridership and we’re just trying to make this aware to the public."

According to an Impact Assessment Study released by the Austin Transportation Department, per capita revenue for drivers has fallen 26 percent and drivers have had to work 13 percent more hours to compensate for the reduced income. 

New taxi permits are typically added with respect to the city's "formula," which calculates the city’s need for more taxis. But Passmore says the council has not looked at that formula when issuing the new permits. 

With so many people visiting Austin and F1 approaching, City Council may see a demand for more cabs above what the formula would normally prescribe. An outside study from last yearfound that special events like South by Southwest and the Austin City Limits Festival may be straining the city’s taxi capacity. And locals, like Nichole Donald, say it’s frustrating to get a cab downtown.

"It’s very difficult to get a cab," says Donald. "When you call Yellow Cab of Austin you can’t get anyone on the line. You have to download the mobile app or go online. Sometimes you just want to talk to a person to know that your cab is coming. " 

Some Austinites have resorted to using pedicabs or carpooling mobile apps like Heyride to get around town. 

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