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Cabdrivers protest new airport staging limit

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The meter is running for Salt Lake City cabdrivers.

Starting Saturday, the number of cabs that are allowed to park and wait for customers in the taxi area of the airport will be reduced from 40 to 25.

The pending change spawned a protest by some 50 taxi drivers at the City-County Building, 451 S. State, on Monday.

While the staging limit was the primary complaint, there were many others. Taxi driver Jeff Jex, who organized the protest, said the limit at the airport will hit many drivers in the wallet.

"It will affect our livelihoods as cabdrivers," Jex said.

Jex said the airport provides about 85 percent of the cab fares in the city. The limit will force most drivers to work downtown, which Jex said is a soft market because most hotels have shuttle services.

"There's already not enough work," Jex said.

The new restrictions will likely cost cabdriver Shawky Taha $60-$80 per day, which would put him at a break-even point with no money to live on after paying airport fees and his lease from the cab company, and buying gas. Most of the drivers interviewed Monday also said they stand to lose a significant portion of their income.

Loss of income isn't the only problem, according to Jex. He said limiting cabs to 25 at this time of year will hurt customers. With the ski season approaching, the holidays, the outdoor winter retailer convention and other events, it is likely the waiting time for those needing taxi service will increase, Jex said.

Don Barron, director for Yellow Cab, made a similar point in a letter to Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker. Barron said he told the mayor the move is likely to hurt tourism.

"We don't think this is going to take care of airport passengers with only 25 cabs," Barron said.

Randall Berg, airport operations director, said an airport study was conducted to determine how many cabs were needed. He said the study analyzed peak and non-peak times to come up with the number.

"We think 25 will be a good balance," Berg said.

He said 25 is a general, everyday number that can be increased when situations dictate a need for more service.

"When we have a special event or holiday, we increase that number," Berg said, noting that has been airport policy all along.

Jex took issue with the study findings. He believes the reduction is directly related to tensions between taxi drivers and shuttle drivers, citing an incident in which a shuttle driver punched a taxi driver. Jex believes the airport wants to reduce the number of taxi drivers interacting with the shuttle drivers.

Berg said Jex's claims are off-base.

"That's got nothing to do with it," Berg said.

Berg said freeing up space in the waiting area by reducing the number of idle cabs was a factor in the decision. Berg said the study found some taxis were idle for hours with no customers.

Taha said he has a better way to determine the number of cabs needed — by counting the number of fees the airport collects from the taxi drivers.

"That's how many taxis you need," he said.

Jex suggests delaying the implementation of the limits until spring to allow study of more alternatives.

"What we have right now is working," Jex said.

Among the other cabdriver complaints was a lack of shelter from the elements for drivers, no break room and same-gender portable restrooms.


E-mail: lwilde@desnews.com