As inflation and gas prices click up, one local Myrtle Beach cab driver is asking the city to bump up the meter with a rate increase.
Caleb Esterak, owner of City Cab in Myrtle Beach, said it’s been 15 years since the last rate increase and he’s feeling the weight of expenses with his three City Cab vehicles.
“With the current inflation, it is definitely something that we need,” Esterak said. “That would help us catch up to the inflation that we’ve seen not only this year but in the fifteen years since we’ve seen an increase … What used to cost me $100 at the grocery store now costs me $150 at the grocery store.”
On Tuesday, city council granted the first of two approvals to increase the rate from the current 35 cents every one-eighth mile to 45 cents every one-eighth mile. The rate increase will ultimately raise the mileage rate to $3.60 per mile.
The proposed ordinance also includes increasing the wait time from 35 cents every 55 seconds to 45 cents every 55 seconds. Wait time includes when cabs hit traffic, stop at traffic lights or if a customer makes a stop at a gas station or convenience store.
The $3.50 rate to be picked up by a taxi will remain the same.
A second reading will happen at a future council meeting.
There are a total of 87 cabs with 43 different companies that operate in the city limits and are regulated by the city, said Tom Vest of the Myrtle Beach Police Department. Vest added there is no cap to the number of taxi cabs that can operate within the city.
Vest also said outside taxi companies may drop off passengers in the city but cannot pick up within the city limits. To do both drop offs and pickups inside the city, one must obtain either a Myrtle Beach business license or a medallion issued by the city.
City spokesperson Mark Kruea said all cabs are regulated by the city and have been for decades, with all cabs and their companies having the same rates.
Kruea said the ordinance regarding cab services has been in place since the 1960s, adding it’s fairly common for a city to regulate cab services, no matter if it’s New York City, Wilmington or Myrtle Beach.
Currently, all Myrtle Beach cab drivers charge $3.50 upon initial pickup and add an extra dollar per person for the pickup charge. Once on the road, the meter clicks at $2.80 per mile with an additional 35 cents that’s added per minute of wait time.
Esterak said cab drivers pay for gas out of their own pocket and the vehicles are expected to be both picked up and dropped off on a full tank. He added individual taxi drivers get to keep half the meter rate plus tips while the other half goes to the company to help cover insurance, repairs and city or state fees.
So, if a cab driver drives 100 miles a day under the current rate, the cab driver keeps tips and $140 out of the $280 meter charge. Under council’s proposed rate, those same 100 miles a day brings in $360, an $80 increase in profit.
For cab drivers, the increase means they’ll get to keep an extra $40 a day, or $200 extra at the end of a five-day work week.
“It adds up decently for both the driver and the company while only having minimal impact on what the customer pays,” Esterak said.
According to AAA, the average price for a gallon of regular gas in Myrtle Beach is $3.76 as of Tuesday. That’s $1.20 more than this time last year.
Average gas prices in Myrtle Beach are a cent less the state average and 37 cents below the national average.
Seeing the prices and recognizing the rise in inflation, Assistant City Manager Brian Tucker agrees with Esterak that it’s time for a rate increase.
“The increase in gas prices does not reflect the current rates,” Tucker said.
While the city has not increased the mileage rate since 2008, there was an increase in the starting rate in July 2016 from $1.50 to $3.50, a year after then-Gov. Nikki Haley signed legislation permitting ride-share services such as Uber and Lyft to operate in the state.
Uber ultimately became available across the state in November 2017. Ride-share services do not fall under the city’s ordinances since they are regulated by the state.
Esterak said he’s not threatened by lower rates from ride-share services and other taxi companies shouldn’t be either.
A typical ride-share service at 11 a.m. on a Thursday from the Myrtle Beach International Airport to the convention center on Oak Street ranges from almost $16 to a nearly $22 depending on the service chosen.
That same trip using a city-meter-regulated cab costs about $14.75 to go the 4.2 miles. Council’s proposed rate would make that same trip with no wait time cost $18.62.
Esterak said while the rate increase may make cab prices higher than ride-share companies at times, the benefit of a cab service is the price is set in stone and does not fluctuate throughout the day or the time of year.
“You get what you pay for,” Esterak said citing the dependability and insurance coverage of the taxi companies. “You can look at our reviews online. They speak for themselves.
Following Tuesday’s first reading approval, the ordinance would need to pass a second reading to go into effect. Should it pass a second reading, the ordinance would go into effect immediately.
The city council meetings begin with a workshop at 9 a.m. on the first and third Tuesday of each month. The workshops are followed by the 10 a.m. regular council meetings with public comments and votes taken on proposed ordinances. The council meets at the Ted C. Collins Law Enforcement Center at 1101 North Oak St. in Myrtle Beach.