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Raleigh taxicab drivers threaten strike

Fuel prices have been the catalyst of an impending strike by the Capital City's taxicab drivers, who say they want better pay and working conditions.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Hundreds of taxicab drivers in Raleigh are threatening to go on strike next week if the City Council doesn't address concerns related to what drivers are calling "unfriendly cab driver policies."

"A strike is very imminent," Lent Carr, president of the North Carolina Taxi Workers Alliance Inc., said Wednesday.

The labor union, which represents more than 600 local cab drivers, went before city leaders for a second time on Tuesday with a number of issues. Carr says they are so severe that they need a taxicab commission to address them.

"We need resolution now, not tomorrow," Carr said. "If not – we want it clear – we have already started talks of strikes here in Raleigh."

The council, he says, has been slow to move on three high-priority issues facing taxi cab drivers.

Among them, 42 additional taxi zones from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. throughout Raleigh.

Drivers, like Freddy Jones, the union's vice president, say there are many high-traffic areas, including Glenwood South and Fayetteville Street, with no place for them to safely pull over and pick up fares without being cited by police for blocking traffic.

"(These areas are) so backed up on Friday and Saturday nights," Jones said. "It's gridlock all the way up and down the street."

Other issues the union wants resolved include an increase in taxi rates and a cap on the number of taxi permits issued.

Jones says soaring gas prices are forcing drivers to spend more money and that, for some, it is difficult for them to break even. With more than 1,000 city-issued permits, part-time drivers are also taking away business from full-time drivers.

"It is very difficult to make a living, spending an additional $200 a week, since gas prices have increased," Jones said.

Raleigh City Manager Russell Allen says the City Council has been deliberate in trying to work through items that protect the public's interest while trying to be cognizant of taxicab drivers.

He says city leaders have dealt with every issue related to zones, fees, inspections and city ordinances that have been brought before them.

"We looked at the prices and fees recently and did adjust the fees in the last two to three years on the rates," he said.

Allen says the union went before the City Council in April asking for additional zones but that there were too many.

"We do have a process for looking at zones, and we indicated to them that they really needed to prioritize that list to their top four or five," he said.

City leaders also recommended that union members also get the support of local businesses where they need taxi stands.

"That process ensures (that,) if we're going to create a zone and perhaps take out parking spaces for a taxicab, then the businesses need to be supportive of that," Allen said.

Allen said the city will re-examine rates but that it's unlikely it will consider limiting the number of taxi permits.

"I think they're concerned about the number and the competiveness, and I certainly understand that, but I don't know that that is something (the) council would try to intervene with – interfering with the market on how many cab companies could be supported in the market," Allen said, adding that there are no other businesses in the city that have caps.

He also doesn't see the need for a special commission.

"In my view, there's not enough," Allen said. "It would be very unusual for (the) council to set up a commission just to support issues for just one business," Allen said.

The City Council, he says, uses a committee structure for matters that need more attention. The Law and Public Safety Commission, he says, has spent hours on taxicab issues in the past few years.

As for a strike, "it doesn't expedite any processes as far as city administration is concerned," Allen said. "I don't think that would change the council's mind about anything they want to do, because they have been very fair and responsive to the cab industry."


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