Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport Rethinks Cab, Limo Services

Ongoing bickering between the two groups is forcing the airport to overhaul its ground transportation services in an effort to improve customer service.

Some passengers at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport may have to pay more for a short taxi ride and others would no longer be able to hire a curbside limousine because of a long-standing feud between cabbies and limo drivers.

Ongoing bickering between the two groups is forcing the airport to overhaul its ground transportation services in an effort to improve customer service. Passengers who need to take a cab or a limo have complained that they feel harassed by drivers who both barter and solicit them for business, despite rules that forbid such behavior.

The recommendations, which still need to be approved, would affect travelers in several ways:

* Meter rates won't change, but the minimum cost of a taxi ride from the airport would be set at $15, the equivalent of about a five-mile trip. Right now, there is no minimum.

* People would be able to use credit cards to pay cab fares. Now, cabbies take only cash.

* Limo service will be available only by reservation. Currently, passengers can grab a limo on the spot just like a cab at all three terminals.

"The important thing for us is that we are able to ensure the services that the customer wants, and that we provide a good service," Assistant Aviation Director Carl Newman said of the proposed changes. "There's just been ongoing conflict between the cab drivers and the limo drivers, and a lot of times the customer gets caught between the two."

The recommendations come after nearly six months of study by an outside consultant. They will be discussed by the Aviation Advisory Committee on Thursday and then must be approved by the Phoenix City Council.

The changes come on the heels of a new plan to raise airport parking fees. Rates are set to jump 25 to 60 percent by the first of the year and could even double if people keep using the lots at the rate they are now, officials said. That means that rates could reach as much as $10 a day in the economy service lots and $25 a day in the terminal garages.

The parking fees will also be discussed Thursday.

This latest proposal was meant to end a lengthy spat between taxi and limo drivers but is already being criticized by both groups.

Limo drivers fear that taking away their "on-demand" service, in which a customer can simply walk out to the terminal curb and request a luxury vehicle, will bankrupt them.

Taxi drivers say the changes don't do enough to help them make a living wage.

Although it will help them make more money for short trips, they also wanted higher meter rates and a fuel surcharge to help offset gas prices. They are happy about the elimination of on-demand limo service, accusing the drivers of trying to steal customers by promising better fares and a nicer ride.

Sky Harbor is one of the only major airports in the country that has the on-demand service option.

"There are so many fights," said George Omari, a driver for the Discount cab company. "It's a shame to see two drivers fight in front of customers. It's not good for business."

Limo drivers counter that a small group of cabbies is the source of the trouble and that the new rules would take away their sole income source as most are small-business owners who serve only the airport.

"We don't know what we will do if they kick us out. All of my work is at the airport," said Nick Peimani, the owner of Prince Limousine Co., which operates three cars at Sky Harbor.

Jihad Khoury, owner and operator at Affordable Limousine Service, says his small company can't compete with the big limousine services that operate on reservations. On-demand fares make up 97 percent of his business, he said.

Driver tension is nothing new.

In March, angry cab drivers created a 57-taxi roadblock that snarled downtown traffic for nearly four hours by parking across four of the five lanes of Washington Street in front of Phoenix City Hall.

The noisy demonstration, which was designed to draw attention to working conditions at the airport, caught Phoenix officials by surprise.

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