Taxi ride will cost $8 within Westbury
The Westbury Board of Trustees recently approved a resolution to increase taxi fares within the village boundaries from $7 to $8.
Before the vote, Mayor Peter Cavallaro asked Taxicab Commission Chair Richard Wilkins, who attended along with member Ronny Simon, to discuss how it reached its recommendation. After noting that member Kevin B. Shakil was absent, Wilkins said that a $9 fare was considered, but the final consensus was for $8.
The fare was limited to the village jurisdiction, and not to contiguous 11590 zip code areas such as Salisbury or New Cassel.
Rick Castro of All Seasons Taxi in Westbury was on hand for the public hearing, and was asked by Trustee Beaumont Jefferson how his drivers were compensated. Castro replied that they got paid by the fare, splitting the current $7. They were responsible for buying the gas while he dealt with vehicle maintenance and repairs.
In response to another question from Jefferson he said that there was just one flat fare, no matter how far they traveled within Westbury.
Jefferson said that the last approved increase was back in December of 2021, bringing the fare to the current $7. Before that it was in 2018 for another dollar increase to $6. He noted the then rising gas prices and said that the increase was reasonable.
Castro said the state’s minimum wage increase to $15/hour also makes it difficult to retain employees because they can get better-paying jobs elsewhere. If his drivers make three calls in an hour—based on the $3.50 they get for each ride—they’re only earning $11.50 an hour. And they have to make gas purchases out of that fare.
Jefferson stated, “I do think the rate should be increased to accommodate the price of gas.”
Added Trustee William Wise, “The taxi drivers here operate entirely differently than the drivers in New York City. It’s a different ball game—they don’t run on meters out here.”
In response to a question from resident Chester McGibbon, Cavallaro said the pandemic had devastated the taxi business, especially with the dramatic decrease in ridership on the Long Island Railroad. And even though commuting had rebounded to some extent, it was still nowhere near pandemic level.
Castro alluded to ride share competition, stating, “Uber drivers get $11 for a village ride and they’re not even regulated by you guys. Where is the sense of fairness in that?”
“We’re not able to regulate them,” Cavallaro observed, to which Castro replied, “I understand that.”
He added that he compensated his drivers at higher rates for longer rides
“A lot of taxi companies went out of business already,” Castro said. “There are very few left out there and you have larger fleets that are way down because of expenses. A lot of guys didn’t want to keep on doing it.”
Cavallaro affirmed that the board has to decide whether to increase fares $1 or $2, adding, “The issue for us obviously is that you maintain a viable taxi service in the village. But also, a lot of people take taxis and they don’t have a lot of money either. With a $2 increase, if [people] take the taxi a couple times a week it could be material for them. It may not be material for some of us [here], but $2 a number of times [per week could be]. So we have to weigh not only the impact on your business and your drivers, but also on your consumers.”
Castro said that he gives discounts to regular users.
“The Taxi Cab Commission recommended the increase from $7 to $8 per ride. What’s your view on that?” Cavallaro asked Castro.
The business owner replied that “something is better than nothing,” and added that inflation is supposed to go higher and his firm had already implemented fare increases all across the board outside the village.
Before the vote, Cavallaro said, “I think the consensus of the board before we came out was that we would adhere to the commission recommendation of a $1 increase. Obviously, no one has a crystal ball whether gas prices six months from now will be higher or lower or whatever. I think the board’s approach is trying to balance the needs of the riding community, your riders and your business.”
He speculated that the commission could recommend increasing the fare whenever it would be appropriate, but for now he wanted to take the recommendation of the commission for the $1 increase and then return to the subject at a later date. The mayor made a motion to recommend the $1 increase and the vote was unanimous.
In an interview, Castro said his business has not come close to coming back to pre-pandemic levels. He holds a medical transportation license and his medical accounts made up the majority of his income.
As far as his taxi fleet, it had been reduced by about half and he had to sell the vehicles—which he had purchased, not leased—at a loss.
Castro started his business in 2007 and said some of his drivers had been with him since he began, but many left during the COVID-19 pandemic, not wanting to risk infection in the closed confines of the vehicle. Three of his drivers, he added, contracted the virus and died during the first surge of the pandemic. Though none had caught the virus since that initial wave, he emphasized, many driver were part-timers who were scared away by the virus.
“I’ve had drivers who’ve been with me for years and I think that proves I’m a fair and reasonable guy,” he noted.
But he again said the state’s minimum wage made it difficult for businesses like his.
About The Commission
The Taxicab Commission is made up of three members whose responsibility is to inform the Mayor and the Village Board regarding matters related to the taxi industry in the Village of Westbury. The Commission’s duties include investigating applications for licensed vehicles and drivers, checking vehicle licenses semi-annually and conducting hearings regarding complaints against licensed owners and drivers.
—From the Village of Westbury website