Houston considers taxi fuel surcharge amid rising gas prices


Council members will vote to allow city taxi drivers to add a fuel surcharge for rides when the average gas price in Houston is above $3 a gallon, a welcome change for drivers paying their own gasoline out of their pocket. The surcharge adds at least 50 cents to each trip and increases by 50 cents every 50 cents above $3. For example, with Houston’s average price of $4.22 per gallon on Tuesday (according to AAA), that would equate to an extra $1.50 per trip.

“It’s not a knockout, but it helps a bit,” said Don Bearden, who was a taxi driver in North Houston since 2007. “I don’t think our audience is going to freak out about asking for an extra $1 per trip. With prices going up, I think that’s expected, not unusual.”

Ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft in March announced fuel surcharges for travel, a unilateral decision taken at the corporate level within each company. For the heavily regulated taxi industry, which often has fares set by local governments like the Houston City Council, relief has been slower in coming.

An Uber sticker on the windshield of a car Friday, Aug. 7, 2015, in Houston.

Jon Shapley/Houston Chronicle

Bearden contracts with zTrip, a national taxi company that acquired Yellow Cab Houston in 2021. The taxi company averages 1,800 rides per day in Greater Houston, among other smaller taxi companies. These days, Bearden spends $60 to refill his tank every other day and works around the clock to break even, he said.

As taxi drivers have suffered financial setbacks in recent months, zTrip executives in Houston asked drivers what kind of changes the company should push to help ease the burden, according to Melissa McGehee, who runs the company. A “majority” of zTrip Houston drivers wanted an all-out fare increase, Bearden said, but he and others felt it would shut them out of the market. They finally reached the compromise of asking for a fuel surcharge.

McGehee insisted the surcharge is temporary.

“We wouldn’t have been in favor of a permanent raise,” McGehee said. “With rising gas prices directly tied to the driver, we’re definitely in favor of that.”

The supplement will be paid to each driver with the standard rates. Uber and Lyft each have fixed fuel surcharges, while the surcharges offered for Houston taxis depend on the price of gas.

Under the proposed order, a zTrip from Houston City Hall to Chron’s offices at 4747 Southwest Freeway (about seven miles) would cost between $20 and $22, including surcharge. A Lyft would cost around $16 with the add-on, though it could be more expensive with power surges. Taxi companies, on the other hand, are not allowed to change fares when demand is higher.

“We are dinosaurs trying to survive,” Bearden said. “That’s all we are. We still survive.”

City council members are due to vote on the ordinance around 9 a.m. Wednesday. The measure also includes small changes in Houston pedicab and jitney industries.


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