New cab company faces rough road

A Umatilla Cab Co. taxi drives through Hermiston in 2016.

Hermiston’s taxi tickets for senior and disabled residents will be more expensive in January.

The city council voted Monday to raise the tickets from $2 to $2.50. It also raised its subsidy to Umatilla Cab Company, paying the company $6.75 instead of $6.60 per ticket redeemed for a ride.

The program, which started in 2007, subsidizes rides for Hermiston residents over age 62 or with a documented disability. Qualifying residents can visit city hall and purchase tickets, which they can use for a one-way taxi ride. The city subsidizes the ride by paying qualifying cab companies an additional $6.60 (now $6.75) for each ticket used.

Assistant city manager Mark Morgan said ridership has gone up significantly this year, jumping from 17,500 in 2017 to 18,000 from January through the end of October so far this year. Morgan said that puts the city on pace to subsidize about 23,000 rides by the end of the year, which would put the city over budget by about $27,000.

The city had expected ticket sales to decrease after it implemented the HART, a free public bus system, at the beginning of 2017. While ridership of the HART rose from 2,700 rides in 2017 to more than 8,000 so far this year, Morgan said bus riders seem to mostly be residents who don’t qualify for the taxi program.

Morgan said Kayak Public Transit, which operates the bus system under contract with the city, is planning to expand the HART’s hours of service at the beginning of the year, likely running from about 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In order to handle the budget shortfall for the taxi ticket program and accommodate future growth, Morgan recommended raising the taxi ticket price from $2, where it has been since 2009, to $2.50. While the increase will cost residents, Morgan also pointed out that the HART remains a free alternative to a taxi ride for those who can’t afford it.

Reporter

East Oregonian and Hermiston Herald reporter covering city government and economic development in Hermiston, Umatilla, Stanfield and Echo.

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