Drivers and Regulators Tripped Up By New Tax
Since the beginning of October, taxi and limo services in Baltimore City have been required to add an extra fee on fares they charge.
The trip tax, 25 cents per passenger per trip, was in Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s budget the City Council adopted in June, figuring it would bring in $1.3 million this year. But it’s not clear whether the tax is legal.
City officials say they have an open case to formalize the tax before the Public Service Commission, which regulates cab fares in Baltimore City and Baltimore County. A commission spokeswoman, however, says there is no such case. Nonetheless, the commission issued a memo on Oct. 23 to all passenger-for-hire services, outlining how to collect the tax.
The tax was not welcome news to the taxi and limo industry.
Dwight Kines, vice president of the Mid-Atlantic region for Veolia Transportation, criticized what he called a lack of coordination between the city and state regulators in implementing the tax.
“If this was supposed to go into effect in October, we probably should have gotten started back in the summer to increase the meter rate,” said Kines.
Veolia owns several taxi companies in the city and operates an exclusive stand at Penn Station.
Joanna Fridinger, who operates “The Limo Lady” car service in Parkville, did not know about the new tax until she received a letter from the city at the end of September. “I thought it was a joke,” she said, “We’re being taxed 25 cents per person, per trip which is absolutely ridiculous.” Fridinger, who also is president of the Maryland Limo Association, is trying to start an effort to have the tax repealed; she called it “taxation without representation.”
The tax applies to trips coming into or leaving Baltimore as well as trips within the city. It covers taxis, limos and sedan services. The tax does not apply to companies that hold contracts with non-profit organizations or the five companies holding deals with BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport.
Taxi and limo drivers are expected to pay the taxes either by mail or in person with the first payment due November 25. Online payments are expected to begin in January. Janice Simmons, chief of the city’s Bureau of Revenue Collections, says the city has no plan to enforce collecting the tax. She said their goal is to get whatever revenue they can. Deputy Finance Director Henry Raymond says officials will seek an audit if the numbers reported by cab and limo companies do not add up.