CHICAGO (STMW) – Chicago taxicab riders would pay a $1-a-ride surcharge, but the $70 million raised from the fee would go to the city budget — not struggling cabbies — under a surprise plan proposed Wednesday by a pair of influential aldermen.

Although cabdrivers have been waiting more than five years for another fare hike, Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th) and Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) want to raise fares to boost city revenues, leaving cabbies out in the cold.

On the same day that the City Council debated a 2011 budget precariously balanced with parking meter reserves and other one-shot revenues, Burke and Austin proposed the $1 surcharge to help offset a $1 billion drop in city revenues in recent years.

“Many other cities across the nation already charge more for cab rides,” Austin said in a written statement. “The city of Chicago needs to determine if higher fares could be absorbed to help balance the budget.”

Ignoring the fact that cabdrivers have petitioned the City Council for a 22 percent fare hike, Burke said, “It is incumbent upon members of the Chicago City Council to find revenue-generating solutions to our chronic budget crisis. This is one area worthy of close examination because of the large amount of additional funding that could be raised to help offset a steep drop in revenue caused by the weak economy.”

The ordinance introduced Wednesday would apply a $1 surcharge — in addition to the 50-cent or $1 fuel surcharge tacked on whenever gas prices rise above a certain level — to every cab ride “originating within the corporate limits” of Chicago.

The average fare for a five-mile trip would rise from $13.22 to $14.22. Even with the $1 increase, Chicago cab fares would remain lower than a host of major cities, including Los Angeles, Boston, St. Louis, Phoenix, San Francisco, Miami, Denver and New Orleans. Chicago fares would also be lower than peak-hour and nighttime fares in New York City.

Armed with a survey that shows they’re working 13 hours a day for $4.38 an hour, Chicago cabdrivers have been lobbying for months for a 22 percent fare hike.

They reacted angrily to the proposal to raise fares to benefit the city’s budget while ignoring drivers’ needs.

“It stinks. I’m bewildered how they can do this to us. They don’t listen to our concerns,” said veteran cabbie Ken Cooper.

“They need to approve a fare hike and let us keep the money. Our costs are going up. They just keep taking more and more money from us. People are already bitching about the fuel surcharge. This will just cut into our tips even more.”

Cabbie George Kasp noted that most cabdrivers are “self-employed independent contractors” struggling to eke out a living.

“To use them to shore up the city budget is absurd. Why not ask groceries and liquor stores to cough up of $1 for each sale?” Kasp asked.

Under the proposal, cabbies — who already complain about being strangled by city regulations — would be required to collect the $1 surcharge and “remit” the money to the city’s Department of Revenue. They would be required to keep “accurate and complete books and records” on surcharge collections. Those books would be “subject to inspection” by the city.

— Chicago Sun-Times, via the Sun-Times Media Wire

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