CHICAGO (STMW) — The city’s on-again-off-again, $1 fuel surcharge on taxicab fares would become permanent — and part of the cost of entering a cab — thanks to a surprise change tied to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s overhaul of the cab industry.

Emanuel has been under fire from struggling cabdrivers for changing everything about the their industry but taxicab fares, which have been frozen since 2005.

That’s even though Rosemary Krimbel, commissioner of the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, had declared her intention to get away from fuel surcharges that go off and on with the rise and fall of gas prices, leaving passengers thoroughly confused.

“We want to … build those surcharges right into the flag pull, instead of having it be, `This week it’s 50 cents. Next week, it’s $1.’ … We want it to be clean and clear so the passenger knows what they’re gonna pay, and they don’t have to do any negotiating with the cabdriver,” the commissioner said last fall.

On Tuesday, Krimbel made good on that pledge.

“We took the surcharge, which is $1, and we’re moving it into the flag pull. The surcharge has been in place since 2009 consistently, which means every time you get into a cab, the flag pull is 2.25, plus ding- ding, $1,” Krimbel said.

“We get so many complaints from passengers because they don’t understand why are you adding a dollar. Since it’s consistently been in place for two years, we’ll move it to the flag pull. That will be easier to understand for passengers and consumers.”

Krimbel warned that the new $3.25 flag pull “does not necessarily give the drivers a fare increase. That’s not on the table at this time.”

But, she said, “We believe with this ordinance, the industry will dramatically improve and when it does, we will be more than happy to relive a fare increase.”

The permanent change in the flag pull was not enough to appease cabbies, who have petitioned the City Council for a 22 percent fare increase.

“We don’t get that money. It goes to the gas stations. Gas is $4.07-a-gallon now. We have the lowest cab fares in the country and the highest gas prices in the country,” said veteran cabdriver Ken Cooper.

“It would be a raise if gas wasn’t up and we got that $1. We still need a fare increase.”

Veteran cabbie George Kasp welcomed the city’s decision to fold the $1 fuel surcharge into the flag pull.

“It helps ease the burden and the headache of having to explain the fuel surcharge. It’ll make my job much easier. But, it doesn’t help me economically in any way,” he said.

Chicago cab fares have been frozen since an 11.7 percent increase imposed by the City Council in 2005.

The fuel surcharge took effect in April, 2008. It requires passengers to pay 50 cents a ride when gas prices “equal or exceed” $2.70 a gallon for seven consecutive days and $1 a ride whenever the price at the pump tops $3.20 a gallon for one week straight.

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The sweeping reforms advanced Tuesday by the City Council’s Committee on License and Consumer Protection pave the way for cabbies to drive newer, more fuel-efficient vehicles, be yanked off the road more quickly for dangerous driving and spend no more than 12 straight hours on the road.

It puts more money in drivers’ pockets indirectly — by raising lease rates on more fuel-efficient vehicles in a way that gives cab companies a financial incentive to upgrade.

The city would have “real-time access” to the Illinois Secretary of State’s database of moving violations to get repeat offenders yanked off the road immediately, instead of waiting for an annual review. Three moving violations in a 12-month period and the mandatory chauffeurs’ license would not be renewed.

As promised, the mayor softened the blow for the taxicab industry — by reducing to $200,000 the bond cab companies must post and from $25 per vehicle to $15 the affiliation fee they must pay.

But, Krimbel pulled yet another surprise. The 75,000-mile cap on placing cabs into service for the first time will be phased in — with 100,000 the first year and 75,000 in 2014 — to give the industry time to “ramp up” to the “dramatically different” requirement.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2012. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)