‘That’s a lot of $40 fees’: Taxi companies, standard drivers worry about impact of wheel tax

With a $40 additional vehicle registration fee to be enacted in Madison early next year, city taxi companies say they’re preparing to take a financial hit.

The Common Council approved the fee, which is also known as a wheel tax, on Tuesday night, making Madison home to the highest such tax in the state. The mayor said it was a tough decision to make, but a necessary one to help fund the planned bus rapid transit system and close a budget hole.

“I’ll be honest. The first thing that ran through my mind is: It’s going to cost me how much to register my car now?” Ingrid Stark said. Then she had to consider all the cars Union Cab has.

“As a member of Union Cab, it’s, like, well, that’s a lot of $40 fees for a 60-cab fleet,” said Stark, who drove for the company for many years and now works in sales and marketing.

Driving up fees for cab companies

City documents indicate that several types of vehicles, including state-owned vehicles, buses and human service vehicles, which are used to transport those with disabilities and the elderly, are exempt. The exemptions do not appear to include taxicabs.

Now that the wheel tax has passed, Madison taxi companies are preparing to pay $40 several times over for the cabs in their fleets. A few types of vehicles are exempt from the vehicle registration fee, but taxis don’t appear to be one of them. @WISCTV_News3 pic.twitter.com/y6JTsCYmyM

— Madalyn O’Neill (@news3madalyn) October 30, 2019

As part of the regional transportation system, Union Cab workers such as Stark support a rapid transit system.

“That cuts down on traffic downtown,” Stark said. “That’s going to make it easier for all of us.”

Some Union Cab members said they were surprised taxis aren’t exempt and that they wonder if it was an oversight, especially with the taxes and fees the company pays to stay licensed.

“We have all those requirements and a wheel tax is another thing on top of it,” Stark said.

Stark said the wheel tax fee will come out of the company’s profits but likely won’t affect drivers’ wages or user fees just yet.

Representatives from Badger Cab and Madison Taxi also expressed financial concerns with the wheel tax, especially in a time when there is added competition from ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft.

The Mayor’s Office did not immediately respond Wednesday to questions about taxicabs paying the wheel tax.

Drivers on the south side not sold

Standard drivers expressed concern about the approved wheel tax, as well.

A few regulars at the Bridge Lakepoint-Waunona Neighborhood Center on Madison’s south side said they worry that the tax disproportionately affects those of low income.

“I think it’s ridiculous. People are already struggling to make ends meet,” Debbie Marlowe said. “I just think it’s unfair to those who really can’t afford it.”

The bus rapid transit system has goals, including addressing travel inequities for those of color and with low incomes, and plans to add new routes to south side communities. Some who may stand to benefit said they aren’t sure the tax is worth it.

“It’s another financial burden,” neighborhood resident Linda Grant said. “It’s fine to come up with all these ideas but is it really worth it? I don’t know.”

Marlowe said she isn’t confident the rapid transit system would help her.

“It doesn’t give me a lot of faith in the new system when the old system is still broke,” she said.

Some, including neighborhood resident Amy Stoddard, would like to see bus system improvements, but not at this cost.

“I’m not saying it’s not worth it,” Stoddard said. “I’m saying it places an undue burden on people that can’t afford it.”

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