Arlington taxi companies may get fee relief amid steep drop in riders

Red Top cabs in 2013 (file photo)

Arlington County may drop an annual fee for taxi companies.

The county currently charges $150 for an annual cab certificate renewal. With 441 taxicabs currently operating in Arlington, the fee would generate about $66,000 in annual revenue for the county.

But Arlington’s six cab companies say they’re struggling to survive and want relief from the fee. The County Board will consider a county staff proposal to eliminate the fee altogether at its meeting this coming Saturday.

“In advance of the County’s annual certificate fee due February 1, Crown, Hess, Friendly, Red Top, Arlington Yellow, and Blue Top Cab
companies have requested reducing the yearly certificate renewal fee,” a staff report says. “After a thorough discussion with taxicab companies during the Transportation Commission meeting on February 29, 2024, staff advise eliminating the annual fee.”

A pandemic-era emergency ordinance temporarily reduced the fee over the past three years, including eliminating it for the 39 wheelchair-accessible cabs currently operating in Arlington.

Taxicabs and certificate fees by company (via Arlington County)

The staff report notes that use of taxis in Arlington has plunged over the past few years.

“The business remains below pre-pandemic levels with ridership only minimally recovered,” the report says. “Smaller taxicab companies,
defined as those with fewer than 50 vehicles and lacking a robust dispatch system, have disclosed to staff a drop of over 50 percent in ridership from 2019 to 2023. Red Top and Blue Top have reported a drop in business of approximately 70 percent for street pickups and 55 percent for dispatch pickup trips for the same time frame.”

“Due to these trends, if relief is not provided, taxicab companies may continue to reduce the number of vehicles, including accessible vehicles, available to the traveling public,” the report continues.

A decade ago cab companies were still pushing for Arlington to issue more taxi licenses, to put more cabs on the streets. That started to change as app-based ride services like Uber and Lyft started taking market share away from traditional cab dispatches.

Total cab dispatches in Arlington dropped from 2.6 million trips to 1.7 million trips annually between 2013 and 2015. That prompted Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz to recommend against adding new taxi certificates in 2016, at a time when 847 were approved — almost 4 for every 1,000 residents.

A request to advertise the elimination of the annual taxi certificate fee is scheduled to be considered on Saturday. It’s on the Board’s consent agenda, intended for non-controversial items that are approved as a block.