Compressed natural-gas cabs now fly 1st class at D/FW Airport, cutting to front of taxi lines

By • on November 6, 2009

Friday, November 6, 2009

By ERIC TORBENSON
The Dallas Morning News

Natural gas-powered taxicabs will be first in line for fares at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport after its board approved a measure designed to improve North Texas’ air quality and reduce dependence on foreign oil.

A natural gas-powered taxi was at Dallas City Hall in August as part of a promotion by T. Boone Pickens.

The new rule was effective immediately. To nearly 80 drivers of gasoline-powered cabs who attended Thursday’s board meeting, the decision was both “un-American” and unfair.

“This hurts our families – it hurts our children,” said Al-fatih A. Ameen, who represented a group of drivers who said that their waits in D/FW’s taxi queue would get longer, and their ability to make a living would suffer.

Ameen said taxi drivers often wait five hours or more to catch a fare at D/FW and average only two or three rides a day.

With compressed natural gas cabs now able to jump to the front of taxi lines, many drivers of traditional taxis said they feared they’d get just one fare a day at the world’s third-busiest airport.

The drivers called the rule unjust and said the group might take legal action against the board.

“We have no other choice,” Ameen said. “We’re not looking for a bailout; we just want fairness.”

D/FW has 2,100 taxis registered to pick up passengers, and about 700 make their primary business waiting at the airport, airport staff told the board.

The airport can handle a maximum of about 800 taxis at one time, and board members said some operators may have to choose whether to remain at the airport.

“It’s a business decision,” said board member Betty Culbreath, adding that she empathized with the economic challenges facing the drivers.

Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, an airport board member, said the region’s air quality barely meets federal standards and if the region’s natural growth pushes North Texas over the limits, its federal highway and transportation money could be lost.

“The worst possible choice we could make here is to do nothing,” said Leppert, who is pushing to convert Dallas’ taxicabs to compressed natural gas and who endorsed the Dallas Area Rapid Transit board’s recent decision to buy 600 buses powered by compressed natural gas.

Higher oil prices also endanger the financial health of D/FW’s primary tenant, Fort Worth-based American Airlines Inc., which flies 85 percent of the airport’s traffic, Leppert said. If just a handful of taxis at the airport use natural gas – sourced from the region’s own Barnett Shale drilling – it would cut foreign oil use, he said.

The group of cabbies complained that only Yellow Cab Co. locally has taxis powered by compressed natural gas at the moment, giving Yellow an unfair advantage. New taxis with the technology cost $38,000 or more; most of the drivers at D/FW are independent operators and say they cannot afford a new cab.

A call to Yellow Cab president Jack Bewley wasn’t returned Thursday.

Airport staff said some other cab companies have expressed interest in buying the new taxis but the total number that will get to the front of the line for now is fewer than 30. The board said it would review the policy in a year and determine whether hybrid cabs and other low-emission cars should get the same status.

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