By JOSHUA WOLFSON
Taxicab customers may soon pay a little less to get around Sonora.
The Sonora City Council voted unanimously last night to do away with a flat rate of $5.50 for cab rides within the city.
Instead, $5.50 will be the maximum fare and the two cab companies that operate in the city will have the option of lowering the charge for shorter trips, said Sonora Police Chief Duane Ellis.
Previously, cab riders paid as much for a quick trip as for a trip across town, Ellis said.
"If they just wanted to cross the street, it was $5.50," he said.
Councilman David Sheppard was absent from last night's meeting but previously urged the change. He has argued that flat rates restrict competition.
The rules apply to Gold Country Cab Co. and Courtesy Cab, the only firms now licensed to do business in the city.
Additional changes to the city's rules on taxicabs are to return to the council on Nov. 3. Among them would be language allowing certain kinds of advertising on cabs, said City Administrator Greg Applegate.
Currently the city prohibits advertising on cabs. In a May memo, Sheppard argued the ad ban was "an unlawful restriction on free commerce."
In April, the council voted to raise the flat rate charged by cab companies from $4.25 to $5.50. The council also increased the waiting time charge of 70 cents to $1.70 for every five minutes.
Cab operators requested those rate increases because of rising fuel and operating costs, according to a city document.
Sheppard cast the lone vote against the increases, arguing that the taxi companies should set their rates instead of the city.
Sonora has regulated tax services since 1994. City police inspect cabs twice a year.