Yellow Alert

The cost of a cab might go up with the gas.

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Yellow Alert

The cost of a cab might go up with the gas.

By Alexander Zaitchik

If you think rising gas prices have hit you hard in the wallet, imagine if your job was to drive around in circles all day.

Miami's cabbies make their living sitting in traffic, and they have seen their incomes drop steeply in direct proportion to escalating fuel costs. Compounding the problem is a sluggish national economy, which brings fewer taxi-hailing tourists to town.

"I've never seen it this bad," says Jesus Beltran, a cabby from Colombia standing outside Las Olas Café in South Beach. "After paying for the lease and filling the tank, sometimes there's nothing left over at the end of a 12- or 14-hour shift."

Cabbies have been barking for a year about their bum luck at the pump. Last Tuesday, county commissioners finally got around to approving a one-dollar surcharge on taxi rides to help offset mounting gas prices. Mayor Carlos Alvarez has until June 13 to sign the ordinance, after which every cab trip will cost an extra dollar — before the meter even starts.

By 2009, the surcharge could reach $2.50. In approving the measure, Miami is catching up with other cities such as Chicago, which implemented a surcharge in May. But some cabbies say it's too little, too late.

"The [surcharge] should be at least two dollars," says Jorge Angulo, a veteran cabby from Peru. "And the flat rate from the airport is still $32. It should be $38, minimum. They haven't raised it since after 9/11. It's not enough."

Others say the situation is so bad that even a $38 ride from the airport wouldn't be enough to offset gas prices and the drop in tourism.

"The airport is the important ride of our day," says Antonio Santana, a 44-year-old cabby from Brazil. "It should be $48, with gas prices going up like this."

"The gas surcharge is a band-aid," says Diego Feliciano, president of the South Florida Taxi Cab Association, a group representing taxi owners, management companies, and drivers. "But the surcharge will help cabbies. That was the intention. Everyone recognizes the desperate need."

The desperate need has led some drivers to get creative. Santana says cabbies are lying to tourists about the cost of a ride to and from the airport. "When people find out they got ripped off, they're not happy," he says. "In the long-term, it's bad for tourism and bad for the city."

No matter how county commissioners adjust rates, they have no influence over the main out-of-pocket expense for cabbies: the leases on their vehicles. In the past, taxi management companies have met increases in meter rates with increases in weekly or monthly lease rates.

"Yellow Cab is the biggest cab company in town — and the biggest mafia," says one driver who declined to give his name. "They don't care that we [are] not making enough."

Most cabbies agree that labor organization is key to getting a better deal. But there is high demand for a limited number of official cabs — currently 2,000 — and competition is fierce. So for most drivers, the pain threshold is high. The extreme diversity of the cabby workforce also complicates efforts to organize.

"We all come from different countries and don't always [get along]," says Santana. "A lot of us were so poor before we came to America that no matter how hard it gets here, we don't want to make trouble. The Haitians remember the alternative. Unions are not part of their thinking."

Occasionally Miami's cabbies do organize in defense of their interests. South Beach-based drivers especially have a reputation for ad hoc resistance.

"A couple of years ago, there was [a] city inspector who wasn't being fair to the drivers," remembers one cabby who declined to give his name. "He was corrupt and issued too many bullshit violations. So some drivers got together and slashed his tires. He got the message."


Changing Tide

Estefano's Priest Has a Past

Looking for ties to a 1983 murder.

By Tamara Lush

A bizarre 25-year-old murder case might hold clues for prosecutors investigating the 2007 shooting of Latin music producer Fabio "Estefano" Salgado. Estefano was shot in the chest and head in the kitchen of his $5 million Venetian Islands home ("Pray First, Shoot Later," May 8). He survived, and his handyman, Francisco Oliveira, was charged with the crime.

But Estefano later claimed Oliveira didn't act alone. He said his former business manager, José Luis Gil, and members of his Santería temple, led by Andres Suarez, stole millions from him and wanted him dead.

The prosecutors want to know whether the duo was involved in the shooting. Their latest lead: Suarez's apparent ties to both the 2007 assault and the February 26, 1983 murder of a botanica owner named José Luis Delgado at 3075 NW 23rd Ave.

Seven months after Delgado was gunned down, Suarez, then a 31-year-old Santería priest from Cuba, was arrested on second-degree murder charges. According to a 19-page police report, he claimed to be in New Orleans at the time of the shooting. It's unclear exactly what happened next; no record of the case exists in Miami-Dade criminal court records. It's possible prosecutors never formally charged Suarez.

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