Minneapolis taxi fares are taking a sharp plunge on Sunday. But you'd better call that cab fast because cab drivers and owners are putting pressure on City Hall to limit the drop.

And, in the meantime, keep an eye on the meter, because some may not be reset for new fares.

The industry says it's getting caught in an unforeseen bind because a federal cost-of-living index the city chose last year for automatically adjusting cab rates has taken an unexpected drop.

Cab companies are getting a sympathetic ear from some City Council members. But the council procedurally can't even consider whether to modify the rate for days or even weeks.

The drop will put Minneapolis rates below those of St. Paul. Cabs licensed in Bloomington, where the city allows companies to set their own rates, usually follow Minneapolis rates. But no one there has filed for a lower rate, according to the city.

Meanwhile, some cab riders say they'll ride more often or farther when the rate falls.

The drop on Sunday sounds great to Rachel Lee Joyce, who was planning to visit friends in south Minneapolis that day. She regularly walks to work at the Walker Art Center, rides the bus and calls a cab, but her cab use dropped when rates rose in mid-August. She says she'll ride more often when they drop.

No one thought rates would drop

But Steve Pint is among the cab company officials who are beseeching the city to give owners and drivers some relief from the drop.

"We've been lobbying pretty hard to get our voices heard," he said Thursday. No one imagined rates would fall, said Pint, head of a firm that operates three cab companies.

But that's just what happened when the Midwestern transportation expense index kept by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics plunged. The cost of gasoline is a major factor in the index. It was flirting with $4 a gallon when a rate increase came up for discussion last summer and was a big factor in the council's decision to raise cab rates from $1.90 to $2.35 per mile just before the Republican National Convention. That was the first increase in almost three years.

But gas prices have fallen below $2 per gallon, so the new cab rate will go down to $2 per mile effective Sunday. That's a break of $1.68 on a 5-mile trip.

Cab operators were notified of the fare drop in late January. But while they need to reset their meters to reflect the new rate, many have held off in hopes the council would step in. It's too time-consuming to reset meters on the 102 cabs operated by his companies only to reset them again if the council acts, Pint said.

That means passengers could be overcharged in some cabs. Ricardo Cervantes, the city's deputy director of licensing and consumer services, expressed sympathy for cab operators. But he said the city would react to rider complaints if they're overcharged.

The City Council doesn't meet again until next Friday, and the cab fare ordinance could be changed that day only with a unanimous vote, which appears unlikely. Without such a vote, the council would have to conduct a public hearing before it could act, and the earliest a hearing could be scheduled would be March 11. Then the earliest the council could act would be March 27.

Council Member Paul Ostrow said he sees some merit to the cabbies' case. But the indexing of rates was intended to de-politicize rate increases, and Ostrow said he's worried that if the council intervenes once, it sets up an incentive for the industry to lobby the city in the future. Council President Barbara Johnson agreed.

But if the industry can't moderate rates, rider Joyce offered some consolation for drivers: "When the cab fare is lower, my tips are higher."

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438