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New Rules For Bethel Taxis Bring Kusko Cab Back On The Road

A Kusko Cab waits for customers outside of the AC Store in Bethel, Alaska on April 1, 2020.
Katie Basile

The City of Bethel has made big changes in how taxis operate to protect both cab drivers and passengers from the spread of COVID-19. In new guidelines established April 1, passengers are now banned from sitting in the front seat next to the driver. And with support from Kusko Cab and Alaska Cab, the city is temporarily eliminating the shared ride system.

If you call a cab, you will have the car to yourself and the group you called the taxi with. The driver will not pick up additional passengers along your group’s route. 

The fee structure has also changed. Cab rides will now cost $5, plus $1 per minute. The fare will be the same whether there are one or multiple passengers in a group, and the timer for the ride will begin when the passengers tell the driver their destination. Kusko Cab co-owner Naim Shabani and Alaska Cab co-owner Choon Chung both said that they would instruct their drivers to side with the passenger if there is a dispute of a minute or two. Shabani and Chung said that cab drivers will use a watch or their phone to count the minutes, and passengers are encouraged to audit.

The taxi companies also agreed to stiffen sanitization policies. Shabani didn't think it would be difficult to enforce the new sanitation regime.

“These are guidelines that one would practice without there being guidelines,” Shabani said.

Drivers will clean high-contact surfaces, like door handles, after every trip. Drivers will use hand sanitizer after monetary transactions, and have sanitizer and wipes available for passengers to use. The cab company owners mentioned that those supplies are difficult to obtain in Bethel. Acting City Manager Bill Howell said that he has requested sanitation supplies from the state, and will disperse those to the taxi companies when they arrive.

Taxis will not transport patients who display symptoms of illness, and drivers will not work if they themselves are sick. Also, the ride may be a bit cooler because taxi windows will remain open when possible. 

Shabani said that these policies, especially banning front seat passengers, make it safe enough for his drivers to get back on the road. On March 20, Shabani shut down Kusko Cab to prevent the spread of COVID-19. He said that most drivers, excluding the elderly, would be back on the road by the end of the day on April 1.

Acting City Manager Howell enacted these guidelines April 1, and they will be in effect until April 30. He made these changes with powers he has under the emergency ordinance passed March 24, but he says that enforcing them will be easier since the city has buy-in from the cab companies. All three Bethel cab companies, Alaska Cab, Kusko Cab, and Camai Cab, helped draft the new guidelines.


Greg Kim is a news reporter for KYUK covering environment, health, education, public safety, culture and subsistence. He's covered everything from Newtok's relocation due to climate change-fueled erosion to the Bethel chicken massacre of 2020.