Taxi drivers and luxury limousine operators locked fenders at a Salt Lake City Council meeting Tuesday over a proposed ordinance permitting limousines to offer on-demand service at Salt Lake City International Airport.

Commercial limousine operators, who only recently have appeared on Salt Lake streets, say they provide a luxury service many travelers want. Meanwhile, taxi cab drivers complain the loosely regulated limos represent unfair competition.The ordinance, which the council referred to committee at its first 1989 meeting Tuesday night, only formalizes limousine practices that have long existed at the airport, airport officials said.

It permits limousines, defined as luxury vehicles with a specific wheel base and driven by a driver dressed in formal chauffeur attire, to offer on-demand service by waiting like regular taxis outside the airport.

Operators of the some twenty local limousine services say they operate frequently on an appointment-only basis and cater to clients willing to pay an average of $50 per plush ride into downtown Salt Lake City.

"I don't really see how the limousines are competing with the cabbies," Steve Nielsen, manager of Bonneville Limousine told the council.

But cabbies complained that some limo drivers take as many as six passengers into downtown Salt Lake City for $17.50 - less than $3 per person. Cab drivers are forced by city ordinance to charge fares of about $10 for a similar distance, however.

"I think it's very unfair," said taxi driver Don Barren. "I took 13 bucks home for 12 hours work on a busy night (during the recent holiday period)."

Cabbies must adhere to set rates established by city ordinance, and taxi companies are restricted to licensing only limited numbers of taxis. Limos also must also be licensed but do not have to adhere to fares established by law.

Limousine operators instead propose rates to the state's Public Service Commission which approves them if they cover an operator's costs and provide fair profits, said R. William Habel, of the PSC's regulated carrier section.

Habel was unsure of the lowest limousine rates approved by the PSC but said theoretically limo rates could be approved even if they were lower than taxi rates established by law.

The city and the state share jurisdiction over licensing limousines. "There may be a jurisdictional battle," Habel said after the council voted to ask city staff to study the regulatory differences between taxis and limousines.

"My concern is that limousines not be allowed to operate as taxis but remain luxury services," said Councilwoman Florence Bittner, who moved to study the issue of limos intruding into taxi service.

Meanwhile, Airport Director Louis Miller said the Airport Authority would examine the practice of using "starters," employees of ground transportation companies, to direct clients to vans, taxis or limousine services.

Some cabbies complained starters were too aggressive in trying to sell their services. "It's like a marketplace where everyone is trying to sell something for a cheaper price - it's rude sometimes," said cabbie Louise Ready.

A solution to what one cabbie labeled "lying and cheating" among starters could rest in a recently installed computer at the airport that displays transportation alternatives and the cost of each - potentiallly alleviating a need for starters altogether, Miller said.