After restricting almost half of the operating taxis in Santa Monica, City Council boosted Taxicab numbers by 50 vehicles after hearing a barrage of arguments in favor of hurting taxi drivers.
Council debated major revisions at its Nov. 9 meeting at City Hall in an attempt to maintain equality between businesses and loosen the controversial Taxicab franchise restrictions. The council directed staff to increase vehicle numbers by 50 cabs bringing the overall total to 300 in the entire city. The Council unanimously approved five franchises recommended by staff.
“If [the council is] cutting the amount of cabs in half in Santa Monica, then you are making each cab left doubly productive,” said City Manager Rod Gould.
The Council trimmed the number of cab companies down to five with a total of 250 taxicabs (50 each) back in June 2009. This left 39 companies banned from picking up customers in the city. At Tuesday’s meeting, the council scrutinized the evaluation process for the five chosen companies, as well as regulations on meter rates and franchise fees.
Bell Cab Company, Independent Taxi Owners Association, Metro Cab Company, Taxi Taxi, and Yellow Cab Company are being recommended for franchises in the city. Thirteen qualified proposals were received and evaluated based on the criteria specified in the ordinance. Staff gave preference to local companies, as well as those with skilled management plans.
“No matter where we sliced and diced, no matter what info was there, there would be some people that would go without a franchise,” said Council member Richard Bloom. He noted the remarkable consistency held by the recommended five franchises during the staff evaluations.
Drivers appealed to the dais, attempting to sway numbers even higher with more than 50 people appearing for public comment, exponentially more than any usual council subject.
Council member Gleam Davis and Terry O’Day pushed for more vehicles to maintain numbers in Santa Monica when drivers make long trips to Los Angeles International Airport, Hollywood, and into the east side L.A. Davis focused on promoting larger vans within companies for large families, especially when staff only required specific numbers for fuel-efficient sedan vehicles.
Opening the additional numbers to other companies would require another lengthy process of evaluation and approval by the City, despite Council member Bob Holbrook’s suggestion to open additional vehicles to other cab companies. To waive that process, the council agreed to only add the possibility of 10 extra vehicles for each of the five approved franchises.
Council member Pam O’Connor also suggested a reallocation of vehicles with in the 250 vehicle rule to limit the amount of displaced drivers for larger franchises, specifically Taxi! Taxi! The franchises have spent money hiring displaced drivers and improving fuel-efficient fleets in order to comply with the new rules. A representative from Bell Company claimed each vehicle can cost upwards of $36,000.
“This is affecting people’s livelihoods and we can do better,” said Santa Monica resident Jerry Rubin during the lengthy public comment process on Tuesday. Many drivers that live in Santa Monica pleaded with the City to open more spaces for additional vehicles and companies.
In July 2009, the Council adopted an ordinance replacing the open-entry permitting system regulating taxicab services in Santa Monica with the franchise system. This limits the number of taxicab companies to no more than eight with the total number cabs to 250. Before the restrictions, 44 taxicab services operated in Santa Monica making a total of 463 cabs.
City officials had received complaints regarding taxicabs, such as cruising for business, poor customer service from drivers, confusing and high fees, lack of discounted services for senior and disabled residents, and taxicabs with Santa Monica permits operating illegally as “bandit” taxis in Los Angeles and other cities, according to a staff report. A resident report also listed traffic management as a main concern.
Staff recommended maximum meter rates, which would minimize confusion for the public that often travels between jurisdictions in order to ensure a consistent rate. The first flat rates will start at $2.65 (for 1/9 mile) then charging $2.70 per mile. Flat meter rates to Los Angeles International airport will be set for North of I-10 at $45 or South of I-10 at $35.
Franchisees will be subject to suspension of their taxicab operations or revocation of their franchise if found in violation of City regulations, stipulated a new amendment to proposed regulation. Taxi drivers will also be subject to suspension or revocation of their driver’s permit for violations of the terms and conditions of the franchise ordinance. Numerous violations can be cited as misdemeanors in L.A. Superior Court. There will be two designated City staff positions to manage the taxi franchises in order to ensure compliance with the new rules.
So far no guarantees have been given to the franchises in terms of vehicle increases. Staff will present amendments and changes at the next month’s City Council meeting.