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Santa Monica Curbs Cabs

By Jorge Casuso

July 2, 2009 -- The number of taxicabs operating in Santa Monica will be slashed by more than half under a new law the City Council approved Tuesday that establishes taxi franchises in a popular destination with no current limits on cabs.

Currently, 522 cabs operated by 55 cab companies are licensed to operate in the beachside city of 91,000 residents, more cabs per capita than anywhere else in Los Angeles, according to City officials.

Under the law approved unanimously by the council, the City would grant franchises to only those companies with at least 25 cabs and cap the total number of cabs at 250. That would limit the number of companies that would qualify to eight, although smaller companies can band together to form a franchise.

To qualify, franchised companies must have a centralized dispatching system, hire trained drivers who are proficient in English and maintain newer fleets. Preference will be given to companies that are locally based, have fuel-efficient fleets and offer vouchers to seniors and the disabled.

"This has really been a long time coming," said Council member Richard Bloom. The ordinance, he said, will help the City meet its sustainability goals, while “reducing the amount of chaos on city streets (that will) improve traffic congestion.”

The new law is expected to improve cab service in a City where taxi rates are erratic, drivers are poorly paid and often nasty and far too many cabs, some of them old, are polluting and clogging the city's streets.

The new law requires that companies “provide training to their drivers on City requirements, company procedures, defensive driving, map reading, local geography, customer relations, personal hygiene, security and public safety, and non-discrimination in the treatment of customers based on age, disability, ethnicity and gender,” staff wrote in its report.

The law also is expected to boost salaries for drivers, who currently earn an average of about $24,000 a year, a concern the council expressed during deliberations.

The abundance of cabs in Santa Monica had been worrying Los Angeles officials, who, two years ago, complained that taxicabs with Santa Monica permits were “the single highest source of ‘bandit’ cabs found to be operating illegally in Los Angeles,” staff said.

Santa Monica cabs did not meet L.A.’s stricter standards for vehicles, drivers and cab companies, LA officials told the City. The trend has continued, they told the council Tuesday.

“A lot of Santa Monica cabs are coming to LA because there isn’t enough business in Santa Monica,” said Tom Drischler, LA’s taxi cab administrator.

Los Angeles, which has nearly 4 million residents, has 2,300 licensed cabs, or about ten times the ratio of Santa Monica.

In addition to restricting the number of cabs licensed to operate in the City and setting standards for drivers and their cabs, the ordinance also establishes “a single metered fare rate equivalent to the prevailing fare set by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation,” staff said.

“Despite heavy competition, taxis in Santa Monica mostly charge higher rates than taxis in other nearby cities,” staff wrote.

Under the ordinance, there will be two flat rates for trips to LAX -- one for trips originating north of the I-10 freeway and one for trips south of the I-10 freeway.

The ordinance also establishes annual franchise, vehicle permit and driver permit fees to cover all City costs of administering the franchises.




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