CITYWIDE — Andrea Lines just wanted to ride in a cab.

An employee of a local technology company, she was paying for a trip to the Los Angeles International Airport but it still bothered her that the town cars were, by her estimate, 25 percent more expensive than taxis.

Visiting the city by the sea from Europe on business, Lines was staying at the Huntley Hotel and, she said, the concierge kept putting her in a town car.

Sick of paying extra, she called a cab company on her own. When the driver arrived, the Huntley employees questioned him, she said.

“They came outside asking him why he’d pulled up and what business he had there,” she said. “It’s unacceptable that as a visitor I can’t choose.”

Manju Raman, the general manager at the Huntley, said that employees show no preference to town cars and that no kickbacks are being paid by companies to employees.

“Sometimes the guests have a preference and we always let them choose,” she said. “The guests are happy and the taxis are happy. We really haven’t had any complaints.”

The loading zone in front of the hotel is small, she said, so the only reason a cabbie might have been hassled is if he was blocking the thoroughfare.

In 2011, City Council banned drivers from paying bribes, called “cookies,” to doormen for favoring their service. The council later amended the law to include doormen. Bribes ceased for a while but new services like Uber and Lyft, which allow passengers to summon drivers with their smartphones, are causing the problem to flare up again, said a cabbie who’s been working in Santa Monica for five years.

City Code Compliance officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The cab driver, who asked to remain anonymous, described a situation strikingly similar to Lines’.

“If you pull up to the Huntley and they didn’t call you, they’ll give you the third degree,” he said. “These guys are getting paid by the drivers. Our guys don’t even want to take a call from the Huntley because it means they’re only going a few blocks. If you’re going to Long Beach, a nice long ride, they’ll call a town car.”

Like Lines, he described similar problems at the JW Marriott Santa Monica Le Merigot and Le Meridien Delfina Santa Monica.

The Marriott did not respond to calls for comment but Pedro Escobar, a concierge at the Delfina, said the claims are bunk.

“Taxi drivers have a misconception,” he said. “The guests can set up the service with apps on their phones. We give them options but 60 percent use Uber on their own. It’s just what the people want.”

Uber, the cabbie said, is already benefiting from a lack of regulation. They were not included under the system created in 2010 that allowed five companies — Taxi! Taxi!, Metro Cab, Bell Cab, Independent Cab and Yellow Cab — to operate within the city limits. Drivers and their vehicles are vetted regularly under the system but Uber is not, he said.

“So you have these untested drivers charging more for rides in unregulated cars,” he said. “And these guys at the hotel are taking a cut of that extra cost.”

Uber did not respond to request for comment by press time.

Lines said that the costs add up for businesses.

“I wasted an extra $70 in fares over the course of the week,” she said. “And 40 of my colleagues were staying at the Huntley, Marriott, or Delfina. That’s 40 people coming, 40 people going. Think about how much extra money that is.”

 

dave@smdp.com

Print Friendly