CITY HALL — In a contentious coda to what had already been a process fraught with controversy, the City Council on Tuesday agreed to allow each of the five taxi companies that were awarded franchises to operate additional cabs, with the two Santa Monica-based companies getting a bonus of five cabs each.
The decision came after the council earlier agreed to allow a total of 300 taxis, instead of 250, to pick up fares in the city under its new franchise system, which is set to take effect in the new year and will replace the long-standing open-entry system.
Increasing the cap by 50 cars meant council members were subjected to some intense lobbying in recent days from companies eager to maximize their share of the newly regulated marketplace.
Armed with attorneys and backed by colleagues in the Chamber of Commerce, the two locally-owned companies, Taxi Taxi and Metro Cab, sought preference over their Los Angeles-based competitors, asking the council to give them 25 additional cabs each, citing the City Hall’s “Buy Local” initiative as justification.
Staff members involved in the taxi cab overhaul, though, chose to stay above the fray and recommended an even distribution of 10 additional cabs for each of the five selected companies — a group that also included Bell Cab Co., Independent Taxi Owners Association and Yellow Cab Co.
In a compromise that won a 6-1 vote from the council, with Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis casting the dissenting vote, members decided to give the L.A.-based companies eight additional cabs and the two Santa Monica companies an additional 13 cars each.
Part of the reason for the lobbying effort on the part of the Santa Monica companies was that Taxi Taxi, the biggest local cab company, currently operates 65 cabs and was the only company that was required to scale back under the franchise system.
“I just think that this all comes down to fairness and equality,” said Wendy Radwan, general manager of Taxi Taxi. She urged the council to give here company the right to operate more cabs than the non-Santa Monica companies so that Taxi Taxi wouldn’t have to reduce its fleet.
Her argument resonated with several members of the council, especially Davis and Kevin McKeown, who proposed giving Taxi Taxi permission to operate a total of 75 and 70 cars, respectively.
Those suggestions failed to garner a majority vote and the council eventually coalesced around the compromise position that will give Taxi Taxi and Metro Cab the right to operate 63 cars each.
After the vote, Davis said her decision not to join her colleagues in approving the allocation reflected her “disappointment that we weren’t able to award an actual increase in taxis to a local company.”