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Taxi cabs line Santa Monica Boulevard on Thursday afternoon. The City Council on Tuesday decided not to freeze the issuance of new permits to cab drivers while it develops the new rules to better regulate cab companies. Santa Monica has roughly 450 cabs or 4.9 per 1,000 residents, second only to West Hollywood. (photo by Brandon Wise)

CITY HALL — Facing the likelihood that he will one day have to apply for a franchise agreement to remain in Santa Monica, cab company owner Faud Sanch went into proactive mode.

Learning that city officials were drafting stronger laws to control the overabundance of local taxis, including possibly setting a minimum fleet size, the owner of Metro Cab Co. recently purchased 15 alternative energy vehicles to increase the overall collection to 25, a number mention in a city staff report.

So it came as a concern to Faud when he recently learned that city officials were considering adopting an ordinance that would freeze the issuance of new permits to cab drivers while it develops the new regulations.

Sanch was among the cab company owners who protested the proposed moratorium on new taxi cab licenses and permits at the City Council meeting on Tuesday, testifying that there would be hardship on their operations.

“We were under the impression that you would give us some time to grow and improve our cars,” Sanch said.

With the proposed regulations set to come before the council in the next six weeks, officials declined to institute the moratorium and instead directed its staff to move quickly in coming back with a new law.

The moratorium was suggested to control the growing number of taxis in Santa Monica where 50 new cabs have been registered since the matter was addressed by the council in mid-February, making Santa Monica home to more taxis per person than any other city in the region aside from West Hollywood.

“In the interim we’ve had an explosion of taxi licenses in the city,” Deputy City Manager Elaine Polachek said. “The number keeps growing.”

With the high turnover in the cab industry in which drivers earn an average $24,000 a year for working six days a week, some company owners were concerned that the moratorium would not allow them to replace staff.

The proposed freeze would have affected two areas — business licensing for the company and police permits for the individual drivers, the latter of which seemed to draw the greatest concern from cab owners.

“This would put an enormous financial burden on our company and all the companies that operate in Santa Monica because we simply cannot operate without drivers,” Wendy Radwan, the director of client and public relations for Taxi Taxi, said. “It is not a matter of adding drivers on the road but replacing drivers in vehicles that are essential to our daily operations.”

The new franchise system would increase competition and cut down on the number of taxis operating in the city, a figure that now stands at 454. City Hall currently runs an open-entry system in which all operators who meet insurance and other basic requirements are allowed to conduct business, resulting in an excessive amount of cabs and issues concerning driver behavior, parking and traffic, according to a study by Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates on the local taxi situation.

Conducted last year, the study made several suggestions to resolve the current climate, including requiring companies have a minimum fleet size of 25 cabs, training for all drivers, a centralized dispatching system and that cabs meet environmental standards by the California Air Resources Board for super ultra-low emission vehicles.

Council initially considered instituting a freeze only on business licenses and allowing new drivers on a one-to-one turnover ratio, but opted for the status quo. Several companies also expressed concerns that the moratorium would affect their ability to add cars that they recently purchased.

“I just got a hybrid from a dealer and making payments and now you tell me my company is going to stop working after I’ve been here since ‘89?” Sanch said.

The proposed regulations come after officials decided to evaluate whether cabs should be franchised and air quality performance standards established to use as a requirement for receiving licenses, commissioning a study, which found that the city has the second highest ratio of taxis per population in the area with 4.9 cabs per 1,000 residents.

With the proposed regulations expected to be presented in the spring, councilmembers said they could wait without imposing a moratorium.

“Six weeks seems to be a reasonable period of time that this (moratorium) could stand in place and people could wait but there’s a financial impact that the longer the time, the greater the financial impact is on these companies,” Councilmember Richard Bloom said. “Particularly in this economic climate, we need to be very cognizant about that.”

melodyh@smdp.com

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