Doormen at some of Santa Monica’s ritziest hotels will continue to pressure cab drivers into paying them bribes or “cookies” in exchange for more lucrative fares until hotel managers and City Hall start enforcing the law which makes the long-standing practice illegal.

To do so, the Santa Monica Police Department needs to step up enforcement and the City Council must add to the new taxi franchise system a section that also holds hotels responsible if a doorman or any other employee solicits a bribe. Currently, the system does not mention any financial penalties for those soliciting or accepting a bribe. Only the taxi drivers and the companies they work for are penalized. For cabbies, the penalties are severe and if caught, those who spoke with the Daily Press said they would be fired. The five franchise companies are not going to tolerate anyone getting caught giving cookies, the drivers said, because the penalty includes a $2,5000 fine and could lead to revocation of the franchise license. Losing a license to operate in the city could cripple some companies.

One of the goals in creating the franchise system, which limited the number of cabs that can operate in the city to 300, was to create a more even playing field for drivers by doing away with exclusive agreements between cab companies and hotels, restaurants and other businesses, and in turn help the drivers make more money. With less competition and more equality, drivers believe they can make enough money to feed their families, but only if they are not forced to hand over 10 percent of their fares to doormen or others trying to shake them down.

Paying cookies was common in the taxi cab business and few seemed to have a problem with it, that is, until the council made it illegal. Since the council decided to step in and regulate this industry, it’s their responsibility to ensure fairness. It’s time to hold everyone accountable and not just the hard-working cabbies. The hotels bring in a lot of revenue for the city, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be held accountable for the actions of their employees.

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