Anyone who has spent time in Downtown has seen cab drivers roaming the blocks, desperately seeking their next fare. The alley just east of the Third Street Promenade, between Santa Monica Boulevard and Arizona Avenue, is a favorite passageway for taxis as drivers roll slowly through, most parking illegally at either end, waiting as long as they can before someone pulls up behind them and honks angrily, wanting to pass.
This waiting game is a symptom of having an estimated 412 cabs in a city of just 8.3 square miles, where the majority of residents drive, ride bikes, walk or take the bus.
Taxi companies are necessary, especially in a city by the sea that attracts millions of visitors a year. That said, too many cabs contribute to traffic congestion, air pollution and conflicting fares that can ruin a pleasant excursion.
Something needs to be done to better regulate taxi companies and City Hall has a game plan in hand thanks to a report from Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates. The report, requested by the City Council, suggests City Hall regulate the number of taxicabs in town and the number of companies who operate in it, setting minimum standards for operations to improve service, and requiring low-emission vehicles.
The Daily Press supports these recommendations. City officials need to end open-entry regulation, which has failed, and move forward with a plan to allow only a handful of companies with low-emission vehicles to operate within the city limits.
The Daily Press believes Santa Monica can be served well by three local companies that transport people around town only, and two county-wide companies that will take passengers to Downtown L.A., Beverly Hills or the Valley, as well as LAX and Long Beach. That way the elderly running errands during the day and the drunks at night will have a ride home, as will tourists and business executives who need to see the sights or catch a lunch meeting.
Because Santa Monica has 18 one-cab companies, and 65 companies with two to five cabs, competition is fierce, forcing some drivers to charge more than those in neighboring cities, with the average fare being 34 percent higher than other areas for a five-mile trip. It is estimated that Santa Monica cabbies make only about $24,000 a year working six days a week. This is not fair to the drivers and the customers who pay more. By allowing established companies with centralized dispatching, driver training/discipline, marketing budgets and insurance, we can ensure safety, equitable rates and decent pay so that everyone wins.
The total number of cabs in town would drop from over 400 to around 200, which seems adequate. City Hall could issue temporary permits for specific holidays when people tend to need cabs, such as New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July.
To pay for regulation, cab companies awarded a permit would pay a franchise fee to cover city staff costs. City staff would monitor customer complaints and force companies to fire drivers who repeatedly violate traffic laws. Those companies that prove they can follow the rules and provide excellent customer service could expand their fleets as a way of rewarding them for a job well done.
Franchises could be awarded for five years with two, one-year extensions. At the end of each five-year term, a comprehensive review would be completed to determine if the company is following the guidelines and if more cabs should be allowed.
For a city that prides itself on sustainability, we need to have a cab system that protects the environment, the drivers and passengers for many years to come.