File photo

File photo

CITY HALL — Three of the five taxi companies that can pick up passengers in Santa Monica received failing grades in a recent Finance Department report that showed some cab companies did not meet the conditions of the franchise system.

Metro Cab, the Independent Taxi Owners Association and Yellow Cab ranked at the bottom of the pack, scoring between 25.83 and 37.9 percent of the available 120 points and earning a “deficient” rank.

Taxi! Taxi! did better, but still received an “unsatisfactory” on its report card with a grade of 66.25 percent.

Only Bell Cab was considered “Excellent,” with an overall score of 87.5 percent.

Even the report quibbled with that ranking, however, saying that Bell Cab’s high score comes despite a relative lack of presence within the city.

Bell Cab received roughly 15,300 calls for service, and completed just under 13,800 of those, the lowest of any company in the city. Taxi! Taxi!, which ranked second highest in the scoring, received 212,845 orders, or 60 percent of the total market share.

The demand is so great that the company is seeking permission from the council to get extra cars.

Ayman Radwan, the CEO of Taxi! Taxi!, attributes his company’s success to excellent service and easy-to-remember phone numbers that consist of a local area code followed by seven repetitions of a single digit.

The company is also working on a phone app, he said.

“We didn’t just get the franchise to get the license, we did it to serve Santa Monica,” Radwan said.

Bell Cab has shown its mettle both in Santa Monica and Los Angeles, where it snagged a top spot in that city’s rankings 11 years running, said Michael Kalin, general manager with the company.

The numbers demonstrate that cab availability hasn’t been a problem either, he said.

“If you look at our response times, obviously we have enough equipment out there,” Kalin said.

If Bell cabs aren’t making appearances at the taxi stands as often as other cars, it’s more to do with other companies not following the rules of the stand, which dictate that no single outfit can dominate any particular stand at a given time, he said.

The companies received points based on service rendered within Santa Monica and their ability to stick to the rules of the taxi franchise system, a set of regulations adopted by the City Council in 2010 that allowed only those five companies to pick up passengers in Santa Monica and held the total number of cabs allowed in the city to 300.

In return, the companies must pay a franchise fee and adhere to strict guidelines about how much they charge for rides, driver behavior and documentation and undergo regular safety inspections.

Just over half of the points allotted rank the service that the companies provide, with the most weight going to how quickly the cabbie responded to the call and whether or not they participated in Dial-A-Ride, a program that provides rides to seniors and the disabled.

Lesser emphasis was put on how long customers spend on hold and how quickly an operator picks up when they call.

Yellow Cab was called out in the report for its lack of responsiveness. That company managed to get a car to a caller within 15 minutes, 55 percent of the time, far below the other companies which ranged between a low of 89.4 percent for Metro Cab and a high of 96.8 percent by Independent Taxi Owners Association.

Yellow Cab is the only company in which all of its cabs have permits to pick up customers in both Santa Monica and Los Angeles. That gives them the ability to hunt down the highest fares and avoid one-way trips without passengers, but cuts down on the time that those cabs are in Santa Monica, the report notes.

“By comparison, this same company responds to calls within 15 minutes for its three Los Angeles service areas between 81.35 percent to 84.83 percent of the time,” the report notes.

Yellow Cab did not respond to a request for comment by presstime.

Compliance with franchise rules stung several of the companies, particularly the Independent Taxi Owners Association, which did not submit reports or payments on time and expired documents on 20 of its drivers.

Over 10 percent of the company’s cars also failed inspection on the first try, landing it with the lowest compliance score.

While Yellow Cab and Independent Taxi Owners Association struggled, it was Metro Cab that came in dead last.

The company received negative points for its compliance score, and suffered a major setback at the beginning of the year when two of its employees got in a tussle during working hours, according to the report.

Those problems ended when the franchise was taken over by All Yellow Taxi, which continues to do business as Metro Cab.

“There was a whole change of ownership and a whole change of philosophy,” said Don Burris, the attorney representing Metro Cab. “It’s a completely different company in every respect.”

The report itself notes that there have been no violations since July, when All Yellow Taxi took over for the original owners.

City Hall may be in the position to hand out grades, but the taxi companies have their own evaluations of the situation.

Taxi! Taxi! asked for another 37 cabs to keep up with demand — the company completes 60 percent of the trips dispatched in Santa Monica and believes that more cabs would help it keep up with the number of calls it receives.

Other companies get behind the concept to varying degrees, with Bell Cab holding the position that it would make it harder for cab drivers to make a living, while others are willing to try it out assuming new cars are distributed equitably.

One major concern remains competition of another kind.

The City Council approved regulations for pedicabs in April, which will provide more competition for the cabs on top of the presence of technology company Uber, which provides an electronic hailing service for private cars.

Unlike taxi cabs, that company is almost entirely unregulated by City Hall because it falls under the purview of the state.

“We have a contract with the city called a franchise agreement. We pay high franchise fees,” Kalin said. “We obey all the rules, but the city is not doing anything to protect our exclusive rights, to protect the taxi cabs.”

 

ashley@smdp.com

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