CITY HALL — A proposal to bar all but five of 44 licensed taxi cab companies from operating in Santa Monica and reduce the total number of cabs allowed in the city by nearly half could get the City Council’s approval on Tuesday, part of a plan that City Hall officials say will improve the quality of taxi service and cut down on auto emissions.
The council approved the framework for the taxi cab overhaul last July, deciding a “franchise” system where at most eight cab companies would be given permission to operate in the city was preferable to the open-entry permitting system, which officials said had brought too many cabs into the market.
Under the new system, a maximum of 250 cabs would be permitted, down from the 463 that are currently authorized to pick up fares in Santa Monica.
The council is set to decide on Tuesday which companies will be allowed to continue operating, following the release this week of City Hall’s list of recommended cab operators.
While the council has final authority on which companies should be awarded franchises, the recommendation was highly anticipated among taxi cab operators.
Out of 13 companies that applied for a franchise, City Hall has recommended allowing five companies to operate in Santa Monica. The companies are: Bell Cab Co., Independent Taxi Owners Association, Metro Cab Co., Taxi Taxi and Yellow Cab Co.
Under the recommendation, which was made by a committee composed of City Hall staff from finance, police and community and cultural services, a Bayside District Corp. staff person and a representative from the city of Los Angeles, each company would be permitted to operate 50 cabs.
Not everyone was pleased with the committee’s work.
Craig Smedman, vice president and general manager of Euro Taxi, which was left off the list, said he plans to urge members of the City Council to reject the recommendation.
As a Santa Monica-based cab company that operates exclusively in the city, he said his company would be forced out of business if the recommendation is adopted.
“It’s unbelievable that they would choose L.A.-based taxi companies over an experienced, quality local company such as Euro,” he said.
Of the five recommended companies, Taxi Taxi and Metro Cab are based in Santa Monica. The other three recommended companies are L.A.-based.
Don Patterson, Santa Monica’s business and revenue operations manager, defended the selection process as fair.
“We had a very extensive review process and we evaluated each proposal based on the criteria that was outlined in the [request for proposals],” he said. “The ones that are recommended are the ones whose proposals were the best.”
While local operators were given preference, he said a company’s place of business was one of 10 evaluation criteria. Other criteria included financial viability, experience, operator’s character (including litigation history), quality of dispatch and communication system, and vehicle quality (including number of low-emission vehicles).
“The firms that are recommended are the ones that scored best overall,” Patterson said.
In accordance with City Hall protocol, the scores that each company received in the evaluation were not included as part of the committee’s recommendation to the City Council.
On Thursday, even companies that made the cut had their complaints.
Wendy Radwan, general manager of Taxi Taxi, said she was “absolutely thrilled” her company was recommended to receive a franchise award, but added the recommended 50-cab limit would require her business to reduce its fleet of 65 cars.
“The one drawback is that we are going to be made to down-size our current operation and we won’t have any room for future growth,” she said.
A Santa Monica company for 20 years, Taxi Taxi is the only company to apply for a franchise that operates more than 50 cars in the city.
“I don’t think a locally born-and-bred company should be penalized for their success given this catastrophic economic climate,” Radwan said.
Another local company, Metro Cab, had asked to operate 100 cars, which CEO Ashraf Alkishawi said would have allowed him to partner with many of the smaller taxi operators in Santa Monica who are being displaced by the new franchise rules.
Overall, though, he said he was “very pleased with the outcome” of the City Hall committee’s process.
Patterson said the recommendation to award each cab company the same number of cars was the committee’s attempt to create “the most fair, competitive environment for everybody.”
The new taxi cab rules could take effect by September.