CITY HALL — A series of changes approved last week by the City Council will give city officials the ability to fine taxi cab drivers, franchisees and the general public for violating rules regarding taxis in Santa Monica.
The item, which appeared on the City Council’s consent agenda, revised both the fines for violating the municipal code and the schedule of fines associated with the Taxicab Rules, a series of regulations created for the taxicab franchise system which was established in 2010.
The changes will cause some fines to go up between four and 10 times the current amount, depending on the circumstance.
It also puts in place fines for new violations recently approved by council, like a penalty levied against doormen at restaurants and hotels for asking for bribes called “cookies” from drivers in return for lucrative fares.
City officials have three ways of policing the taxicab franchises — fines, criminal citations or by taking away the license to drive in the city altogether.
The administrative fines apply to residents and taxi drivers alike, and is considered to be an alternative to criminal prosecution, wrote Salvador Valles, the taxi franchise program coordinator, in an e-mail.
In contrast, Taxicab Rules, and the fines associated, apply only to franchisees and taxicab drivers, not the general public.
Those fines were originally established by the City Council a year ago, but staff sought to change them to keep the fines in line with similar violations in the city code.
The changes associate violations of the rules with “schedules” of penalties used in other portions of the municipal code, which range from A to D and come with charges or suspensions either against the driver or franchise company as a whole.
The goal is to create consistency with the fine amount for similar violations, make it easier to determine the applicable fine and make the amount of fines in line with the nature of the violation, Valles wrote.
That includes some major increases.
According to the staff report, the administrative fine for a taxicab driver who charges more than the amount approved by the City Council will quadruple from $250 to $1,000 to “make it more consistent with other violations that involve serious misconduct by taxicab companies and drivers.”
That’s still far under the penalty for trying to bribe a public official as defined under the Taxicab Rules.
That used to stand at $1,000, and increased to either a monetary fine of between $5,000 and $10,000 or the revocation of the taxi license on a second offense.
The full breakdown of the schedules can be found at smgov.net in the staff report for the Dec. 13 City Council meeting under consent agenda item 3-C.
The franchise system regulated the number of cab companies allowed to operate in Santa Monica, delivering exclusive contracts to Taxi! Taxi!, Metro Cab, Bell Cab, Independent Cab and Yellow Cab.
It went into effect March 1, after facing fierce opposition from taxi companies that did not make it into the franchise.
In return, the cabs accepted restrictions and requirements, like city inspections, specific kinds of insurance and participation of the drivers in a drug testing program.
They also accepted fare limits, which prevent cabbies from raising prices on customers.
The franchises are meant to keep traffic down in Santa Monica, protect consumers from rip-offs, enhance the experience and safety of riding in a cab and help taxi drivers maintain a living wage in an expensive city.