CITY HALL — The City Council won’t finalize its plan to overhaul Santa Monica’s taxi cab permitting system until this fall, but cab companies are already raising concerns about the level of transparency in City Hall’s proposal to greatly reduce the number of cabs and cab companies in town.

The proposal would award franchises to a maximum of eight cab companies that would operate at most 250 cabs. Currently 44 companies are licensed to operate 463 cabs in the city.

City Hall staff has identified five companies recommended to receive the franchises out of 13 applicants. A committee said the five recommended companies had submitted the best proposals but didn’t provide a detailed justification for its selections, sparking criticism from some applicants.

“It’s just really not a transparent process. And it should be because the stakes here in this taxi game are really high,” said Bill Gray, manager of Santa Monica Community Cab, which was left off the list of recommended cab operators. “There are companies that are being put out of business.”

Gray’s company is based in Santa Ana and operates the largest cab company in Orange County, he said. He said he’s no longer interested in a Santa Monica franchise, but said he believes the city’s process for selecting cab operators was flawed.

“It seemed like they just subjectively picked them and that’s really disturbing,” he said.

Santa Monica’s cab selection committee evaluated proposals based on 10 criteria that included financial viability, environmental friendliness, experience and operator’s character. The companies were judged in each category, but neither the score sheets nor the companies’ total scores have been made public.

“In all fairness, especially to the people that lost the bid, they should release [the scores],” Gray said. “Why wouldn’t they?”

The Daily Press requested the score sheets on Thursday and by deadline had not received them. The City Attorney’s Office said the decision about whether to release the information was under review.

Meanwhile, it’s not just companies that lost out during the selection process that support a higher level of transparency.

Wendy Radwan, general manager of Taxi Taxi, one of the companies that was recommended for a franchise, said it would “validate” the process if the city released the scores that each company received.

The other recommended companies are: Bell Cab Co., Independent Taxi Owners Association, Metro Cab Co. and Yellow Cab Co.

City Hall officials have defended their decision to keep the selection committee’s work private, saying it’s a standard practice in the “request for proposal” process to release only staff’s recommendations, and not staff’s detailed rational.

The City Council has final authority to decide which cab companies will receive franchises and how many cabs each one should be allowed to operate. The council is expected to make its decision in September, with the new system slated to take effect Jan. 1.

While cities have diverse practices for evaluating proposals, some have taken a more open approach to awarding taxi cab franchises.

When Los Angeles awarded cab franchises in 2000, for instance, the city released a list of scores that each applicant received, said Tom Drischler, L.A.’s taxi cab administrator.

Each applicant for the nine available franchises was evaluated in five categories, and each company’s total score was made public.

“That’s the way we chose to do it in those days,” Drischler said. “There’s no guarantee that if we go through this process again that’s how we’ll do it this time.”

He said however Santa Monica awards franchises, the fact that the city is reforming its taxi regulation system is welcomed news. He said there are far too many cabs in the city and estimated at least 500 Santa Monica cab drivers have been arrested in the past 10 years for illegally picking up fares in Los Angeles.

In West Hollywood, Parking Operations Manager Jackie Rocco said when the city last awarded taxi franchises companies that received a score of 80 percent or better in the bid evaluation process were recommended by staff for approval. But the city didn’t provide detailed information about how each applicant scored, she said.

“You really don’t serve any public interest doing that,” she said. “Some companies don’t make the cut, and they’re just not selected.”

nickt@www.smdp.com

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