Some Santa Monica taxi drivers are refusing to pick up a new city rule that caps the number of cabs allowed to line up in stands such as those outside downtown hotels.
Though code enforcement has yet to levy any fines on drivers who violate the new rule—penalties start at $300—that should be changing in the next couple weeks or so, a city official said.
The new rule stipulates that only one cab from each of the five franchised companies in the city can be in a queue at a taxi stand at a time if there are cabs from other companies waiting to join the queue.
"The rule is ridiculous," said Denise Bonfilio, who started driving for Metro Cab in late December.
The new regulation is part of major changes for taxi companies that were voted in by the city council last December along with a controversial franchising program and put into effect at the beginning of the year.
But drivers such as Bonfilio and Richard Rose, who has been driving for Metro for six weeks, said that spaces in the stands should be available on a first come, first served basis—no matter how many cars from the same company are there.
Under the new rule, if two cars from Metro Cab are waiting in a queue at the stand on Ocean Boulevard and a cab from Bell pulls up, then one of the Metro Cabs must go elsewhere in the city to find the next fare.
"It's always been first come, first served and all of us cab companies respect that," Rose said.
That hasn't always necessarily been in the case, at least as it concerns taxi stands outside hotels.
In 2008, the city commissioned a study that found some hotels held contracts with specific taxi companies. Some of the larger companies paid hotel management for the exclusive right to serve their guests.
More established companies said they had established good reputations and had earned to right make the agreements, but independent drivers said the contracts unfairly limited their access to a lucrative market. They believed the city should prohibit them.
The report ultimately concluded that there was enough evidence for Santa Monica to start regulating the industry. "Santa Monica has an excess supply of cabs, especially at taxi stands... downtown taxi stands are consistently full and some have limited turnover. In other words, cabs wait there for long periods before getting any business," the report stated.
Before the changes took effect, Santa Monica was reported to have more cabs per capita than any other municipality in Los Angeles. There were about 500 cabs operating in the city, many charging whatever they could get.
In 2010, city officials began taking the steps to contract with the five different companies allowing them exclusive rights to operate in the city and disallowing such practices as drivers giving gifts to doormen so that their cab would be called first, according to Don Patterson, the city's assistant director-finance.
The franchise program went into effect on March 1 of 2011. There are now five companies operating taxi franchises in the city: Metro Cab, Yellow Cab, Taxi! Taxi!, Bell and the Independent Taxi Owners Association (IOTA).
Sal Valles oversees the five taxi franchises for the city of Santa Monica. He said that despite the rule changes, some companies continue to hog the queues. With officials gearing up to start levying fines, he surmised that those drivers will have to start looking elsewhere for riders.
"What we've experienced is that some of the companies are very aggressive," he said. "We're trying to educate some of the drivers with some of the changes. Code Enforcement has been monitoring the [taxi] stands and helping them to understand what they need to do."
Sandy Clair, a driver for Taxi Taxi, said that while not all of the drivers appreciated the reduced rates that the city standardized to match the rates for the City of Los Angeles, most appreciated the changes, since the number of cabs were limited to 300 among the five companies.
"I was making a little bit more money before the changes," Clair said.
But overall, he likes the changes and thinks that they do a lot to create a better atmosphere for the people who ride in cabs.
"It's better for the citizens of Santa Monica," Clair said.
Valles said that, aside from the taxi stand rule, most of the drivers have been cooperative.
He pointed to a report prepared by his office and presented to the city council this past January that showed that only six drivers and three companies were fined last year.
Taxi! Taxi!, ITOA and Metro Cab were fined for allowing drivers to work without permits and Metro Cab was fined, as well for failing to correct violations after having been warned. Four Metro Cab drivers were fined for "conduct-related" violations.
Neither Rose nor Bonfilio were worried about getting fined, either for queue violations or in general.
"I don't think so," Rose said. "I don't violate things intentionally."
Clair said there really isn't that much reason to worry, if drivers are willing to follow the rules.
"The bottom line is, none of the rules are that hard to conform to if you want to," he said, adding that the benefit of following the rules also means good customer service. "We do care. The cab drivers do care."
— Jenna Chandler contributed to this report.