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City mulls new taxi regulations

Taxis wait outside the Sacramento Valley Station. File Photo.

The City Council will decide within the next few months whether to stop issuing new taxi permits, and the council’s Law and Legislation Committee will take more time to decide whether central dispatching systems should be required for taxi companies.

“If approved (by the City Council), no new taxicab vehicle permits will be issued or renewed,” said Dafna Gauthier, business permit manager for the city. This will limit the number of cabs, she said, referring to the moratorium.

“There seems to be a consensus that there are too many taxis in the downtown area,” she added.

That was one part of a proposed ordinance city staff has been working on since last October.

The city’s taxi fleet was essentially unregulated until about seven years ago, according to Councilman Steve Cohn, adding that for the more than 20 previous years, “we ended up with about the worst taxi system there is.”

At the time those regulations were put in place, Sacramento had 258 taxis, a number that has since increased by 66 percent to 428, with population growth that does not come close to equaling the growth in taxis, according to the staff report for Tuesday’s meeting. 

Councilman Darrell Fong said the concentration of taxis downtown is too great.

“I see them queued up in lines and arguing over parking spaces,” he said.

Cohn and Fong both supported the moratorium, while Councilman Jay Schenirer said he opposes limiting the number.

“We have a competitive business (environment),” he said. “People should be allowed to compete.”

A second piece of the ordinance is more controversial and will come back to the Law and Legislation Committee at a date to be determined, when Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy, who also sits on the committee but was absent from Tuesday’s meeting, will be available.

Schenirer said that as the city faces a smaller workforce with the impending budget crisis, he wants to make sure it “rises to the level of priority” to warrant using diminished resources.

The dispatch piece of the ordinance would require taxi companies to have central dispatching stations where drivers are given fares via two-way radio or mobile data terminals – in-car computers – rather than using cellphones, as some companies currently do.

Frederick Pleines, president of Yellow Cab Co. of Sacramento was one of about 10 people who spoke during the public comment session on the proposed ordinance.

He said his company already uses an automated dispatching system that provides better service, sending callers a text message letting them know how far away their cab is along with the driver’s name.

Another asset to an automated system, he said, is that it stores data for a year, and that can help law enforcement. He added that police ask him about four times per year for information about incidents in which suspected criminals use taxis for transportation.

“These are all good things,” he said. “The problem is, if you don’t require everyone (to have the same system), it makes us weaker.”

He also agreed that there are too many cabs in the city.

Dave Nirop, assistant manager of the AAA Association taxi company, said his drivers are opposed to the idea of the dispatch system.

He cited the cost of the system as a problem, and he said there is a customer service issue to consider as well.

People who call cabs, he said, oftentimes find a driver they like, and they want to get the same driver the next time they need a cab, so they will call his or her number directly, something he said a dispatch system might not allow.

Requiring taxi companies to use low-emission vehicles is something Schenirer, Cohn and Fong all agreed should be looked at in the future, but will likely have to be phased in, as it would present a large up-front cost to taxi companies.

Brandon Darnell is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Darnell. 

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