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. 

Conversation Express your views, debate, and be heard with those in your area closest to the issue. RSS Feed

May 3, 2011 | 6:16 PM

Big business loves pet regulations. Here is the perfect example where the city claims there is a “need” to require automated dispatching. Clearly a ploy by the big guys to use city regulations to squeeze out the little guys.

If there are really too many cabs, let’s lower prices and see what happens.

May 3, 2011 | 6:45 PM

I just love how this City Council works… if one of its members gets his or her shorts in a bind, then the city is to write a new ordinance to eliminate the city council members personal annoyance. This city council is just as worthless as the past councils. I hope the business community and others are prepping candidates now to turn these do-nothings out of office. They are an embarrassment to every citizen of the city.

May 4, 2011 | 8:22 AM

This is a great example of how the free enterprise gets corrupted to benefit special interest.

May 4, 2011 | 2:48 PM

Exactly what I was thinking bb

May 4, 2011 | 12:47 PM

How is it the business of our government to micromanage the supply and demand of taxis again?

I don’t mind regulating industry to protect consumers in situations of collusion or monopoly. It also is beneficial to protect “public” goods that individual firms may harm with externalities. In this case, it seems like the city is making a judgement call about the workings of a fairly competitive market.

I doubt this will lead to any disaster one way or the other, but it seems like the wrong way to use permit systems.

May 4, 2011 | 2:04 PM

Yellow Cab gets expand its market share by squeezing out the smaller players, and city councilmembers get nice fat campaign contributions.

Its a win-win, except for the Sacramento residents, visitors and the rest of the taxicab industry.

Yellow Cab used legal corruption to get Darrell Fong on board, in the form of a $1000 donation. But I would love to hear how Yellow Cab got the city permit manager Dafna Gauthier on board. The whole thing is stinkingly corrupt.

May 4, 2011 | 2:06 PM

Ben, it’s a business that competes for space on the public right-of-ways of our streets and alleys with everyday drivers, delivery companies, buses, valet operators etc.

I would reference you to city codes:

Chapter 5.136 TAXICABS
Article I. General Provisions
5.136.010 Findings.
The city council finds as follows:
A. Taxicabs provide an essential component of the public transit system that serves the city. A well functioning taxi system can help the city’s efforts to spur downtown and transit oriented development by making it realistic to live and work without a private automobile or a second car. Taxi service can be a valuable resource for visitors, business people, and patrons of bars, clubs, restaurants and stores. At the same time, taxis can also assist those who do not have a car for reasons of income, age, disability or simply personal choice.
B. Taxicabs are operated by private companies that utilize the public rights-of-way to advertise and deliver their services. Left unregulated, the competitive and transient nature of the business can result in predatory, discriminatory, fraudulent and dangerous conduct. Therefore, appropriate regulation of taxicab companies, taxicab drivers and their operations must be in place to protect the public health, safety, and welfare.
C. The city’s administration of taxicab regulations should not unduly burden the taxicab industry; however, the protection of the public health, safety and welfare shall be deemed paramount in the enforcement and interpretation of taxicab regulations. (Ord. 2010-028 § 2) and the rest of the regulations

I’ve noticed that that competition can have a negative impact on street traffic, public safety, loading areas etc.

In the process of establishing the permit system, did the city ever take into account how and where they allows cabs to park with regards to customer waiting areas? There are but a few areas that have a number of taxi only pkg spaces. Has the city kept up with the changing night-life scene?

Take for example that the crowds have changed with the opening of new venues along K st, Has there been any adjustment as to where cabs can park? In this rush to puts cars back on K st, how are the cabs going to be handled on K from 7th to 13th if parking is not going to be allowed? Are they going to create some Taxi Loading Zones, Valet Zones or is everyone only going to be allowed to drive on K but not stop…except for pedestrians and traffic signals?

Have you noticed the competition for loading and unloading of passengers occurring on Thurs, Fri and Sat nights along a number of thoroughfares where valets and taxis interface?

I don’t think anyone feels the problem is city-wide…however some solutions are needed in the down town area. Additionally who’s the enforcement agency? Business Compliance in Code enforcement or DOT? How’s the enforcement carried out? Apparently the Director of Finance or designee is the permit issuing individual…but then it becomes a little vague : as the following states:

“Upon demand of a peace officer, or city employee authorized to enforce this chapter, the driver of a taxicab shall present his or her taxicab driver permit for examination.”

So are you suggesting let the free market prevail…..issue permits until the cows come home?

May 4, 2011 | 3:05 PM

Exactly. Issue permits until the cows come home. Supply and demand will meet, prices will be competitive and the consumer will have choices. People might even purchase fewer cars (see New York, etc). Create Taxi loading zones. This is NOT new stuff.

May 4, 2011 | 1:52 PM

At this point with the public comment period over, what can be done to stop this ordinance? I for one see no basic logic that supports this ordinance. I love that I can actually find a taxi in this town, it makes us feel like a “world class” city.

May 4, 2011 | 2:23 PM

Public comment is not over by any means. This has only passed the Law and Legislation Committee and must still go to the full council for discussion at a later date TBD.

The part about the central dispatch system must come back to Law and Legislation, and if recommended by the committee, must still then go before the full council before it could be approved.

Article Author
May 4, 2011 | 3:03 PM

Glad to hear Darrell Fong has such compassion that he wants a taxi permit moratorium to prevent anyone from ever having to witness the abject horror of taxi drivers “arguing over parking spaces”.

But the far more likely scenario is that Darrell Fong must payback the $1000 campaign contribution he received on 9/3/2010 from the Yellow Cab Company.

It sure didnt take long for the new guy to get crooked did it?

Donation list here. See page 27 of the 1/31/11 filing that covers period 7/1/10 – 9/30/10:

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