Keep it fare
Smaller taxi operators say the city’s new ordinance has problems
Sacramento’s effort to corral its taxicabs is off to a bumpy start, with the city’s new ordinance drawing complaints from operators of small taxi businesses.
The ordinance took effect this month after a four-year process. At the heart of the plan is the requirement that all drivers be part of an association, or a fleet, that consists of at least 25 cabs. Through the fleet-association requirement, Sacramento aims to regulate and monitor the industry.
“[But] it is not a transparent process,” argued Nirup Dave, owner of Dave’s Taxi Service, of the new fleet arrangement. He says the new rules are costing smaller cab companies business.
“The big fish eat the small fish,” explained driver Bhajan Bariana. “It’s killing the small operators.”
Under the ordinance, all drivers must belong to one of the nine fleets in the city. “Before, there had been complaints about unclean cabs, drivers fighting over fares, lack of insurance,” said Brad Wasson, the city’s director of revenue. The fleet system aims to streamline what had been a scattershot process.
For instance, in the past, a driver could turn down a customer who, say, wanted to travel only a short distance. If the customer called the number on the taxi to complain, the person could end up talking to anybody—the driver, the owner, the dispatcher, or all three at once, if the taxi driver was a solo operator.
The new system aims to provide a reliable way to address such complaints, in addition to standardizing fares, improving cab quality and ensuring access for the disabled.
While large companies such as Yellow Cab already had at least 25 vehicles, independent operators say the city has not provided any real guidelines about how to run the smaller fleets.
Owner Dave, for example, says the requirement that drivers register permits through an arbitrarily chosen fleet manager is problematic. “It makes it a dictatorship, not a democracy,” he argued, noting that only the manager has the power to decide whether to renew a permit or not.
Wasson said he wasn’t sure how fleet managers were appointed, but said some associations might have voting among their members.
Independent fleet operators also allege that there’s a lack of communication between the city and individual drivers. Under the new ordinance, the fleet manager is supposed to serve as a liaison to the city. However, that communication has reportedly been uneven.
“There has been a communication breakdown, partly because some do not have good English-language skills,” said taxi owner Maheshinder Singh. He suggested that the city implement tests in basic English skills before fleet managers are appointed.
Wasson said the concern about English-language skills was valid, for both those in the fleets and for customers. “It’s something worth looking into, and we will investigate,” Wasson said.
Other issues independent taxi operators would like to see discussed are the long list of fees drivers have to pay both the city and also Sacramento County, more flexibility about passenger pickup at Sacramento International Airport (currently, the airport has contracted he Sacramento Independent Taxi Owners Association as its sole cab service for arriving passengers), the possibility of a fleet representative rather than a manager, and clarity about signs on cabs.
At the moment, taxis have signs for both the operator and the fleet. Drivers say this can cost them business if a customer calls the association rather than the driver.
Also on the table is the number of taxi permits issued. There are currently about 450 taxi cabs in Sacramento competing for space at anywhere from 20 to 50 taxi stands (estimates vary about the number of stands). The stands have strict wait limits of 90 minutes.
Wasson concedes the new ordinance still needs be ironed out. “There is room for improvement,” he said. “Things have not been perfect, and we are going to have new discussions to allow people to weigh in.”