Taxi shortage fueling disorder?
June 2, 2010
By KAREN VELIE
Despite the fact that cab owners in San Luis Obispo say there’s no shortage of taxis in the area, local bar owners and others contend there is a big shortage, especially on weekends when some patrons physically try to flag down a passing cab.
“The people can’t go home because they don’t want a DUI, but they can‘t get a cab or it will take hours, so they wait for a cab and a fight breaks out,” said Michel Olaizola, the owner of Buffalo Bar and Grill.”
The three cab companies that have permits to pick up riders in the city of San Luis Obispo run combined fleets of 25 cars that pick up riders in areas throughout the county. In comparison, the city of Santa Barbara, which has almost twice the population of San Luis Obispo, allows 42 companies to provide rides with as many as 260 cars on the road, said Santa Barbara Police Technician Holly Perea.
In Santa Barbara and Paso Robles, taxi companies are not required to go before the council for approval and there are no limits to the number of cabs that can compete for business in the city. Before their cars hit the road, they must provide documentation to the police department that they are in compliance with city requirements.
In San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande, prospective cab companies are required to go in front of the council and demonstrate there is a need in the community for more cabs. In San Luis Obispo, at these hearings, existing cab company owners have told the council that competition could destroy their businesses.
A council report written by transit manager John Webster in January asks the council to approve five permits for Surf Cab while noting that business owners have had problems getting along in the past:
“The city has had mixed experiences with multiple taxi operations in recent years, as there have been some occasional problems with services provided by the operators…with occasional minor conflicts between the permitted operators. Staff has not received any complaints that there are too many taxis servicing the city.”
Nevertheless, high demand, overloaded phone circuits and an alleged cab shortage have lead to frustration, drunk in public arrests and, in some cases, violence in downtown San Luis Obispo.
“I have had them not answer the phones or say they will be here in 20 or 30 minutes and then it’s an hour or two later,” said Eric Beaton, one of the owners of Creekside Brew. “It is a huge problem.”
If a caller can get through, it often takes well over an hour for a driver to arrive for a pickup on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Proponents of more cabs also contend that having intoxicated people wait hours for a ride increases aggressive behavior and instances of outside urination in an area where the public bathrooms are locked at night.
Flagging down a taxi is an almost impossible feat with some going as far as jumping on the cab’s hood to force the driver to stop while others use their fists to fight off competitors for a ride home.
“I have had people jump on my cab as I pass a tavern,” said Paul McGill, part owner of Surf Cab. “I let them crawl in and the caller has to wait.”
Cab company owners argue that there is not enough business throughout the day to support additional taxis.
“There is absolutely no need for the city council to issue more permits,” said Jeff Goldenberg, the owner of Beach Cities Cab which has 20 permits and runs up to 17 cabs on the weekends. “It will ruin business for other vendors and none of us will be able to make a living.”
And while it may appear to the public that San Luis Obispo has more than a dozen cab companies, it may be because Goldenberg markets his company under nine different phone numbers and names which include Central Coast Taxi, Nipomo Taxi, Five Cities Cab and SLO Cab Company. They, however, all route to the Beach Cities Cab phone line and none have any taxis of their own.
Meanwhile, police officers haul off an unusually high number of downtown attendees for being drunk in public. San Luis Obispo holds the dubious honor of being either the highest or one of the top ten per capita cities in California for drunk in public arrests during the past 10 years, according to the California Department of Justice Criminal Justice Statistics Center.
For example, in 2008 San Luis Obispo Police arrested 865 people for drunk in public while Santa Barbara Police, with approximately double the population, arrested 347 people for drunk in public.
“The point is there are not enough cabs,” said Bill Hale, one of the owners of six downtown bars who contends handing out numerous citations discourages people from going downtown and supporting the economy. “We need to do things to encourage people to come downtown and part of creating a safe environment is getting people home safe.”