Members of the Sacramento Taxi Cab Union held a protest at the downtown Hyatt Regency hotel Tuesday, claiming that a city code enforcement officer was unfairly targeting them.
The protesters claimed city code enforcement officer Gregory J. Sowards was singling out independent cab drivers for what many drivers called minor infractions.
Sowards declined to comment.
Drivers said they had been fined for leaving their cabs unattended when using a restroom and for failing to fill out the date on required trip logs.
Fines can go up to $450, said union general secretary and cab driver Bhajan Bariana. He said Sowards targets independent cab drivers more often than those affiliated with large companies like Yellow Cab Co. "He never goes after airport taxis or Yellow Cab," Bariana said.
Sacramento city code enforcement manager Ron O'Connor defended Sowards, saying he is only doing his job. "He started a few months ago and now drivers are angry about someone new enforcing the rules," he said.
The Code Compliance Division consistently gets complaints about the conditions the taxis are in, O'Connor said. He said his department has directed Sowards, who is the only taxi inspector, to work on stopping those complaints.
As to the allegations that Sowards is targeting independent drivers, O'Connor said he doesn't have any information on whether independents are receiving more citations than other drivers.
Still, union members are claiming the citations are unreasonable.
Driver M. Akram Choudhry was given a warning on May 17 from Sowards requesting a change of a cracked windshield. Two days later Choudhry received a ticket for failure to comply. Choudhry said it was unfair. "How am I supposed to change my windshield in such a short time?" he said.
An employee from Sacramento Auto Glass said that replacing a windshield for a four-door sedan can typically be completed in 45 minutes to one hour.
Yellow Cab Co. of Sacramento President Fred Pleines Jr. said he hasn't noticed any complaints from his drivers about recent citations.
Pleines said he noticed more code enforcement officers patrolling over the past month, though. "It's good to see more enforcement," he said, "and if my drivers get a citation I expect them to take care of it themselves."
Kazman Zaidi, president of the Sacramento Taxi Cab Union, said union members cannot afford the amount of fines they are receiving. "One fine can often take out a week's pay," he said.
Zaidi said he wants officer Sowards removed from his position. If not, he said, the union will protest on the steps of City Hall. "We've always had a good relationship with City Hall," he said. "I hope that can continue."