Lezlie Sterling lsterling@sacbee.com Cab drivers line up along L Street in Sacramento earlier this month.

Editorial: Cab glut? Yes, but only in downtown

Published: Friday, Aug. 9, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 10A

Clearly, the taxi cab system in Sacramento is not working for a lot of customers, and not for a lot of drivers, either. As The Sacramento Bee's Tony Bizjak reported last week, the central problem for the cab business locally is that too many cab drivers park outside downtown hotels, waiting for lucrative trips to the airport. The informal cab queues don't just fill up taxi stands but also metered parking spaces for blocks around, frustrating people who drive downtown to shop or do business.

The competition for airport fares is so intense that drivers have gotten into fistfights. And sometimes, when downtown customers hail cabs to go short distances, someplace other than the airport, they are refused service.

City taxi regulators say the problem is not too many cabs as some industry representatives claim. Rather it's the over-concentration of cabs downtown.

If more cabs were to leave downtown and roam other parts of the city, they could make more money, particularly if their associations had central dispatch operations. When a customer calls a taxi company with central dispatch, the taxi closest to the address is assigned to pick up the caller.

The city is working on a set of smart fixes for what ails the taxi business. The most important of the rules under consideration would make central dispatch systems mandatory for every cab company operating in the city. A similar proposal was rejected in 2006 because cab associations said they couldn't afford to install and operate the radio systems.

But drivers and their companies can make as much and, in most cases, much more money using a central dispatch system to line up four or five small trips instead of waiting for hours for that one long trip to the airport. For too many drivers, that trip never comes.

Other rule changes under consideration include a dress code, cab cleanliness standards, mandatory credit card payment systems and training in such things as GPS and customer service. Finally, to reduce emissions, the city is also contemplating banning cabs older than the 2008 model year.

Of course, none of the proposals under discussion will work without rigorous enforcement. More code officers and oversight must also be part of the city's taxi reform effort.

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