Cabbies protest proposal by city to require English test

Dozens of taxi drivers for small companies marched Tuesday at City Hall protesting the city’s plans to impose stiffer controls on the downtown cab industry, including a proposal that all cabbies take an English proficiency test.

“We don’t want that,” said Kazman Zaidi, president of the Sacramento Taxi Cab Union. Zaidi said the city should require only new drivers to take an English test, not current drivers.

The City Council is expected to vote Tuesday on a city taxi ordinance update that city officials and downtown hotel owners say will help professionalize taxi service downtown.

The proposed ordinance change includes a city taxi driver exam that tests drivers for basic English skills, knowledge of local geography, taxi laws and basic math. The proposal also includes a dress code, sets a limit on the age of cabs and requires cab cleanliness. The rule changes will require drivers to accept credit cards. The city also would limit the number of downtown taxis to 450, down from the current estimate of 512, in hopes of calming the competitive environment.

“We are continuing to enhance the industry,” city business permit manager Dafna Gauthier said earlier this year when officials proposed the ordinance changes. “We feel like we are becoming a more standardized taxi industry.”

The proposal has drawn general support from Yellow Cab and other large taxi operators. Zaidi, however, said smaller operators feel the city is picking on them by imposing tough restrictions that will run some of them out of business.

Councilman Steve Cohn, who appeared at the cab protest to talk to the group, said the city has made some changes in its proposed ordinances for small operators, such as allowing taxi drivers to take credit cards with their smartphone apps rather than be required to buy credit card machines that can cost several thousand dollars. The city also has reworded its requirements regarding the age of taxi vehicles, to make allowances for vintage or classic style cabs.

City Revenue Manager Brad Wasson said the proposed ordinance also has been amended to allow smaller companies to have dispatch service in place only during the hours that they operate, rather than a full 24-hour service.

Cohn said the city is maintaining the English test because taxi drivers need to have basic communication skills. He said he wants the city to show the drivers that the test is not onerous.

“I think, if we are transparent, and let them see the sample test, we can get past that (fear),” he said. “We are not trying to drive small businesses out of business.”

Other elements of the proposed taxi rules include the requirement that taxi vehicle permits be renewed every two years, and that the cost of a ride to the airport would be capped at $45.

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