Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 1, 2011

Taxi companies say: 'No fare'

Application by A Orange Cab to pick up fares in Palo Alto is contested

by Jeff Carr

Concerned that a new taxi service wants to horn in on their business, drivers from two cab companies that service Palo Alto showed up at a public hearing Wednesday (June 29) to oppose an application by A Orange Cab Company of Santa Clara.

At times chaotic and noisy, the meeting focused on whether A Orange Cab owner Jorawar Singh could prove that the city needs a third taxi service, that additional cabs would not create traffic or parking problems and that Singh has enough work experience.

Singh's team, which included two attorneys and a translator, produced five letters from individuals and businesses stating that a need for more taxicabs does indeed exist in Palo Alto. Though not in attendance at the hearing, Barbara Gross, general manager of the Garden Court Hotel on Cowper Street, asserted that increased competition wouldn't hurt.

"We find that there are times that we call for reservations and the taxi doesn't show up," she said.

In response, drivers from Yellow Checker and California Cab — the only companies with permits to pick up fares in Palo Alto — stood up to testify, often out of turn. They said that no demand exists for another taxi service and that increased competition would hurt their business significantly. Palo Alto Police Officer Louis Amadeo called for order several times and once threatened to clear the room of the 30 attendees.

Dave Logan, operations manager at Yellow Checker, said that his company received an average of 177 calls per day from Palo Alto in May and 232 in June, as of June 28. Dividing that number among his 120 drivers means there's not much work for each one, he said, though he failed to note how many of those drivers were in Palo Alto at any given time. Logan also produced a statement from the general manager of the Sheraton Hotel on El Camino Real, which he called the most important taxi magnet in the city, stating that no excess need exists.

Logan and many of his drivers also complained of "bandit cabs" that operate in the city illegally and further decrease demand for certified companies like his own. However, the police department has found bandit cabs to be "not a real problem," according to Heather Johnson, code-enforcement officer for the city.

According to the Palo Alto Municipal Code, certified taxi companies in the city must offer 24-hour service, respond to requests as soon as possible and submit to annual vehicle inspections. Drivers must be licensed, drug-free and eligible to work in the United States. Signage, advertisements, taximeters, receipts, insurance and solicitation practices are also subject to strict regulations. A non-refundable application fee of $1,750 accompanies the documentation.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle for applicants lies in the section of the code entitled "Proof of public convenience and necessity." The section states that applicants have the burden of proving three points: first, that a public demand exists for their services, or at least that through them, public service will be improved. Second, applicants must prove that they have sufficient experience and assets to handle the work properly, and finally, they must prove that their operations will not increase traffic or parking problems appreciably.

Johnson said that new cab companies begin the application process from time to time, but Singh's is the first to reach the final hearing stage in about two years.

A Orange Cab currently operates in San Jose, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale and Mountain View, all of which are heavily regulated, and Menlo Park, Atherton and Redwood City, which are not.

Singh began driving in 1999, and started A Orange Cab in 2004 with one car. He now owns 27 taxis, seven of which he said he plans to send to Palo Alto if he receives the permit. Singh listed only $22,000 in assets on his application, however, which the city and the opposing cab companies both found potentially problematic, especially if Singh must replace any of his seven Palo Alto-bound vehicles, each of which have logged more than 150,000 miles.

Bikram Singh, owner of California Cab, said: "I started a cab company 20 years ago and was rejected five or six times by the City of Palo Alto. I had more assets than that, but they said it wasn't enough."

Yellow Checker Cab, which operates both the Yellow Cab and Checker Cab lines, and California Cab are based in San Jose.

Singh's attorneys encouraged the city to allow the free market to function, especially for a family man with a good business reputation.

But the numerous current taxi drivers who say their jobs are in jeopardy have a different perspective. John Winters, who has been picking up fares in Palo Alto since 1979, said: "The point is that if we can't survive as individual drivers, we're going to start dropping off. We're going to go find something else to do."

Amadeo is expected to make his decision on the issue next week.

Editorial Intern Jeff Carr can be emailed at jcarr@paweekly.com.

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