The divide between taxi drivers and ride-sharing companies like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar is deepening in Palo Alto, as the city considers adding a new cab company to what drivers say is an already crowded market.
A group of drivers from three of Palo Alto's four licensed taxi companies gathered in front of City Hall Thursday to protest the issues they see as causing this divide: the city's lack of regulations for ride-sharing companies and an increasing dearth of parking for cab drivers at major transportation areas, such as the downtown Caltrain station. They held the protest in anticipation of a public hearing the city is holding Wednesday, April 2, to discuss allowing a new cab company, Classic Cab, to operate in the city.
Taxi drivers from Yellow Checker Cab, California Yellow Cab and A Orange Cab said drivers from companies like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar are taking up taxis' designated waiting areas in Palo Alto, forcing cabs to park elsewhere and lose business.
"We don't even have the parking space (now)," said Mekonen Zequdu, a Yellow Checker Cab driver. "What's the point of adding a new company?"
When A Orange Cab applied to operate in Palo Alto in 2011, many Yellow Checker and California Cab drivers voiced similar protests at a public hearing: lack of demand and a negative impact on the drivers.
"We want the city to regulate the drivers that are picking up rides that are not legal and we want them to find us parking places," said Tony Randhawa of Yellow Checker Cab. "That's all. And we don't want them to just keep adding companies. Let us do the proper work that we are licensed to do."
The taxi drivers refer to ride-sharing companies as "illegal" because they're not regulated by the city in the same way as cabs. But Palo Alto officials highlighted the differences between the traditional taxis and the new breed of "ride-sharing companies." Unlike taxis, ride-sharing companies are not considered public transportation vehicles under Palo Alto's municipal code, said Lt. Zach Perron, police spokesman.
The city's municipal code defines a public transportation vehicle as "every for-hire, unmetered automobile or motor-propelled vehicle having a seating capacity of no more than five persons, excluding driver, used in the business of transporting passengers over the streets of this city, irrespective of whether such operations extend beyond the city, and which is not regulated by the public utilities commission."
Uber, Lyft and Sidecar-like companies are instead considered ride shares and thus, are regulated by the state's Public Utilities Commission, Perron said.
After the Public Utilities Commission issued statewide regulation governing ride-share programs last year, Perron said the city reviewed the regulations and determined they apply to drivers when they're operating in Palo Alto.
"While they're operating in town, as long as they're in compliance with traffic laws, parking rules, all the normal stuff -- their operation in Palo Alto is not a violation of our municipal code," he said.
Randhawa said Thursday that he doesn't oppose the influx of non-taxi drivers, but wants Palo Alto to regulate all entities in the same way.
"We want to be equivalent," he said. "We're not against competition; competition is good for us because in the end it will benefit the customer and make (for) a cheaper price. But unequal competition is not good."
Helwa cited higher insurance costs, the background check process, random drug and alcohol tests, yearly inspections and other costs associated with operating under the city's purview.
The public hearing on Classic Cab's application will be held Wednesday, April 2 at 9 a.m. at the Cubberley Community Center at 4000 Middlefield Road, Room H-1.