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Cab Company Owners Fear San Diego Might Stop Underground Market For Taxi Permits

Owners of cab companies are banding together to block transferring regulation of the taxi industry back to the city of San Diego.

Taxi permits are not legally transferable in San Diego. That has not stopped some from using loopholes in the system to make what some consider a more fair wage than they'd earn otherwise.

Owners accuse taxi workers' group of trying to "grab taxi medallions" for free by influencing city officials. Accusations come amid Mayor Bob Filner's push to have oversight of industry transferred back to the city.

A memo circulating among San Diego cab company owners states that the city's taxi industry is facing an adversarial environment. The memo accuses cab workers' group of trying to "grab taxi medallions for free" by influencing city officials. Taxi permits are sold tax-free on the underground market for more than $150,000, even though they're considered public property.

Mayor Bob Filner has blasted the practice. He blames the Metropolitan Transit System for lax oversight and wants the city to take back decision-making power over the taxi business. But San Diego Yellow Cab owner Akbar Majid said private taxi permit sales have lifted families out of poverty.

"You have a first generation immigrant that saved pennies to actually enter into this market and from that one taxi cab business he is supporting his family," Majid said. "He's putting his kids through college."

Majid recalls the 1980s — when the city was in charge of the industry — as chaotic. He said anyone who wanted a permit could get one and the market was saturated with cab drivers. Fights broke out among drivers as they competed for passengers.

Filner has said he's aware of that history.

"Most cities have found a balance," Majid said. "You need access for the public and you need to assure the drivers that they can make a reasonable living. That's not easy to work out but that's what we're going to be talking about in the next six months."

Cab company owners are organizing their own group complete with a board of directors and an attorney to ensure they have a say in any changes to the taxi industry.

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Photo of Amita Sharma

Amita Sharma
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an investigative reporter for KPBS, I've helped expose political scandals and dug into intractable issues like sex trafficking. I've raised tough questions about how government treats foster kids. I've spotlighted the problem of pollution in poor neighborhoods. And I've chronicled corporate mistakes and how the public sometimes ends up paying for them.

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