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Politics

San Diego Cab Owners Line Up At City Hall To Oppose Open Taxi Market

City Council chambers was a sea of green shirts Sept. 18, 2014. Cab company owners wore shirts saying "I took out a loan and 401K to acquire my permit" and "I worked hard for 10 years to earn my permit" to show their disapproval of a proposal to offer taxi permits to anyone who's driven cabs for five years and qualifies for an operators license.
Megan Burks
City Council chambers was a sea of green shirts Sept. 18, 2014. Cab company owners wore shirts saying "I took out a loan and 401K to acquire my permit" and "I worked hard for 10 years to earn my permit" to show their disapproval of a proposal to offer taxi permits to anyone who's driven cabs for five years and qualifies for an operators license.

Hundreds of cab company owners and taxi drivers filled City Council chambers and three overflow rooms at City Hall on Thursday. At issue was a proposal to lift the cap on the number of permits to operate cabs in San Diego. The current policy limits the number of taxis on the road at 993.

Cab company owners and drivers who lease taxis from them line up outside of City Hall Sept. 18, 2014 to comment on a proposal to open the taxi market in San Diego.
Megan Burks
Cab company owners and drivers who lease taxis from them line up outside of City Hall Sept. 18, 2014 to comment on a proposal to open the taxi market in San Diego.
Members of taxi driver association United Taxi Operators of San Diego show their support Sept. 18, 2014 for a proposal to lift the cap on taxi permits in the city
Megan Burks
Members of taxi driver association United Taxi Operators of San Diego show their support Sept. 18, 2014 for a proposal to lift the cap on taxi permits in the city
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After nearly four hours of public comment, the city's public safety committee voted to draft an amendment that would open the taxi market.

Though the policy change remains in committee and must get full council approval, cabbies who lease their taxis counted the vote as a win. They want an open market so they can get out from underneath burdensome contracts with cab companies and drive for themselves.

But cab companies and individuals who own and operate their own taxis have dropped hundreds of thousands of dollars to enter the existing market and want their investments protected.

"I work hard, I invest and I'm here. So now you're taking the business from me?" Teddy Hagos, who owns Chase Cab, told the committee. "I don't think I appreciate that. It's unfair. Please think twice. I have three kids going to university."

Some have reported spending as much as $140,000 and taking out second mortgages to buy taxi permits. The crowd, which arrived at City Hall three hours early, was a sea of green shirts reading "I took out a loan and 401K to acquire my permit" and "I worked hard for 10 years to earn my permit."

But City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said the taxi permits are not property that should be bought and sold. They're transferable for a fee paid to regulators.

"It's a permit. It's not a stock, it's not a bond, it's not a piece of property," Goldsmith said. "In fact, the permit is owned by the city."

Councilwoman Marti Emerald, who chairs the committee, watched the meeting from home, where she's recuperating from surgery for breast cancer. She's led the effort to lift the cap, saying it would improve conditions for the 400 drivers who watched the meeting from overflow rooms and make cabs more competitive with rideshare companies.

Milwaukee recently lifted its cap and won a subsequent case brought against it by cab company owners.

The San Diego proposal, which is backed by driver associations United Taxi Workers of San Diego and United Taxi Operators of San Diego, needs full council approval.