‘Scab cabs’ on the loose
Less than two years after the South Lake Tahoe City Council passed strict taxi cab laws, and the police department hired a part-time officer to enforce them, non-compliant cab companies are reportedly still making a steady living on both sides of the state line.
“We keep being told, ‘yes, we’re enforcing the rules,’ but (City Council members) keep getting complaints that cabs are driving around town without proper licensing,” said Mayor Judy Brown. “I think the problem is that enforcement is being done sporadically, they do a sting, and then certain cab companies turn around and break the rules all over again.”
According to Paradise Taxi manager Russ Rummelt, the problem is worse than ever, and the city is not doing its part in carrying out the law.
“If they would enforce the ordinance as written, maybe things would get better,” Rummelt said. “But basically, they bend the rules to suit themselves and their schedules. The scab cabs are out there and the city is not doing anything about it.”
The taxi cab ordinance created by the City Council in December 1997 basically mandated that cab drivers pass a police background check, have no prior criminal convictions, that vehicles be certified by a licensed mechanic, that each company paint their own car fleets a uniform color scheme, and that drivers obtain licensing to operate both in Nevada and California. The police department also hired a part-time community service officer who currently works 15 hours a week enforcing those rules, according to Cmdr. Rich McGuffin.
“Although the enforcement is coming along, we are contemplating increasing the hours for the community service officer so he can do an adequate job. At this point, enforcement is minimal and we continue to get complaints. The truth is, we simply don’t have the manpower and resources to enforce it,” McGuffin said. “Probably the biggest problem is cab companies that aren’t licensed and are operating in the city. It’s very difficult to catch them when you have a guy working 15 hours a week, clearly we need a full-time person.”
A Nevada-licensed cab driver remains within the law when he or she drops customers off across the state line, but as soon as that driver picks customers up in California, he or she is breaking the law, McGuffin said. The same applies for California-licensed drivers crossing into Nevada. In order to pick-up, and drop-off customers on both sides of the state line, drivers must obtain dual-state licensing, which costs approximately $90, according to McGuffin.
McGuffin also said the police department would be requesting additional funding from the City Council shortly, but that in the long term, the taxi companies would have to bear the cost for increased enforcement themselves.
“The police department is trying to do the best they can in terms of enforcing the ordinance, but if we only alot them 15 hours a week, they obviously will have trouble doing that,” said Brown. “If there is going to be a change, now is the time to do that – before we adopt the final budget for the 1999/’00 fiscal year. My point is, if we’re the ones asking that this be enforced, we’re the ones who should make that possible.”
Taxi cab legislation used to be enforced by Lake Tahoe Airport personnel, Brown said, but with the cessation of commercial air service several years ago, that duty was transferred to the police department.
“I know the police weren’t too jazzed about taking over the enforcement in the first place, but they need to be given the opportunity to do it effectively now,” Brown said.
But along with increased hours, Rummelt suggests that the enforcement officer vary his hours in order to catch companies and their drivers in the act of breaking the law.
“He doesn’t have to sit in his office all day, the same day every week, from 9 to 5,” Rummelt said. “Actually, even a part-time guy would be more successful if he just changed his hours and caught people off guard. As it is, they just lay low on Fridays because they know he’s on duty.”
The police department will probably request increasing the enforcement officer’s hours before the Oct. 5 final budget hearing.
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