UT San Diego: Report – Improve Conditions for Taxi Drivers

UT San Diego:  Report –  Improve Conditions for Taxi Drivers

By Chris Nichols 12:47p.m. May 23, 2013

Should San Diego shake up how taxis are managed in the city?

It could keep using an outside contractor to regulate the industry, with or without any revised rules, or go with direct city supervision.

The discussion about those and other choices will likely grow as Mayor Bob Filner considers a potential overhaul of the system.

On Thursday, researchers at San Diego State University and the Center on Policy Initiatives joined the conversation by issuing a report titled “Driven to Despair.” Their study, based on a survey of 331 taxi drivers, focused on working conditions for those individuals.

It concluded that rules governing the city’s taxi industry are not only unfair to cabdrivers, but also present a safety risk to the public because of the long shifts those drivers work and the inadequate maintenance of the vehicles they lease.

The university and the center — a think tank that supports organized labor — made a list of recommendations, including limits on how much drivers would pay to lease their vehicles, restrictions on work hours and protections for drivers who speak up about alleged abuses. One researcher said Thursday that forming a union would be an option for addressing drivers’ grievances.

In their study, the authors focused on taxi drivers and did not include comments from city officials or the San Diego Metroplitan Transit System, which regulates taxis through a contract with the city.

They also didn’t address questions that have been raised in past debates about San Diego’s cab network, such as whether the city’s licensing fees and fare structure for taxis are adequate; whether the city has enough, too much or too few cabs; and whether the local system rates well against those of other cities in California or nationwide.

“The taxi system as it stands is creating extreme hardships for taxi drivers,” Jill Esbenshade, an SDSU sociology professor whose graduate students surveyed taxi drivers in March and April, said during a Thursday news conference. “Reforms are greatly needed.”

Filner’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

City Councilwoman Marti Emerald, who spoke at the news conference, said she looked forward to working with Filner to reshape the taxi industry. Emerald, who also serves on the MTS board of directors, urged that agency to take an active role.

“The (MTS) board has to be truly willing to listen to the drivers and to regulate an industry that I believe is out of control,” she said.

Rob Schupp, a spokesman for MTS, referred questions about the report to the city. He said the agency was “fully prepared to continue in the current relationship or to let the city take it back.”

Tony Hueso, president of the San Diego Taxi Association, a group of taxi owners, said more taxi rules could hamper service.

“Our industry already has to many regulations,” he said.

Through their survey, the researchers found that taxi drivers in San Diego worked an average of 71 hours a week and earned $4.45 per hour, tips included.

The vast majority of local taxi drivers don’t own their cabs, the report said, and there is no ceiling on lease rates or the number of hours a driver works each day.

“I drive 12 hours a day, almost every day,” added Adbirashid Ali, 29, a taxi driver from City Heights. “It’s very difficult, but there’s no choice. It’s necessary to make the lease (payment), to make any money.”

Among other things, the report’s authors call for placing a cap on rates for taxi leases, requiring that cab owners issue written receipts for all lease payments, establishing a ceiling on the hours a driver can work in each 24-hour period and making taxi owners responsible for vehicle insurance and maintenance.

They also said that long term, “The city should reform the system so that lease drivers are either afforded the protections of employees or are given ample and realistic opportunities to become owner-operators.”

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Original Source: UT San Diego | Report: improve conditions for taxi drivers