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Changes on the horizon for cab companies

Laguna Beach plans to update taxi-voucher contracts just as taxi drivers and residents show concern about abusers of the program.

The program, started in 2001, has tried to alleviate traffic congestion, parking and drunk driving by providing a subsidized taxi fare, recently increased from $3 to $5.

The city has added two new sections to the taxi companies' contracts, which will take effect Jan. 1. They address senior transportation and create stricter guidelines for the companies. The current contract expires Dec. 31.

Cab companies said the voucher system is a good program, but they are concerned about other participating cab companies and the city's proposed changes for 2013.

Randy Ryker, a driver for Coastal Taxi, voiced his concerns at the Oct. 2 City Council meeting.

"Personally, I've had people walk up to me and say they've walked up to 10 cabs saying that they refused the voucher," he said.

The updated contract, which five of six cab companies have signed, addresses such issues, according to the city.

As for the pilot senior transportation program, it would allow seniors to use vouchers to take a cab from their homes in Laguna Beach to the Susi Q Senior Center, Director of Community Services Benjamin Siegel said. Sally's Fund has been transporting the seniors, but the organization's shuttle can't always make it down Laguna's narrow streets so a taxi could alleviate that issue, he said.

Under the contract, the taxi company would agree to 20 one-way trips between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. The city will pay $5 to the company for each one-way trip.

"There's no requirement if [the taxi companies] participate," he said. "I think there's probably some mutual benefit."

The new contract also addresses the refusal of vouchers or customers with vouchers.

"We fielded a couple of those complaints. That's a real concern for us," Siegel said. "It certainly goes against the spirit of the program."

After Jan. 1, any participating cab company will be terminated if it refuses a customer with a voucher who asks for a ride that meets the criteria.

Siegel noted one issue is that complaining parties aren't always able to name the cab company, so it's been difficult for the city to deal with the issue directly. He asks customers to take note of the companies and drivers they use and take note if there's an issue.


Some happy with program

Ryker's boss, Humberto Ramirez, said he doesn't completely agree with Ryker and is happy with the program, which probably funds 25% of his rides. He's signed the updated contract and agrees with the changes.

He said he has heard frustration from his drivers regarding residents who ask to be taken to places outside the downtown area, as far as Dana Point or the airport, and then try to pay with a voucher.

"They say they don't have any other money. You take the voucher or you take no payment," he said. "That's a limited number of people trying to use the program. One bad apple is not going to spoil the whole bunch of apples."

Jim Bromhead of Laguna Silvercab has been working in Laguna Beach for 12 years.

Similarly to Ryker, he's heard from his customers that the larger participating companies that come from outside the city sometimes turn them down. He said it could be because the cab had to come from northern Orange County and didn't think the $13 fare cut it.

Orange County Yellow Cab, which spans the county, said it doesn't know of cab drivers refusing customers and like participating in the program.

"It seems like a pretty good deal for everyone," said dispatcher Jim Johnson. Regardless of the drive to Laguna, he said it's worth the $13.

"For the most part we take the voucher no questions asked," he added.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed the quote above to Jim Bromhead. It was said by Jim Johnson.

As for servicing seniors, Bromhead said: "As long as its profitable, it would be OK. We can't afford to do charity work.

Hasan Safi, manager of Laguna Taxi, also shared concerns about a senior program, saying it could increase liability for drivers.

In regards to those concerns, Siegel said the city requires the drivers to provide proof of current liability insurance with a minimum of $1 million. The Orange County Taxi Administration Program governs the taxis and sets insurance standards.

"When we sent the contracts, they didn't express any reservations to us about that," Siegel said in regards to increased liability.

The following companies have signed the contract: California Yellow Cab, Coastal Taxi, Metro Taxi, Orange County Yellow Cab and Yellow Cab of Greater Orange County (also known as Laguna Silvercab). Laguna Taxi has not yet signed.


Twitter: @joannaclay

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