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City Proposal Puts Taxi Drivers in Sticker Shock

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As he waits in the taxi holding pen at Los Angeles International Airport, driver Mohammad Rashidi quietly contemplates a politician’s proposal with the universal look for “What now?”

Harbor area City Councilman Rudy Svorinich wants “How Am I Driving?” stickers to be placed on all 1,900 city-regulated taxicabs. Cabbies would rather have the lawmaker ask, “How Am I Legislating?”

“We deserve better treatment than this,” said Rashidi. Like many of the hundreds of drivers waiting to file into the airport, Rashidi said this is another example of how the city adds problems for cabdrivers without solving any.

The city should tackle such things as illegal “bandit” cabs, drivers who must work long hours to make minimum wage, and having too many confusing regulations, said Rashidi and other cabbies.

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“Most cabs carry signs you can call if you see unsafe driving anyway,” said Oruc Selcuk. “If politicians need votes, they ought to take care of other matters instead of punishing taxi drivers.”

The motion before the City Council’s Transportation Committee calls for an “appropriate” punishment for cabbies found to have violated rules after being turned in under a proposed program that would require cabs to have bumper stickers with an 800 number. It has not been decided who would handle the calls.

Investigations of complaints of reckless driving and punishments could be handled by the Department of Transportation or a taxi authority now being assembled by Mayor Richard Riordan.

The authority was primarily created to deal with other taxi-related issues, including strife between cab companies, contract disputes and lawsuits.

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The proposal stresses the need “to protect the peace, health and safety of . . . passengers, motorists, tourists and residents.” Even so, a Svorinich aide said the proposal isn’t really grounded in a high volume of grievances against taxi drivers.

“We just thought this was a chance for the public to be able to point out the discourtesy and courtesy of drivers franchised by the city,” said Barry Glickman, Svorinich’s chief of staff. “It’s an idea that kind of just floated up.”

Councilman Richard Alarcon, who heads the Transportation Committee, said the proposal will probably pass.

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Michael Collins, senior vice president of the L.A. Taxi Co., likes the idea because it would add to regulations aimed at making taxi drivers more cautious.

New York taxi drivers are upset over Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s proposal that would require drug tests, increase fines for traffic violations and put taxi drivers through a kind of cabbie obedience school.

Los Angeles cabbies, said Collins, are “a lot different” from their colleagues in New York and will react well to the proposal.

But some L.A. taxi drivers interviewed showed that they are not immune to New York-like outrage.

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“The city [politicians] are bla bla bla talking too much,” said Jalal Dehbashibehbahani.

Many of the drivers said they already have their own three-strikes law to force them to comply with driving rules: They can’t drive a taxi if they get enough moving violations to receive three points from the Department of Motor Vehicles.

In a written response this month to Svorinich’s motion, the Department of Transportation recommended letting the taxi companies administer the “How Am I Driving?” program. Department officials pointed out that companies are already monitoring their drivers and that “complaints seem to be handled quickly and effectively with appropriate discipline meted out to the offending driver.”

Some taxi companies are even implementing the 1-800 idea on their own. The Department of Transportation has a wide set of regulations for taxi drivers, including a code of conduct.

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“Right now we’re not getting a lot of complaints about taxi drivers,” said transit chief James Okazaki. “If taxi drivers do something really bad, there’s police, the CHP, the Department of Transportation and the taxi company just waiting to bust them.”

The idea for numbers on city cabs, Okazaki said, is inherently a good one. It could even lower a taxi company’s insurance rate. But if it’s not done right, or if it’s enforced by the wrong agency, it could create unfair situations for taxi drivers, he said.

Meanwhile, taxi drivers at LAX also point to a wide pillar peppered with the pictures of drivers who did not comply with some rule or other.

“There are some bad taxi drivers, that’s true,” said Vasken Keuchkerian. “But most are careful drivers, and you never know in this city: Maybe the caller is the reckless driver.”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Rules for Cabbies

Here are some of the city regulations taxi drivers must obey:

* Must drive or park in a safe, careful and prudent manner.

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* Cannot provide information as to where narcotics may be obtained for illegal purposes.

* Must be well-groomed.

* Must be courteous with the public and other taxi drivers. While minor discourtesies may be forgiven, unwanted conversation, verbal abuse and/or profanity “shall be punished accordingly.”

* Must not solicit customers in a loud or boisterous tone of voice.

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* Cannot smoke without the consent of passengers.

* Must not attempt to influence a passenger’s destination.

Source: City Department of Transportation, Franchise Regulation Division


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