L.A. council panel urges 5-year renewal of taxi franchise system

A City Council panel recommended Wednesday that Los Angeles renew for five years a controversial taxi franchise system while also mandating a greening of the city’s cab fleet.

Supporters lauded the plan as essential to continuing cab service and reducing pollution, but opponents labeled it a sellout to a wealthy and politically influential taxi industry.

Natural Resources Defense Council: An article in the Oct. 11 Health section on traces of man-made chemicals in human bodies incorrectly named an environmental advocacy group. It is the Natural Resources Defense Council, not the National Resources Defense Council. An article in the Oct. 14 LATExtra section about the Los Angeles taxi cab franchise system made the same error. —

A boisterous crowd of drivers, taxi executives and others on both sides of the issue packed a third-floor hearing room at City Hall as the council’s transportation committee debated the plan.

The current system governing taxi operations has been in place for a decade but expires Dec. 31. The city must act before then to continue regulated taxi service.

The committee unanimously backed the five-year renewal blueprint despite Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s backing of an alternate plan — a two-year renewal while a new, city-sponsored study looked at alternatives.

Such a study, the mayor wrote in a letter to the committee, would examine “what other cities are doing to green their fleets,” and how those cities have helped drivers purchase vehicles with reduced levels of emissions.


Taxi companies pushed for the renewal as essential for the industry’s financial security and its ability to create a greener fleet.

“Our owners need stability,” said William J. Rouse, an executive with Yellow Cab and United Checker Cab. “Our passengers need to know we’ll be there for them.”

But some disappointed drivers and environmental groups called the renewal a gift for industry executives who are already awash in cash.

City cabs make some 7 million trips annually, generating about $180 million in revenue, according to official estimates. The city collects about $4.5 million annually in franchise fees and other costs.

But some drivers say that they barely make a living wage despite 70-plus hour weeks and that most of the profits go to the taxi firms. Some want an overhaul of the franchise system.

Several leading environmental groups also opposed the five-year renewal, saying the plan lacks specifics for creating a greener fleet. “This plan is just not fully baked,” said Adrian Martinez, an attorney with the National Resources Defense Council.

The renewal now goes before the full City Council, where it is expected to be approved.