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Santa Monica hotel doormen suspected of seeking bribes from cab drivers

Santa Monica officials are investigating claims that doormen at some of the city's finest hotels are seeking bribes from taxicab drivers in exchange for fares, a long-standing practice that the beachside town's new taxi franchise system aims to stop.

Before the new rules went into effect March 1, it was common for hotels to have contracts with taxi companies or for taxi drivers to give doormen tips to win business, said Don Patterson, Santa Monica's business and revenue operations manager.

Under the new rules, cabbies who pay bribes, known as "cookies," could face fines of $500 for the first violation, $700 for the second violation and $1,050 for the third. A fourth violation could lead to loss of their license to operate in the city. The five companies operating under the new system could face a fine of $2,500 for each violation and, ultimately, suspension of the franchise.

Patterson said the city was investigating complaints it had received from cab drivers and their employers, and had "approached general managers at those hotels [mentioned] to remind them of the new rules."

The Santa Monica Daily Press reported that doormen at some hotels were demanding a roughly 10% cut of the fare.

Santa Monica is also studying a Los Angeles ordinance that prohibits hotels and their employees from extorting cookies, Patterson said, with an eye toward possibly regulating the hotel side.

Once served by as many as 550 taxis, 8.3-square-mile Santa Monica now has a cap of 300. The franchise system was intended to reduce traffic, help create a uniform fare system and ensure that drivers were well-trained and cabs were environmentally friendly. With less competition, the city concluded, drivers also could expect to more easily earn a decent living.

Patterson said he expected Santa Monica police officers to begin enforcing the new rules this month.

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