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Taxis operating in West Hollywood will be required to affix their city-issued license decal on the rear passenger door under new regulations going into effect on July 1 to limit the number of illegal taxis in the city.
“It’s a public safety issue,” said Rob Winrader, taxi specialist for the City of West Hollywood. “It lets passengers know that the cabs are legitimate, and will help us identify which cabs are licensed and which ones are not supposed to be here.”
The City of West Hollywood performs annual inspections and issues licenses to seven cab companies that are currently allowed to operate within the city. The licensing process is designed to ensure that all taxi drivers have clean driving records, and that the taxis are insured and in good working condition. In addition, all taxi drivers are required to undergo criminal background checks, as well as random drug and alcohol testing. The city had previously required that the license decals be placed on the rear bumper — which will still be required — but the additional decal will now be required in a more visible location on the door.
Winrader said the city has had a longstanding problem with “bandit taxis”. Countywide regulations governing taxi companies allow drivers to drop-off passengers anywhere, but to pick passengers up, they must be licensed in the individual cities where they operate.
Winrader said the licensing is intended to protect passengers. He said the city has received complaints about people being picked up by taxi drivers who stole their credit card information. The drivers allegedly used hand-held credit card machines, and after the passengers swiped their credit cards, they found out later that their accounts had been compromised.
“In that situation, there is very little we can do if the taxis are not licensed,” Winrader added. “Also, if there is a complaint about the driver’s conduct, there is no way we can trace it if it is a bandit cab.”
Winrader said the city’s code enforcement officers frequently partner with authorities from the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station to conduct sting operations targeting bandit taxis. During an operation held on a Thursday and Friday night in April, 21 drivers were cited for not having a West Hollywood taxi license, a misdemeanor violation that can result in the vehicle being immediately impounded, and a fine.
Lt. David Smith, of the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station, said bandit taxis are a significant problem, and that the department uses undercover deputies posing as passengers to catch unlicensed taxi drivers in the act. He added that detectives are currently investigating the reports of taxi drivers stealing credit card information, but there have not been any arrests and the cases are pending.
Winrader said the taxi companies that are licensed to operate in West Hollywood are Bell Cab, Beverly Hills Cab, City Cab, Checker Cab, the Independent Taxi Operators Association (ITOA), United Independent, and Yellow Cab. He added that customers should ask to see the driver’s permit if there are any questions as to whether the taxis are licensed.
Yevgeny Smolyar, president of L.A. Checker Cab, said bandit taxis cut into the legitimate drivers’ business, and that his drivers work with the city and the sheriff’s department to identify the unlicensed cabs. He added that the problem has gotten worse in 2011 after the City of Santa Monica imposed new regulations governing taxis in that city, and some of the unlicensed operators that used to operate there have tried to move into West Hollywood.
“The bandit taxis are a big problem. Those cabs are not responsible to anybody. The drivers may have a record or don’t have insurance, and it creates a danger for customers,” Smolyar said. “The new regulations in West Hollywood are positive. They are putting in a big effort to stop bandit cabs, and so far, it’s working.”
For information on authorized taxi companies in West Hollywood and regulations, or to report a problem, visit www.weho.org.
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