Berkeley Taxi Drivers Express Discontent

Photo: Said Ali, chair of the Berkeley Taxicab Association, leads other drivers in urging the city to fix the problems that plague their business.
Tim Maloney/Staff
Said Ali, chair of the Berkeley Taxicab Association, leads other drivers in urging the city to fix the problems that plague their business.

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While the city of Berkeley focuses its efforts on enticing and developing the growth of small independent businesses, taxicab drivers have recently voiced complaints about the city's alleged negligence in regard to the enforcement of certain ordinances that are in place to protect local taxi businesses.

The Berkeley Taxicab Association, which was formed by a group of city taxi drivers and owners in August, has urged the city - on several occasions - to address long-standing issues that continue to damage city drivers' business and operations, according to Said Ali, association chair and taxi driver for the Inter City Cab Co.

With 120 taxicabs registered in Berkeley, the association calls for a keener observance of whether taxis are operating legally in order to prevent ordinance violations - such as taxi cabs that do not have Berkeley permits picking up passengers in the city - and a more efficient permitting process for vehicles and companies.

"We asked the city and the police to stop this," Ali said. "Our business is going to (non-Berkeley taxis)."

In October, the association sent a letter to City Manager Phil Kamlarz, announcing the formation of the group and asking for a meeting with city officials and the Chief Michael Meehan of the Berkeley Police Department. City spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross said the city is reviewing the complaints and ways to resolve them.

Ali said that while Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmember Kriss Worthington both met with the association on separate occasions, the police department has not been as responsive to requests to regulate illegal rides by non-Berkeley cabs.

"The city of Berkeley Police Department (BPD) is not involved in this project," Sgt. Mary Kusmiss said in an e-mail. "We certainly respond to calls for service if the issue is a police matter related to a taxi and/or his/her fare. These are currently infrequent."

Still, no concrete steps have been made to address the association's concerns.

Another problem that plagues the city's taxi drivers and companies is that several hotels will charge taxi drivers for picking up passengers, according to Ali, who said some Berkeley drivers have been charged $10 to $20. He added that some Berkeley hotels are not aware of the city's ordinance that prevents outside cabs from picking up passengers.

However, Bethany Day, reservationist at Hotel Shattuck Plaza in Downtown Berkeley, said the hotel only calls Berkeley-registered taxis and added that they do not require payment in exchange for customers.

Similar to the business permitting process that has been deemed inefficient, the steps to obtain vehicle permits are tedious.

"It's a waste of time," Ali said.

According to city documents, each vehicle is subject to a city-approved vehicle inspection before the permit process can begin. Ali added that the non-transferable aspect of Berkeley vehicle permits also poses a problem.

"If I want to transfer the permit to my son, I can't do that," he said.

Additionally, Ali raised the issue that instead of charging $215 per company as a business tax rate, Berkeley charges $215 per vehicle - a change that surprised association members last year, he said.

If the city does not address their concerns within a month, Ali said the association may be "forced to strike."

"Taxi drivers feel neglected, rejected and disrespected," Worthington said in an e-mail. "A year ago we had a meeting with city staff, but things have gotten worse."


Karinina Cruz covers business. Contact her at [email protected]

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