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Santa Rosa police begin crackdown on unlicensed cabs

Published: Friday, November 30, 2012 at 7:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 30, 2012 at 7:23 p.m.

Taxi drivers beware: no sticker, no service.

Santa Rosa police are rolling out the last step in a long process toward regulating cabs in the city.

Starting Saturday, officers are on the prowl for drivers and cab companies flouting the rules.

“If you don’t have a sticker or a permit visible in the back window of your cab, be expected to be stopped by a police officer and cited,” Lt. Jerry Soares said.

Eleven taxi companies have so far jumped through all the hoops required to be properly franchised, licensed, insuranced, inspected and drug-tested.

“I’m glad it’s finally happening,” A-C Taxi owner Kevin Kroh said.

The 16-car A-C Taxi was among the first to pass muster, followed by Checker Cab, Economy Taxi, Fine Taxi, George’s Cab, Grace Taxi, Manny’s Taxi, Makda Taxi, Safe Ride Santa Rosa Taxi, Sky is the Limit Taxi and Yellow Cab.

The Santa Rosa City Council adopted the ordinance in June 2011 and it went into effect shortly thereafter.

But officers did not enforce the ordinance rules right away.

“We were allowing this grace period to give those who wanted to operate a fair chance to comply with regulations of the ordinance,” Soares said.

More than one year later, the grace period is over.

“Oh my god, that is not good news for me,” said Hector Ramirez, 36, who runs El Taxi.

Ramirez said he wasn’t aware that police planned to start enforcing the ordinance. He said he planned to line up side jobs as a DJ to get enough cash to get himself, his company and single taxi in compliance.

“For me, I’m a small business owner, it’s hard to handle all the expenses,” said Ramirez.

Among several columns of cab companies listed in the phone book, Santa Rosa Taxi is among a several in the city that aren’t yet on the police list of permitted operators. Will the one-cab operation be open for business today?

“Probably not,” said Samson Solomon, 31, who answered the phone.

Solomon said he’s in the midst of taking over the business his father Solomon Gebreyesus started about six years ago.

Although he’s not yet in compliance, “I think it will be a good thing,” Solomon said of the ordinance. “For the safety of customers but also to promote in the city that this transportation is available.”

Taxi companies must now get franchised by the city. The cars must be inspected by the city as well as by state brake inspectors. Drivers must apply for a permit and pass drug, alcohol and criminal background checks.

Even Kroh, who with his wife Jennifer runs a fleet of 16 cars they lease to nearly 20 drivers, said the program is a financial burden.

Kroh said it cost him nearly $10,000, including more than $1,600 for a franchise permit, $7,000 in new insurance fees, $600 to have 10 taxi’s brakes inspected and $560 for the city vehicle inspection.

That doesn’t include the cost to drivers, who must pay upwards of $300.

Normally he would get hundreds responding to job advertisements, but only 20 people have so far responded since Nov. 20.

“We’re having a hard time getting drivers right now,” he said. “Anyone who is unemployed doesn’t have $300.”

Santa Rosa is the latest city to regulate taxis, following Rohnert Park, Petaluma, Healdsburg, Sonoma, Sebastopol, Cloverdale and Cotati.

The Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport also requires cabs to get temporary permits.

Sonoma County has 36 taxi companies and 117 registered cabs, said Fernando Vasquez, chief deputy sealer with the county’s Weights and Measures division.

All taxi meters must be registered, tested and certified by the county.

“The number of cab companies exploded,” in the county over the last five years, Vasquez said.

And not all were legitimate operators.

Customers complained to police about unsafe cars and unprofessional drivers, Soares said.

Cab drivers also complained that a few rotten eggs were ruining business for those trying to run quality businesses.

Santa Rosa’s ordinance already appears to have weeded out some companies, Soares said.

The Police Department sent letters to about 100 taxi companies when the ordinance was first passed and more than a year later only 11 companies are so far in compliance.

Some drivers didn’t pass background checks. Some companies still need to make improvements to their cars.

“It is good news for the citizens of the city, now they know they’re getting into a cab that’s safe, the drivers are checked,” Kroh said.

Santa Rosa City information on taxi regulations can be found at http://ci.santa-rosa.ca.us/departments/finance/revenue/tax-fees/Pages/taxi.aspx.

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