Fare Plan, Mixed Results
Maru Dadese, a driver for United Cab, said he has seen more people hailing cabs in Downtown, but is still being ticketed for stopping to pick them up. He recently got hit with an $80 fine. Photo by Gary Leonard.

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - Nearly two years ago, Downtown officials came together to launch a program allowing people to hail cabs on the streets of the Central City. Being able to grab a taxi anywhere, as opposed to just hotels or specific stands, they said, would let Central City denizens act like folks in most other major metropolises.

They touted other benefits, saying it might cut down on pollution and gridlock with people leaving their cars in garages for short trips. They forecast late-night bar hoppers having fun without having to worry about driving.

In the spring of 2010, things have changed — though not a lot.

“It’s picked up a little,” Jose Bustillos, a cab driver, said last week after dropping off a customer near Pershing Square. “It’s still not New York or anything like that, but we do see a few more people hailing us.”

Hail-A-Taxi was launched in July 2008 as a six-month pilot program to loosen restrictions on where drivers may pick up fares in Downtown and Hollywood. The program was later extended through January 2010, and in April Ninth District Councilwoman Jan Perry introduced a motion to make it permanent.

Perry describes the results as a “mixed bag.” It is difficult, she notes, to make people aware that they can do what was previously forbidden. It’s the same for cab drivers.

“It’s a major cultural shift on both sides of the equation,” Perry said. “It’s going to take time for people to begin to realize that it’s the norm.”

The motion still requires final approval from the City Council. If OKed, it could become permanent by the end of the year. In the meantime, Downtowners who want a cab are still most likely to find one parked around hotels and shopping areas.

That’s the Ticket

Taxi drivers say they welcome the initiative, since it is another tool to increase business. However, some report that they are still being ticketed while picking up passengers in no stopping and no parking zones. That was supposed to be eliminated under the Hail-A-Taxi program.

Maru Dadese, a driver for United Cab, said there are more people hailing taxis in Downtown on the weekends, especially late at night when the bars close. Then he pulled out a ticket he said he got for stopping in a red zone while dropping off a fare.

“I had a customer paying with a credit card.” he said. “I was running the card when a parking [officer] came. I told him I was dropping off with a credit car payment and I still got an $80 ticket.”

Dadese spoke last week while waiting in a taxi queue at Seventh and Figueroa streets with more than a dozen cab drivers. Another driver in the line, Israel Tadeshe, who works for Yellow Cab, said that while business is slow, and not many people know they can hail cabs, the program is helping a little.

“It should be permanent because every little thing helps us, especially now because of the economy and how slow it is for us,” he said.

One of the worries before Hail-A-Taxi went into effect was how it would impact traffic flow in crowded Central City streets. Tom Drischler, taxicab administrator for the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Franchise & Taxicab Regulation, said there has been little impact on Downtown congestion as a result of cabs stopping to pick people up.

“It’s been smooth sailing both in Downtown and Hollywood,” he said. However, he said the program appears to be a greater success in Hollywood, where more people are catching on to the fact that they can hail a cab just like in other major cities.

Drischler said making the program permanent is important because it will take time for Angelenos to realize they can catch a cab with just a raised hand.

Perry said that it is also necessary to think about the tourists coming Downtown who are used to hailing cabs in other cities. She said crowds could be even larger now that the new Convention Center hotel is open.

“People are coming from other cities where they are accustomed to being able to hail a cab,” she said. “It was incumbent upon me to make it permanent.’

Contact Richard Guzmán at richard@downtownnews.com.

page 10, 05/10/2010

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