DEL MAR — When it comes to taxi service in Del Mar, city officials have opted for quality over quantity.At the April 2 meeting, council members rejected a proposal to limit the number of cabs in the city and instead directed staff to create an ordinance that would establish criteria to provide good service in clean, well-maintained vehicles with professional drivers and the ability to revoke the permit of those who habitually ignore the existing code.
“I would like to reward loyal taxi service that provides good service to the residents and visitors and to discourage some of the antics that I’ve seen,” Mayor Carl Hilliard said.
Those antics include violating laws put in place last summer after residents and business owners complained taxi drivers were taking up parking spaces for hours, soliciting fares from passers-by, circling residential neighborhoods, smoking and discarding cigarette butts on the streets.
Last July, council members adopted an emergency ordinance that restricts cabs from parking or waiting in any area of the city between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. It also established the four parallel parking spots in front of Jimmy O’s Sports Bar on 15th Street as a dedicated taxi stand zone from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.
Council also directed staff to develop a taxi franchise that would create centralized dispatching and reduce the number of cabs that could operate in Del Mar.
The city currently has no limit on the number of taxi permits it issues. About 25 companies receive more than 190 permits a year, generating approximately $12,000 in annual revenue.
According to the staff report, that has resulted in too many cabs causing excess traffic, noise, pollution and parking problems.
Councilman Terry Sinnott disagreed.
“I would like to see a little bit more specific definition of the excessive problem that we have because I think we’re responding to a potential problem that I’m not convinced is there,” he said. “I don’t agree with the idea that limiting the permits is the way to go.
“I think we have solved the majority of the problem through the emergency ordinance,” Sinnott said. “I’m not sure there is an excessive need to limit the number of permits we issue. I think that’s just going beyond what the city ought to be doing.”
Melvin “Butch” Servi Jr., an independent taxi owner, agreed with Sinnott. He said prior to the emergency ordinance there were times when he didn’t stop in Del Mar for fares because there were already dozens of cabs lined up. But during one recent week, Del Mar accounted for 40 percent of his income, he said.
Resident Bill Michalsky, however, said a problem still exists because not all drivers obey the ordinance.
He said he recently saw two taxis parked on 15th Street at 9:15 p.m. and the drivers were standing on the sidewalk smoking. He also said he sees them driving around the residential neighborhoods.
“We have to have cabs for all the right reasons,” he said. “They shouldn’t be cruising around the neighborhoods.”
Council members all said they agree taxis provide an essential service, especially for people who have had too much to drink at area restaurants and bars.
“We want them in a cab to drive them home,” Councilman Mark Filanc said.
Staff will now create an ordinance to regulate the quality of cabs. Requirements will include clean, safe vehicles that have credit card readers, 24-hour dispatching with GPS, security cameras and adequate insurance.
The new law will also develop criteria to phase in a preference for hybrid or electric vehicles.