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New taxi laws OK’d for Del Mar

DEL MAR — Rather than restrict the number of taxis allowed to operate in the city, as was originally proposed, council members unanimously agreed at the May 7 meeting to increase regulations and enforcement to address long-term parking issues, traffic congestion, noise, pollution and public complaints. 

The amended law includes all the requirements of the county code with additional conditions to improve safety, service and vehicle and operator standards.

“We’re adding more regulations and we’re being very specific about it,” Theresa McBroom, the city treasurer, said.

All cabs operating in the city will be required to include a GPS system, credit card reader, fire extinguisher and flashlight. They must hold at least three passengers and display the company name and phone number, vehicle identification number and rates on an outside door.

In and out-of-service signs and the driver identification have to be visible. The city permit must be displayed on the back left window. All cabs must also be equipped with a communication device such as a cell phone or two-way radio.

Vehicles must be attended at all times except for restroom and meal breaks lasting no longer than 30 minutes. Drivers are required to take the most direct route to the destination. Operators with more than five taxis have to have at least one that is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Drivers must dress in a “neat and clean fashion,” the law states. Smoking isn’t allowed in the cab at any time, even if it is out of service.

Operators with one of four vehicles considered environmentally friendly by the California Air Resources Board will have the $168 annual permit and sticker fee waived for two years.

City and county law enforcement officers, including the park ranger, must be allowed to perform random checks to ensure compliance.

“This accomplishes the goals that address the current problems that we’ve had with taxicabs,” Councilman Don Mosier said, adding that he would have liked to see more focus on environmentally friendly vehicles.

“We’ve got some incentives to encourage cleaner vehicles but they don’t … increase with time,” Mosier said. “That’s unlike most other cities in California who put a timeline for increasing the percentage of the fleet that has low emissions.

“I’m a little disappointed that we don’t have the timeline as part of the ordinance,” he said. He added that perhaps the city could revisit that as more clean vehicles are produced and become more affordable.

Michael Ross, a Del Mar taxi driver, said he supports the new laws, but asked council members to better define dressing in a “neat and clean fashion” to avoid ambiguity.

“That standard should be more specific in my view,” Ross said. “I’m one of those people that would encourage more and more ordinance enforcement … so that we have all legal drivers in all our cities.”

For example, he said, according to the city of San Diego law, drivers must wear shirts with collars and sleeves, and trouser shorts are allowed but sports shorts are not.

“It would probably be better if it was spelled out,” City Attorney Leslie Devaney said.

Mayor Carl Hilliard said making too many changes to the new laws could delay implementation.

“Neat and clean is enforceable,” Hilliard, an attorney, said. “It has a meaning that’s generally understood. If it becomes a problem then we can become more specific.”

In July 2011, 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 8 a.m.

In April council rejected a proposal to limit the number of cabs that could operate in Del Mar and directed staff to 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.

The new laws will take effect in June. Failure to comply could result in permit revocation.