By Miriam Raftery
September 9, 2014 (San Diego’s East County) - Many years ago, Councilwoman Marti Emerald and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith both worked as cab drivers. Now they are leading efforts to reform the City of San Diego’s taxicab policies and help hard-working cabbies.
In San Diego, 94% of cab drivers are immigrants, most of them (71%) African refugees living in City Heights, a diverse and economically disadvantaged community. But according to a report titled “Driven to Despair” prepared by San Diego State University and the Center for Policy Initiatives, the average taxi cab driver locally makes just $5 an hour.
These drivers must work 70 hours a week to earn as much as a minimum wage worker would earn in a 40-hour work week. Plus virtually all cab drivers (99%) have no healthcare benefits or workers’ compensation insurance.
A key problem is that in San Diego, only a limited number of permits to operate taxis are issued – and these are resold in the marketplace for tens of thousands of dollars more than their purchase price. Thus drivers pay high lease rates and can’t afford to become owners of the cabs that they drive. They also have to pay for gas, repairs, car washes and other expenses.
Immigrant cab drivers first tried unsuccessfully to negotiation with lease holders and with the Metropolitan Transit System before finding sympathetic ears at City Hall.
At a July Public Safety Committee meeting, the United Taxi Workers of San Diego mobilized hundreds of tax drivers to speak about reforms including lifting the cap on city-issued taxi cab permits, as well as reforms to vehicle age limits and other changes to help drivers and their families attain the American dream.
On August 28th at a press conference Councilmember Marti Emerald and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith held a press conference to announce proposed reforms including lifting the cap on the number of permits, an announcement that drew cheers. Goldsmith also shared his report, “Removing the Current Limitation on the Number of Taxicab Permits.”
(For video of the news conference please visit: http://youtube/jLvP44J7Ycs)
This item will be heard in the September 18 Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee meeting at 1 p.m. at City Hall, 202 C Street in downtown San Diego.