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New Plan Just a New Part of L.A.'s Interesting Taxi History

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, July 22, 2008, at 11:17AM
Passing Fares Ed Fuentes

A cab waits at a Bunker Hill taxi stand in this May file photo.

On July 16th, City Council approved the Hail-a-Taxi pilot program for Downtown and Hollywood. The program is intended to help make taxis a more integral part of the city's overall transportation picture.

In most cities that's just the way things are, but L.A.'s relationship with the taxi isn't quite typical.

Unlike most other cities, Los Angeles handed out taxi franchises based not on a number of cabs, but on service area. From 1935 on, Yellow Cab was the dominant force in the L.A. taxi scene, controlling monopoly franchises to Downtown and the airport. In 1969, Yellow Cab grossed $13.5 million of the total $15.4 million reported by five cab companies working in L.A.

In the early 1970s, that picture started to change. Calls for competitive franchises had been around -- the city's Public Utilities and Transportation Commission had voted to recommend ending the monopoly in 1964 -- but now they started getting louder. In 1971 the city approved competitive franchises in three outlying areas, but refused to touch the downtown contract. New rules at the airport came next.

Yellow Cab's control over Downtown lasted until December of 1976, when the firm went bankrupt and was ordered to stop service due to inability to meet insurance requirements. Cab service didn't stop, though. Other operators and bandit cabs swooped in to pick up the slack. The city, recognizing the need for service, declared a taxi emergency and stopped enforcing franchise rules.

In July of 1977, independent operators were officially given the right to work Downtown, and in September of that year the emergency situation was lifted and enforcement went back to normal.

Service quality, though, continued to be a serious issue and even then reports complained about cabbies illegally refusing to handle short fares in favor of airport runs.

Interesting franchise rules aren't L.A.'s only taxi adventure.

In July of 1978, regional transportation planners announced a new program to let workers "taxi-pool", sharing a fare to reduce the costs. Riders could call the cab companies or the "Commuter Computer" line to get matched up with others sharing similar starting points and destinations. The industry felt that cab service in L.A. would soon shift to serving primarily these shared rides, as private service continued to decline.

While multiple reports announced the program's inception, their silence on its operation suggests that results weren't entirely positive.


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