SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) – As Mayor Bob Filner considers reforming the city tax industry, he is being met with resistance from cab owners who fear the mayor is meddling with their business.
Filner's taxi advisory group met last week for the first time and is planning a six-month study to investigate concerns with the wages, health, and safety of taxi cab drivers in San Diego.
The group's formation comes on the heels of a study published in May by San Diego State University and Center on Policy Initiatives that said city cab drivers, on average, make significantly less than minimum wage and work extra hours to keep up with expensive leases.
"We have taxi cab drivers who work 70 hours a week and make less than four dollars an hour," said Mayor Filner on Saturday. "That's not right."
The study's authors revealed San Diego taxi drivers typically earn less than five dollars an hour and work without benefits.
Across the city, 331 surveys were conducted for the study.
Some solutions that have been discussed by Filner and the study's authors include setting a "competitive free market," capping lease rates, and transferring administrative duties from Metropolitan Transit System to the city of San Diego.
The thought of sweeping reform of the local taxi cab industry doesn't sit well with some cab owner-operators who question the mayor's involvement and the accuracy of the SDSU-CPI study.
"If anybody is making less than four dollars, or whatever, how they can live?" asked cab owner-operator Negus Gevremian, originally from Ethiopia.
Gevremian and several owner-operators said the average salary for a San Diego cab driver is closer to $38,000 annually. The SDSU study estimates the typical driver brings home approximately $15,000 per year.
He fears the mayor sides only with drivers and that the city may be embracing a plan to get rid of a cap on how many cabs can operate in the city. That would potentially add the number of drivers in San Diego and drastically increase competition for passengers.
"All these guys, they are lease drivers, nobody controls them," said Gevremian, who has been in the business for 15 years. "They can work as much as they want."
One of the recommendations made in the SDSU study is for a limit to be set on the number of hours a driver can work in a 24-hour period.
"There's safety concerns if they're driving without having enough sleep and enough vacation," said Filner.
The lease drivers CBS8 approached Saturday all declined interviews out of fear of retaliation.
Mayor Filner has already set aside $100,000 in his budget for a consultant to get involved in some of the issues.
The City Council is expected to vote on the budget on Monday.
Meanwhile, the mayor says many different aspects will be taken into consideration while the taxi advisory group researchers the industry.
"There's not enough concern about the safety of the car, the cleanliness of the cab for the consumer, or the ability of the driver to drive," said Filner. "All those have to be regulated in better ways."
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