Saturday, March 17 , 2018, 8:52 pm | Fair 51º



For Santa Barbara Cab Companies, Mileage May Vary — Sparking a Debate About What’s Fair

With 270 taxi drivers patrolling the streets, varying fares cause confusion and resentment among some

While some students and tourists may argue that Santa Barbara’s taxi fares are too high, fierce competition and a lack of city infrastructure cause cab drivers to worry.

There are more than 50 cab companies locally, and they employ about 270 drivers. Santa Barbara doesn’t limit the number of drivers because it’s not only a free market but a necessary public service, said Santa Barbara police Lt. Paul McCaffrey, a department spokesman.

“Being a taxi cab driver is a position of trust, and for that reason we want to ensure we don’t have any glaring problems with the service,” said McCaffrey, who oversaw administrative responsibilities for taxi permitting years ago. “They take care of the elderly and keep the streets safe.”

An application costs a little more than $200 and drivers undergo live-scan fingerprinting and background checks. The initial permit is good for a year and a renwal is $100. But if a cabbie racks up too many points on his or her driver’s license, he or she risks losing the job.

“It seems like you have to be perfect,” said Ernesto, who was standing with a fellow driver along a row of five cabs waiting for the next train to arrive at the Santa Barbara train station. “For a lot of us, this is our only job.”

Ernesto and other cab drivers interviewed for this article declined to give their last names or the names of their taxi companies.

While it may be illegal to stop on State Street downtown as last call rings near 2 a.m., cabs are usually given the benefit of the doubt, McCaffrey said.

“There is a certain amount of tolerance we have because these are professional drivers providing a service, giving a ride for those who don’t have any other option,” he said. “They are given some slack. You have to look at the totality of the circumstances.”

The high volume of drivers makes it difficult to find fares, and some drivers have had no choice but to take what they can get and negotiate, Emilio said.

“People charge whatever they can get,” he said. “Especially kids coming from IV; they see the meter and ask for lower. They have no plan to tip.”

Cabs must publish their rates on the outside of their vehicles, and those rates are the highest they can charge. In fact, one cab driver lists a $655 fare per mile on the window, McCaffrey said. The city has no control over the pricing and companies only must notify police of a price change within 30 days.

But the cabs do have different rates, depending on the customer, said Sergio, who was standing outside of his cab near Ralphs, across from the Greyhound bus station on the corner of Chapala and Carrillo streets. Four cabs lined each side of Chapala.

“They have different fees depending on the situation,” McCaffrey explained. “If you get dispatched to a call, that’s one fee. If someone flags a cab driver down, it’s usually going to cost more.”

When companies receive calls for service, they have time to better allocate their resources and plan, rather than adapting to the needs of a “flagging” on the fly; it could differ between $2.50 to $4.50 a mile, McCaffrey said.

“If you are a savvy guy and ask for a ride to the Mesa but only have 15 bucks, if the cabbie says OK and someone else pays the full amount, does that person get ripped off?” McCaffrey asked. “A lot of people get in the cab and don’t ask questions about what the fares are.”

Mike Bell and his wife recently visited Santa Barbara while on vacation from their home in Thailand. He wrote about his experiences with local cab companies, and what he called “the tourist rate,” in a letter to the editor to Noozhawk.

“For a distance of no more than four miles (we had driven it earlier in our rental car), we had to pay nearly $20!” Bell wrote.

On another trip, he was displeased again.

“He (the driver) then proceeded to take us onto the highway, rather than up State Street — a journey that must have tripled the mileage,” Bell wrote. “This fare was slightly less than the earlier rip-off rate.”

But many customers aren’t aware of drop fees and wait fees. A drop fee is an initial fee regardless of the distance, which ranges between $1.60 and $2.50. Wait fees are a bit more complicated. They are triggered any time a cab comes to a stop, which can include red lights and slow traffic in which a cab travels under 5 mph. It can vary from $1 to 50 cents a minute.

Santa Barbara Airport taxis also have short-haul fees, but airport operations manager Tracy Lincoln did not specify exact amounts.

Fees aside, McCaffrey recognized there are “quite a few cabs for a city our size.” The current 268 drivers are far from the 135 patrolling the streets in 1998.

Cab drivers argue that there needs to be more space on State Street to park and a 60-second grace period for taxis picking up fares.

“There’s too many cabs,” Emilio said. “It’s hard to stay in business.”

Noozhawk staff writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >

Meet Your Realtor Sponsored by Village Properties

Elizabeth Wagner
"I consider myself to be an up front and honest agent and willing to talk my clients out of purchasing a property that isn’t right for them or won’t meet their needs in a year or two."

Full Profile >