Taxi Drivers Given Larger Role In Local Gov't

Drivers Will Now Have More Say In Taxi Advisory Committee Issues

With a round of applause, dozens of taxi cab drivers celebrated the 8-2 vote by the Metropolitan Transit System Board of Directors that gave them a larger role in local government.

The board voted to change the make-up of the Taxi Advisory Committee, which reports directly to the board on matters of safety, grievances, vehicle inspection criteria and processes. Previously, the committee had eight taxi cab owners, but only one driver. Under the new format, the committee will be equalized with five owners and five drivers.

"We'll be strong and we're going to come back and work hard for everybody," said cab driver Ben Lemma.

Members of the United Taxi Workers of San Diego have been fighting for safer conditions, especially in the wake of an accident outside the Stingaree nightclub earlier this year. A cab driver at the end of a long shift crashed into a crowd of 35 people standing outside. One woman was seriously injured.

"We mostly work about 11 to 12 [hours] a day. Some work 16 hours depending on if they have a cab," said Lemma.

There are more than 1,000 taxi cabs on San Diego roads, and drivers said they have to work long hours to afford the expensive leases on the cabs and the high price of gas.

"A lot of money … I pay my gas. My gas is about $600 a month," said Lemma

Those stressful conditions and an often tumultuous relationship with cab owners may change now that drivers have a bigger role on the committee.

"That's going to help the city at least recognize what the driver endures," said UTWSD President Mikaiil Hussein.

MTS board member, San Diego City Councilwoman and former cab driver Marti Emerald said the new committee will be more effective.

"[It will] let us know what's going on out there that impacts their ability to make money or impacts safety," Emerald said.

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