Taxi drivers protest ride-sharing companies in Palo Alto

Drivers want city to regulate Uber, Lyft, Sidecar in same way cabs are

The divide between taxi drivers and ride-sharing companies like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar is deepening in Palo Alto, as the city considers adding a new cab company to what drivers say is an already crowded market.

A group of drivers from three of Palo Alto's four licensed taxi companies gathered in front of City Hall Thursday to protest the issues they see as causing this divide: the city's lack of regulations for ride-sharing companies and an increasing dearth of parking for cab drivers at major transportation areas, such as the downtown Caltrain station. They held the protest in anticipation of a public hearing the city is holding Wednesday, April 2, to discuss allowing a new cab company, Classic Cab, to operate in the city.

Taxi drivers from Yellow Checker Cab, California Yellow Cab and A Orange Cab said drivers from companies like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar are taking up taxis' designated waiting areas in Palo Alto, forcing cabs to park elsewhere and lose business.

"We don't even have the parking space (now)," said Mekonen Zequdu, a Yellow Checker Cab driver. "What's the point of adding a new company?"

When A Orange Cab applied to operate in Palo Alto in 2011, many Yellow Checker and California Cab drivers voiced similar protests at a public hearing: lack of demand and a negative impact on the drivers.

"We want the city to regulate the drivers that are picking up rides that are not legal and we want them to find us parking places," said Tony Randhawa of Yellow Checker Cab. "That's all. And we don't want them to just keep adding companies. Let us do the proper work that we are licensed to do."

The taxi drivers refer to ride-sharing companies as "illegal" because they're not regulated by the city in the same way as cabs. But Palo Alto officials highlighted the differences between the traditional taxis and the new breed of "ride-sharing companies." Unlike taxis, ride-sharing companies are not considered public transportation vehicles under Palo Alto's municipal code, said Lt. Zach Perron, police spokesman.

The city's municipal code defines a public transportation vehicle as "every for-hire, unmetered automobile or motor-propelled vehicle having a seating capacity of no more than five persons, excluding driver, used in the business of transporting passengers over the streets of this city, irrespective of whether such operations extend beyond the city, and which is not regulated by the public utilities commission."

Uber, Lyft and Sidecar-like companies are instead considered ride shares and thus, are regulated by the state's Public Utilities Commission, Perron said.

After the Public Utilities Commission issued statewide regulation governing ride-share programs last year, Perron said the city reviewed the regulations and determined they apply to drivers when they're operating in Palo Alto.

"While they're operating in town, as long as they're in compliance with traffic laws, parking rules, all the normal stuff -- their operation in Palo Alto is not a violation of our municipal code," he said.

Randhawa said Thursday that he doesn't oppose the influx of non-taxi drivers, but wants Palo Alto to regulate all entities in the same way.

"We want to be equivalent," he said. "We're not against competition; competition is good for us because in the end it will benefit the customer and make (for) a cheaper price. But unequal competition is not good."

Helwa cited higher insurance costs, the background check process, random drug and alcohol tests, yearly inspections and other costs associated with operating under the city's purview.

The public hearing on Classic Cab's application will be held Wednesday, April 2 at 9 a.m. at the Cubberley Community Center at 4000 Middlefield Road, Room H-1.


Posted by cab kallow, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Mar 27, 2014 at 3:56 pm


Posted by how about no, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 27, 2014 at 10:40 pm

It would be one thing if taxis offered comparable service, however, it is so much more convenient and pleasant to ride uber. Everything is done through your phone, and theres no pressure to pay in cash or tip. The drivers are also extremely courteous and cheaper.

Posted by Palo Alto Resident, a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 27, 2014 at 10:51 pm

I have started using Uber and like it a lot. As the previous commenter said, it is much more convenient and reliable than a taxi.

Posted by parent, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 27, 2014 at 11:39 pm

I agree that these ride share services should be subject to the same background checks, training, safety, and insurance standards as regular taxis. Why not?

Posted by ubermeplease, a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2014 at 12:56 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by @parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 28, 2014 at 5:01 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Posted by paul, a resident of Professorville
on Mar 28, 2014 at 7:57 am

Rider 'beware'! While Uber et al may appear attractive as a new concept. Remember just one thing about competition, it forces the little guy out of work and eventually, once all the little guys have gone-the prices to inflate and then become less competitive!

This has and is predominantly occurring current across in Europe.

Never be dismissive of what you currently have, for when it is gone there's little turning back!

Food for thought!

Posted by Donna, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 28, 2014 at 9:00 am

Over crowded and no place to park! Sounds familiar. First the residents feel it and now downtown services are feeling it, as it funnels down to Taxi service. Who will be the next to feel the affects of over growth in an already maxed out city? Wake up Palo Alto city council and be aware of the mess you are creating in what used to be a pleasant place to live.

Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside
on Mar 28, 2014 at 9:00 am

Taxis are just a government sponsored cartel on the take. Ever wondered why it is almost impossible to find a taxi when you need one, and why Uber can provide such vastly improved service?

The answer: the corrupt hand of government is, for now, not as stifling.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2014 at 9:36 am

There is a trend for people, particularly 20 somethings and those without children, to use ZipCars, ride share and taxis as a more economical alternative to owning a car. Apart from the costs of maintenance, parking, as well as running a car, there is the added advantage of not worrying about theft or drunk driving if you use these services.

Alternatives to the established taxi services are going to become more and more popular and more innovative ideas for those providing the services are going to happen. It is only a matter of time.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 28, 2014 at 10:04 am

We gave up a long time ago on taxi service up to SFO (which should be a standard, reliable no-brainer). How many of us drive up to SFO fairly regularly??? We have had booked taxis fail to show (not acceptable when you are on a schedule to fly), give poor service, and they were outrageously costly. (The costly part also applies to rides FROM SFO down here to Palo Alto.) If having more taxis will help, ok....not sure it solves the high cost issue. I wish the city officials would address this egregious issue.
I am all for ANY alternative to taxi service. While I haven't used the car-sharing services noted here, I am getting more willing to try them out sometime.
I wish there were a carpool system or regular bus service up to SFO from various key intersections of 101 where people could be dropped off/picked up at a park and ride lot (I have done this successfully on the east coast). We are seeing more busses all the time, Google busses, Yahoo busses, even Apple busses I believe....

Posted by Uber Fan, a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 28, 2014 at 11:19 am

I've used Uber not only in Palo Alto but in NYC and SoCal as well. Every time I've had nothing but great experiences. If I compare that to the multiple Super Shuttle and taxi no-shows I've had it's no contest. Uber wins. Taxis and shuttles might worry less about regulations for ride shares and more about quality of service.

Posted by Jas, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 28, 2014 at 1:39 pm

Uber Driver's don't have background checked I don't feel safe my daughter taking a uber when we don't even know who is driving this car. Taxi cabs are registered with Palo Alto Police Department, All the Driver's background is checked before they get taxi Driver's permit from PD and cab Companies are required to do a Drug test pree employments and random check. Uber, Lift and Side car don't have to do all of this.

Posted by Carla, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 28, 2014 at 2:23 pm

The taxi system in our area is joke, compared to what exists in most parts of Europe. There is not enough of them, they are too expensive, and the cars are usually in shambles, not to mention the actual drivers. Any other system at comparable prices is welcomed, or the taxi system will never get off its butt to reinvent itself.

Posted by jessie, a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 28, 2014 at 5:37 pm

I don't feel safe taking a uber when we don't even know who is driving this car. ,uber driver,s not going to covere customer's insurance but All the Taxi Driver's background is checked before they get taxi Driver's permit from PD and cab Companies are required to do a Drug test pre employments and random check. Uber, Lift and Side car don't have to do all of this so i am so scared to take Uber ,so please don't use uber any more if you love your self and your love one's..............

Posted by Hahaha, a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 28, 2014 at 5:50 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 28, 2014 at 5:56 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Mixed on Uber, a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 28, 2014 at 6:08 pm

While I love the Uber concept, cleanliness, professionalism and reliability, I don't like Ubers high prices! Particularly the surge pricing that happens when demand goes up. BUT, having said that I will pay those prices because convenience and reliability are more important to me and those are two traits taxis just don't have. They are the opposite. Taxis need to get with the program and come up to speed with the 21st Century!
The old fashioned way isn't working anymore.

Posted by Joe, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 28, 2014 at 6:11 pm

Ride sharing services in California are not as tightly regulated as taxi services which are usually regulated by local commissions. Taxi drivers are required to pass a Live Scan screening. Live Scan is a fingerprint-based background check using the DOJ and FBI databases. Live Scan will also provide notification of criminal activity even after initial screening.

The California PUC regulates ride sharing as a "black car" service which does not have the same insurance and background check requirements. For example, see: Web Link

Most local rules also require an initial drug test and an agreement to further random testing from taxi drivers. It's up to you to decide if the differences are important, but the fact is there are differences.

Posted by Jacqueline V., a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 29, 2014 at 5:42 pm

It remains a mystery to me how Palo Alto, the heart of Silicon Valley, is so against tech innovation improving the way we live! Do you know how many other countries aspire to have just a little of what we have?! Ride-sharing startups like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar are new on demand services that take advantage of the mobile-cloud. It's great for us consumers to have so many less expensive, more reliable choices! Sure, there's room for improvement in their business models, but just "enjoy the ride!" We're living in yet another huge IT and business transformation - and we should be grateful for it! As for the traditional taxis in Palo Alto, don't get upset - get creative! That's what SF taxis did. They developed their own mobile app and process to compete better. THAT's Silicon Valley innovation!

Posted by JackS, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 30, 2014 at 12:38 pm

There is no parking for anyone, let alone the taxi service! This is what the article is really talking about, not comparing the two different types of services. The Taxi drivers don't feel they have waiting/parking space to pick up customers in major transportation areas.

Posted by safety 1st, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 30, 2014 at 8:49 pm

I just want a safe taxi.

Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2014 at 12:32 am

> Taxi drivers are required to pass a Live Scan screening.
> Live Scan is a fingerprint-based background check using the
> DOJ and FBI databases

With so many taxi drivers being immigrants--what's the likelihood that the DOJ/FBI databases have all the relevant information about these taxi driver applicants' backgrounds in their home countries?

Posted by Stella, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 2, 2014 at 10:11 pm

Joe took the words out of my mouth! Most of the Taxi drivers aren't Americans, so background checks are a false sense of security. For all I'm concern the Taxi driver can a pedophile from another country. We have to remember the rest of the world doesn't operate like the USA.
People you want technology, it here so let's embrace it and move on be grateful for these technological advances. These ride program keeps less cars of the road, especially in a small town which in turn helps the traffic. At the same time it's only right that these ride share programs pay a fair share of taxes.

Posted by Thumbs up to ride-sharing, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 3, 2014 at 9:06 am

> I just want a safe taxi.

I agree, but there is no point having safe taxis if they refuse to take you or don't even show up!

I once had to go to Stanford Hospital for an outpatient procedure. The appointment was at 6:00am. With two little kids and a tight budget, we thought the best choice was for me to take a cab to the hospital and then have my husband pick me up after the procedure. (I was advised not to drive after the procedure.)

When I called the cab company and told them where I wanted to go, they seemed annoyed by the short distance. They finally screamed, What time?!" When I told them, they hung up.

In the end, we had to ask a dear friend to drive me. I have not taken a local cab since then.

The arrival of Uber, Lyft, etc. is a game-changer, and in a good way!

If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Palo Alto quietly gets new evening food truck market
By Elena Kadvany | 3 comments | 2,571 views

On Tour - The Highly Selective Liberal Arts Colleges: Occidental, Pitzer, and Scripps
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 1 comment | 1,601 views

See Me. Hear Me. Donít Fix Me.
By Chandrama Anderson | 2 comments | 1,402 views

Foothills Park: a world away
By Sally Torbey | 9 comments | 1,369 views

Candidate Kickoff Events: Public, not just for supporters
By Douglas Moran | 6 comments | 799 views