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Taxi Drivers Disagree On Permit Limits But City Council Might Have Final Say

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio
Hector Garcia, an independent cab driver, spoke before the City Council on Thursday.

San Antonio uses a ratio of one taxi cab for every 1,700 people in the city to determine how many taxi licenses are issued each year, which means there are 886 taxis in the city.  


Now, a group of independent taxi drivers is asking the city to remove that cap.  


That proposal could transform San Antonio’s taxi industry. The full San Antonio City Council may consider it in January.


The San Antonio Police Department oversees taxi permits and is recommending removing the cap of taxis by 2019. It would also make it so a driver only needs one cab to be considered a taxi company – the current requirement is three cabs.


Owners of cab companies oppose the measure because they say there are already too many vehicles for hire on the road, including ride-for-hire companies like Uber and Lyft.


Robert Gonzales owns National Cab, a company of eight cars. He said Uber and Lyft drivers are taking away about 50 percent of his business.


“How can you even consider adding more permits when we are on survival mode? We’re barely making it. Please help us and don’t do this,” Gonzalez said.


Drivers can go three or four hours without a fare, and they have to work longer hours to make up for the lost revenue, Gonzales said. He’s a member of the city’s Transportation Advisory Board, which has voted unanimously against both relaxing permit caps and single car companies.


Hector Garcia is a cab driver that represents more than 200 independent drivers who signed a petition to lift the cap. Garcia said with more permits and independent companies, drivers won’t have to pay cab rental fees to large companies like Yellow Cab.


“We get those permits to the taxi drivers, then they don’t have to pay the companies, and they’re going to be able to survive, and they’re going to be able to take care of themselves and take care of their families,” Garcia said.


He says the savings from not having to rent vehicles would offset the cost of losing business to Uber.


“The transportation network companies came in; they affected the taxi cab companies and they are losing business right and left. Thing is, we don’t want to go down with them,” Garcia said. “The taxi drivers prefer to have their own permits. … We don’t need a middleman.”


On Thursday, the City Council’s transportation committee approved sending the measure to the full council, with some caveats. A compromising proposal will have to be drafted possibly with a mediator. District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez said the two sides will have to work together.


“If they put us into a position of having to make the decision for them, we’re going to make a decision they might not like it,” he said. “Their best option is to own their own future and own the solution to the differences that they’ve got.”


Joey Palacios can be reached at joey@TPR.org or on Twitter at @joeycules