Dozens of unlicensed cab drivers in SF

June 17, 2009 7:27:43 PM PDT
In a city that depends so much on tourism, the ABC7 News I-Team has uncovered a troubling headline. Nearly 200 San Francisco cab drivers, operating without a valid driver's license.

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The major cab companies tell the I-Team they check each year to make sure their drivers have a valid license, but it looks like some have fallen through the cracks.

A memo from the Municipal Transportation Agency went out to all San Francisco cab companies late Tuesday. It identified 189 taxi drivers who do not have a valid California driver's license. The MTA warned the drivers may not work until the agency clears them to return to duty.

"The inquiry that we conducted, which was with trained emergency management personnel through the drivers, Department of Motor Vehicles, identified some problems with those particular records," said SF MTA taxi director Chris Hayashi.

According to the memo, the top three companies for unlicensed drivers are DeSoto with 18, Luxor with 27, and Yellow Cab with 50.

"We've got the most cabs, too. A cab company with only 20 cabs of course is going to have less drivers than a cab company with 500 cabs," explained Hal Millegaard, general manager for Yellow Cab.

Millegaard says his company checks drivers' records twice a year. He is in the process of contacting his drivers on the list.

"I have to get ahold of them, make them go to the DMV, get a copy of their DMV printout, and bring it back to me or bring it to the MTA in order to prove that they really do indeed have a valid driver's license," said Millegaard.

Millegaard expects most of his drivers on the list will be cleared to drive, including Joe Leung. Leung's license was suspended for an unpaid ticket and other infractions, but Leung says he is allowed to drive for work.

"If you get into a taxi, you want to make sure that you have a qualified driver, and we're trying to make sure that that's true," said Hayashi.

This is the first major action for Hayashi since the MTA took on oversight of the industry from the Taxi Commission three months ago. One cab company manager told the I-Team it is a case of "bureaucrats gone wild."

Noyes: "How do you answer something like that?"

Hayashi: "We have a responsibility to public safety. That's our primary role as a regulator to make sure that when people get into taxi cabs that the operator knows how to operate a vehicle."

Others companies welcome the extra scrutiny. Even though the list says Luxor has two dozen unlicensed drivers, manager Charles Rathbone says most of them have already checked out as having valid licenses.

"It's OK to inconvenience us, what's not OK is to have people out there without licenses and I'm glad we had a chance to double check today and we're OK with that," said Rathbone.

The MTA started its investigation after the FBI arrested a member of the police taxi detail in March for taking bribes. Late Wednesday, the I-Team received a memo from the MTA with the names of 14 drivers from the list who have been cleared to drive.

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