On a recent Sunday afternoon, at Rockridge BART, a cab driver in a tan sweater sits inside one of the two cabs parked in a taxi zone. He’s a middle-aged man, who has been working as a cab driver in Oakland for nine years. “See the two pillars over there?” he says, and points to the concrete posts across the street. His voice rising, he tells his frustrating story of his most recent parking ticket.
“I came to the police officer and I said, ‘Ma’am, I am parking on a taxi stand, so why did you take my picture?’” says the driver, who asks that his name not be used. “She said, ‘No, you are stopping on a bus stop’. I said, ‘No Ma’am, there is a taxi stand,’” he said explaining that he pointed out to the officer that he was parked directly in front of a taxi stand.
But she insisted he was in a bus stop, the driver says — and wrote him a $250 ticket.
He wasn’t alone. Cab drivers across Oakland say they have been issued an increased number of parking tickets in the past year, and they feel they received those tickets unfairly while on the job. Some, like the driver at the BART station, say they have been cited by AC Transit police even though they were parking in legal designated taxi zones. Other drivers say they have been ticketed by the city for parking illegally while trying to pick up customers.
Either way, drivers say, the tickets are the results of two basic problems: There aren’t enough taxi stands, leaving cab drivers with not enough space to park. And there’s a lack of communication between the city, the AC Transit police, the Oakland Police Department, and cab drivers about parking.
The man who received the ticket was one of more than 15 cab drivers who spoke at a City Council meeting earlier this month to address their grievances.
The Oakland Police Department confirmed that tickets for cab drivers have increased in the past year, and attributed it to a new officer in charge of taxi enforcement who has been more disciplined in regulating the law. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, which oversees policing in AC Transit bus zones, says it has not increased ticketing, but drivers argue they feel the tickets are sometimes unfairly harsh.
In April, Officer Anthony Castro was put in charge of the department’s Taxi Unit. Oakland Police Public Information Officer Jeff Thomason says OPD finally has an officer overseeing taxis who is doing his job and enforcing the rules.
“What you see is you got cab drivers that are double parking,” Thomason said. “They’re parking in red zones, they’re parking in metered spots. You’ve got people who want to use those meters but they’re being used by cabs. Downtown, I’ve seen taxi cab drivers double parked and the drivers standing outside their vehicles in the streets, and it’s not safe.”
Drivers say they don’t mind parking enforcement – so long as the rules are clear and there’s somewhere out there for them to park. The driver ticketed at the Rockridge station, though, said there’s too much confusion over the rules at the station, and he and others say that AC Transit police are often overzealous in enforcing parking violations. “You know, if I intentionally made a mistake then I pay that ticket,” he said. “It’s not a problem if I know I’m wrong.”
When he was issued the Rockridge parking ticket, he said he used his phone to photograph the officer and the location of his car in relationship to the taxi stand. As he recounted the episode, he pulled the photos out of his car along with the original ticket, and pointed to a picture of his vehicle parked directly in front of a taxi stand, as evidence that he was in the right.
BART spokesperson Linton Johnson said the taxi driver’s complaint wasn’t an isolated story, and BART customers have been ticketed, too.
“I’m not surprised,” Johnson said. “We get blamed for the tickets AC Transit is writing for folks in the BART zone. They seem to want to pounce on BART customers.”
The cab driver who received the ticket in the bus zone said he showed his photos to Barbara Killey, the assistant to the City Administrator who is also the liaison between taxi drivers and the City. “It seems like there have been several situations where they [taxi drivers] are ticketed in spite of pointing out that they are not doing anything illegal,” Killey said in a phone interview.
Alameda County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant J.D. Nelson said that the Rockridge cab driver should contest his ticket and schedule an administrative hearing.
The Rockridge cab driver said that he sent a complaint and the photographs to the citation office and said he received a letter back telling him to pay the ticket and then argue it at a hearing. He paid the $250 ticket intending to go to court, but said he hasn’t had the time due to his 7 a.m.-7 p.m. work schedule.
Another driver parked at the Rockridge Bart Station was Edward Spanier, who’s been a cab driver for the last 20 years and has worked in Oakland for the last six years.
He was wearing a frayed straw hat and a red shirt faded to a light pink, waiting for a passenger. He described what happened when he was cited for solicitation – parking illegally while looking for passengers. He was at the Amtrak Station in Jack London Square when he was ticketed and says that he was there to pick up someone who had called in for a cab.
“There’s a two car lane pick-up and drop-off zone that was occupied by two taxi cabs,” Spanier said. He said he needed a place to wait for passengers but there weren’t any taxi stands and cabs already occupied the pick-up and drop-off zones. He said that he found a spot where he could stay out of traffic and wouldn’t occupy commercial parking spaces.
Spanier said he had just pulled up to a red curb designated for no parking when he was issued a citation and $293 fine. He said there was a cab driver parked in a pick up and drop off zone who came over to say that he, too, had just received a ticket for the same reason.
Spanier said he understands that he was parked illegally in a red zone, but the problem is that there are not enough taxi stands for the city’s cab drivers. He was also at the City Council meeting and delivered a statement against the increase in ticketing across Oakland. “I was not there to solicit,” Spanier told the council. “I was there to pick up a call.”
Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan said at the meeting that she would be happy to work on the taxi stand issue. In a phone interview Kaplan said that she plans to get more taxi stands in the city, and believes that passengers will benefit as well from an increase. “If we have more stands in more places, it would be easier for people getting a cab,” she said.
Kaplan said that taxi stands must be part of the development plan for Rockridge, MacArthur, and Lake Merritt BART stations. “The new plan that is being designed for Lake Merritt BART — that plan is not about taxis but about the revitalization of that area,” she said. “A comprehensive plan should include transit. It should include taxi access.”
The taxi stand in the Rockridge BART station parking lot currently allows four cabs to wait at a time. The driver who received the ticket at the station, Spanier, and three other drivers waiting outside said that the spaces fill up quickly during rush hour, forcing additional cabbies to either double-park or wait in the drop-off zones.
Drivers say that as well as creating more taxi stands, the city needs to re-install former stands that have been moved or taken down since the seismic retrofit construction began at Rockridge BART station.
“This has been a chaotic situation with construction,” Spanier said.
The uncertainty extends to communication, as the city and BART offer conflicting plans for the taxi stands. Kaplan says that the stands will eventually be brought back from the parking lot and onto the street. But BART’s Johnson said the parking lot taxi stands are intended to be permanent.
Cab drivers have said that they’re still waiting for their grievances to be addressed and that no one in City Council is making them aware of what steps are being taken to address the issue.
Killey said that the day after the cab drivers spoke at City Council, City Administrator Dan Lindheim spoke to OPD and asked them to relax enforcement while the city looks into increasing taxi stands. According to Thomason, OPD agreed.
But relaxed enforcement does not mean no enforcement, especially downtown, the most difficult place to park according to cab drivers.
“We can’t have taxi cab drivers double parking downtown,” Thomason said. “Their vehicles are standing in the streets and it’s not safe.”
One of the most controversial taxi stands is at 13th Street and Broadway, where the owner of a business in front of the stand complained about the high number of cab drivers who double-park there.
Two stands were moved from 13th Street and Broadway to 14th Street and Broadway, which upset drivers who say that passengers don’t frequently come to that intersection. According to Killey, cab riders say the opposite — that there aren’t any cab drivers at the intersection when they need them.
Killey said she thinks putting a sign at the 19th Street BART station identifying the intersections that have cab stands might help. She added that although the city is working to install more stands, it’s a complicated process. For example, she said the city has to calculate how much revenue it loses by taking out a meter, and also get permission from the property owner most affected by the stand.
Kaplan said it would probably take a couple months for the city to construct new taxi stands at the spots where people try to hail cabs.
But taxi drivers like Spanier say that isn’t enough. They want the city and law enforcement to inform them ahead of time when there are changes that affect them, before there are penalties.
“With these citations, I don’t know what the purpose is,” Spanier said. “If the purpose is to manage traffic, the drivers aren’t getting any info. They’re being told, ‘Here’s a citation. Pay us the money.’”
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