Transportation Committee Terminates LADOT Taxi Study Contract

9_23_09_sign.jpgPhoto:ShelbyWils/Flickr

This afternoon’s Los Angeles City Council Transportation Committee was dominated by the taxi controversy explained in this earlier post.
In brief, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) is
overseeing a taxi assessment to set future taxi policy, and LADOT
awarded a contract for that assessment in a manner that bypassed
agreed-upon processes.

There was a great deal of testimony from taxi drivers and their
allies about the lack of transparency in the process, the miserable
working conditions under the current taxi system, the important opportunity
presented by this assessment, and the need to rescind the contract
LADOT had awarded improperly. Taxi franchise owner representatives also
testified. They refuted many taxi worker claims and urged that the
contracted assessment proceed unimpeded.

LADOT General Manager Rita Robinson testified that LADOT had tried
to follow the process. She stated that LADOT had made a verbal request to the
outgoing Transportation Committee Chair then-Council Member Wendy
Greuel. Council Member Greuel didn’t schedule the item during the last
couple weeks of her tenure, before moving on to become City Controller.
GM Robinson then felt that LADOT was losing time and wanted to get work
underway as quickly as possible, hence proceeded to award the contract
to Nelson/Nygaard.

Council Member Bernard Parks expressed sternly that the city was
about to spend $250,000 for an objective study to make progress in
resolving taxi issues, and that if the process of that study
is marred from the outset, then the results of it will be suspect, and
the city will be back at square one. Council Member Paul Koretz
emphasized the need for a transparent and open process. Council Member
Tom LaBonge and committee chair Council Member Bill Rosendahl also urged
transparency as necessary to build public trust.

By far, LADOT’s harshest critic at the hearing was Council Member
Richard Alarcón. Alarcón repeatedly pressed LADOT’s GM and
representatives as to why they had gone against the explicit
instructions of the city council to report back to the Transportation
Committee before awarding the contract. Alarcón exclaimed that the
"contract
is bogus at this point" and moved that the contract be rescinded.
Koretz immediately seconded the motion.

There was some discussion, including from the City Attorney
representative present, as to whether the Transportation Committee (as
opposed to, more likely, the full council with mayoral concurrence)
actually had the power to direct the LADOT General Manager to revoke a
contract. GM Robinson took the high road in this exchange, though,
stating that if there was a "consensus among committee members" then
LADOT could "march in that direction."

The Alarcón motion wording was then reworded, per City Attorney
advice, to direct LADOT to "exercise the 30-day termination clause" on
the taxi contract. The motion passed unanimously.

Rosendahl then stressed that it was important that this issue not
drag out excessively. He worked out a schedule with LADOT where the
issue will come before the Taxi Commission on October 15th, and then
come back to the Transportation Committee on October 28th.

  • You know what this means, don’t you?

    More Transportation Committee members will get campaign money from DOT consultants from now on!

    I can see the mailers being printed already.

    The price of graft just got higher, boys. Taking a bureaucrat to lunch won’t hack it any more. This is a whole new era!

  • KinOfCain

    Whatever they do they need to fix the cabs in this city. In my business travels it’s been my experience that we have the worst, most corrupt cabs in the nation.

  • LAofAnaheim

    My observation is that there is too many cab companies in southern California competing for scarce customers. It seems we are the only city that has yellow, white, green, blue, red, and fiesta colored taxi cabs. That’s ridiculous. There should be 1 unified tax company in Los Angeles County that serves all districts. I found that cab companies are restricted in where they can pick up fares (i.e. cabs in Redondo beach can drop off passengers in Santa Monica, but cannot pick up any passengers in that jurisdiction, thereby making the cab driver look like a douche). If we relaxed restrictions on cab companies (just like the Hail-A-Taxi program), maybe we’ll see more strolling cabs on our streets and people will feel comfortable to stick their thumb out.

    Also, this problem of cabs staying in call order that prevents them from picking up a $5 fare is crazy. Sometimes cabbies won’t pick a passenger off the street because they are “in-line” for a possible LAX or long-distance fare.

  • ubrayj02 – “won’t HACK it any more”

    Love the pun.

  • Amy Pfeiffer

    Hi to LA Streetsblog,
    As a quick disclaimer, I work for Nelson Nygaard, the consulting firm called on in this post, and I work with Will Rodman, also called out. In addition, before joining this company, I worked for Transportation Alternatives for almost 5 years, when we were all trying our best with Open Planning to figure out how this blog would work.
    This post is good and important reporting. What I don’t like is calling out an individual for their work, and connecting their ideas with a failure in the taxi system. Consulting is just that; some pieces of a plan are implemented and others aren’t, regardless of intent.
    My preference is to see blame associated with the politics of city work, that is the story here. As advocates, let’s point the finger at the power, not the hired hand, that is our impact.
    Word.

  • Publicly calling out people for failure or bad policy decisions can work really well, so I don’t see why it shouldn’t be engaged in. Of course it creates a negative atmosphere in public policy decisions … but, then again, so does incompetence.

    Further, when one doesn’t have the resources to buy your own council vote or mayoral decisions, what else does one have left? Taking time off work to walk to the halls downtown for months on end begging? Printing and distributing negative information about bad policies, and bad policy makers, is one of the fundamental ways to influence future decisions in a republic.

  • Lord knows one of my pet sayings is the word consultant can cover a multitude of sins. SCAGLEV is just one example of folks knowing better spouting nonsense to keep clients happy and to collect a paycheck.

    That said sometimes the direct attack doesn’t work really well. Bureaucracies are risk averse and if you back them into a corner they likely will deny the truth and leave thinks broken. Sometime you have to shelve the name calling and leave them a way to save face.

    The idea of 1 unified taxi company in Los Angeles County is not likely to happen, given the multiple jurisdictions and complex political geography. Plus it would be no panacea — the Coachelle Valley (Palm Desert etc.) has such a set up, supervised by Sunline Services Group (which is a subsidary of Sunline Transit). They have for the past few years been trying to bring order to the taxi service in their area, and it has been a very bumpy road. L.A. likely will also be a hard nut, given the differing points of view by the taxi operators vs. the taxi company owners.

  • Update: It turns out that the LADOT won’t actually be making good on their GM’s commitment to march in the direction specified by the Transportation Committee. The contract issue will be going to the full council for a vote. It’s on the agenda for the full city council meeting on September 30th (this Wednesday, 10am) – see the agenda here – item #19: http://ens.lacity.org/clk/councilagendas/clkcouncilagendas362704_09302009.pdf

    It’s not entirely clear to me what this means… but either the Mayor and/or the LADOT are pushing to have the controversial contract remain in place… over the stated intent of LADOT General Manager Rita Robinson at last week’s meeting (as described above.) In my opinion it’s another sad blow to the public trust and the credibility of the LADOT.

  • Uh, Joe–did you read the motion? It merely validates the Committee’s desire to direct that the contract be terminated and other wheels of government grind forward. I am no apologist for LADOT and its often 50s traffic engineering tendencies, but this just seems to be a case of dotting i’s, etc. to cover the city’s butt regarding legal formalities. Even with the GM agreeing about restarting the process this vote is necessary to protect the taxpayers, etc. as far as I can see…

  • @Dana – Yes – the motion before council tomorrow is to terminate the taxi study contract. At the Transportation Committee, GM Robinson stated that she would terminate the contract if that was the consensus of the Transportation Committee. At the committee meeting there didn’t appear to be a need to bring the item before the full council. Bringing it to full council is contrary to what the GM told the committee.

  • Probably 3 seconds after the GM spoke someone from the city attorney’s office whispered in her ear that terminating by fiat could expose the city to liability. Yeah, she is a veteran bureaucrat so she should know how the process works but it is likely just a procedural thing. So it looks to be a minor gaffee not some sinister betrayl–we should save our vitrol for the real screwups (and oh my–they do happen!).

  • This morning, the taxi motion (to instruct the GM to terminate the contract) passed via the consent calendar. No testimony, no speeches, no statements.

    It’s not entirely clear to me, but it looks like my speculation in comment #8 above was probably wrong. I apologize for suspecting untoward intentions on the part of the mayor and LADOT for this agenda item. I think that Dana’s guess in comment #11 is most likely right. That it was a perfunctory “procedural thing” is the most likely explanation for the committee’s request going to full council.

    Now that this contract issue is behind us (though I suppose the council action does still need the concurrence of the mayor), I am looking forward to seeing a more transparent process and some real solutions for our taxi system emerging soon.

  • Turns out that while I was writing comment #12, the taxi motion was re-opened. There was heated testimony from both sides… and ultimately the council passed the motion passed (again.)

  • Joe, thanks for being our eyes and ears on this. Given the heated comments by both sides, I suspect this process will be very bumpy indeed…

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