A group of senior citizens recounted stories to the City Council of poor service and mistreatment by taxi drivers who they say are rude, unhelpful and overcharge. That is, of course, if they show up at all.
The seniors were talking about Berkeley’s subsidized taxi service that provides transportation for the elderly and disabled. Taxi riders purchase discounted vouchers, which are called scrip, from the city and use them instead of cash to pay taxi fares with contracted taxi services.
The cab companies redeem the scrip with the city once a month at 90 cents on the dollar.
According to Commission on Aging Vice Chair Charlie Betcher, there are fewer cab companies willing to provide the scrip service. The only cab company that currently provides the scrip service is Friendly Cab, which did not return phone calls to the Daily Planet on Wednesday.
“Ten years ago there were 10 cab companies that were contracted with the city to provide scrip service. Now there’s only one.”
Betcher said taxi drivers are reluctant to pick up scrip fares because the elderly and disabled often go short distances and want drivers to perform other tasks besides driving such as carrying grocery bags.
The City Council was scheduled to consider a recommendation from the Commission on Aging that would raise the redemption value of the scrip for cab drivers, redeem the scrip for cash twice a month instead of once a month and require all contracted cab companies to provide a specific portion of scrip service each day as a requirement of permit renewal.
Magnolia Evans, 70, one of about 40 scrip-using seniors who attended the meeting, told the council she has missed doctors’ appointments because cabs show up late. “I took a cab to the grocery store and when I was done shopping, I waited three hours for the cab and it never came,” she said.
Evans said a grocery store worker finally gave her a ride home after her shift was done.
Ester Kassoy, 88, said she was stranded at a market and had to walk 15 blocks when a cab didn’t show up.
“I can’t understand why a liberal city like Berkeley would allow cab drivers to treat old people this way,” she said.
City Manager Weldon Rucker asked the council to postpone voting on the recommendation until May 8. He said officials from the Housing Department, which administers the program, need time to consider other alternatives.
According to Interim Director of Housing Stephen Barton, one alternative might be requiring all cab companies that take fares in Berkeley to be required to provide scrip service.
COA Commissioner Maris Arnold said the commission hopes to have a Scrip Rider Bill of Rights prepared by May 8. “We want cabs to show up when they say they will,” said Arnold. “Every cab company that does business in Berkeley should have to sign the document.”
Rucker said he takes the situation very seriously and told seniors at the meeting to call his office if they have complaints about cab service.
The City Council did not have time to address the Compassionate Treatment of Homeless recommendation at Tuesday’s meeting, disappointing homeless advocates who waited late into the night.
The recommendation, submitted by Councilmember Kriss Worthington, called for a moratorium on enforcement of a state law that makes it a misdemeanor to sleep on public property as well as in abandoned buildings and automobiles.
About 75 homeless advocates, many of them homeless themselves, attended the meeting to show support for the moratorium.
But it became clear at 11:30 p.m. that the council was unwilling to extend its meeting to consider the issue as well as several others that remained on the agenda.
The recommendation was moved to next Tuesday’s meeting.
Community organizer, Darren Noy, of Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency, said he was disappointed the council didn’t take action on the item.
“They don’t want to deal with the issue,” he said. “They ignored the fact that there are people sleeping on the streets tonight who have no where else to go and they are being arrested.”
City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque said that the city does not have the authority to enact a moratorium on state law but the city can make issuing citations and arresting the homeless a low priority.
“Even if we do that,” she said, “people could still make citizens’ arrests which the police would have to carry out.”