Two brothers who operate separate cab companies in Burbank are betting that the Metrolink trains that began rolling last month will put them on track to a financial windfall.
By acquiring a near-monopoly on cab service at Metrolink stops in Chatsworth, Van Nuys, Burbank and Glendale, the Babaeian brothers stand to gain substantial new business if the new commuter service succeeds--especially because the county and employer groups often pay the taxi fares to encourage commuters to use them.
"We basically compared it to other cities that have metro systems and we figured this would be a gold mine for taxi business, since the people need to get off the train and get to their destinations," Masood Babaeian said.
Masood Babaeian operates Babaeian Transportation Co. and his younger brother Mahmood (Bobby) Babaeian heads Century Transit Systems of Burbank. Separate firms owned by the brothers operate the only taxicabs in Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena.
In the San Fernando Valley, Masood Babaeian also operates San Fernando Valley Checker Cab, which has been in a brutal business battle with his only Valley rival, Valley Cab Co.
But so far, Valley Cab has shown little interest in competing for Metrolink customers. Its president, Lloyd Conway, has said he is concentrating on serving customers in the West Valley and will let Babaeian have the Metrolink customers.
Because the train service began only two weeks ago, it is too early to tell if the Babaeians' strategy will pay off. But there are signs that they are on the right track.
At the Chatsworth stop, Checker Cab averaged 128 passengers each day during the first week of Metrolink service, when passengers rode the train for free, said Rick Ward, general manager of San Fernando Valley Checker Cab.
On Monday, Nov. 2, the first day of full-fare service, the number of passengers dropped to 25 but increased to 35 Tuesday and 37 Wednesday, Ward said. He said he expects those numbers to gradually increase as people become accustomed to the idea of commuting by rail.
At the Burbank stop, taxis operated by the Babaeian brothers served between 80 and 100 passengers per day during the free-ride week, Ward said. That number dropped to between 40 and 50 passengers per day during the full-fare week, he said.
Much of the Babaeians' business is attributable to several grants given by the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission to operate shuttle service from various stops.
In Chatsworth, Checker Cab was the only company to bid for a two-year contract to operate a shuttle for workers whose employers are members of two nonprofit business associations. The workers can ride the taxis free of charge to and from work, and Checker Cab charges the cost to the 12th District Transportation Management Assn. and the Warner Center Transportation Organization.
The tab is paid by a $75,000 grant from the county transportation commission and $40,000 provided by the Warner Center group.
In Van Nuys, Ward said he plans to bid for a similar contract next month with the Van Nuys Transportation Management Assn.
Monica Hall, administrative coordinator for the Van Nuys association, said she is also hoping to get a grant from the county transportation commission to operate a shuttle beginning in December. The shuttles would operate free for workers of the 24 companies in her group.
In Burbank, the Burbank Media District Transportation Management Organization has been offering employees of the group's 55 companies free taxi rides to and from work since the commuter service began Oct. 26. The organization has paid the taxi companies a flat rate of $3.50 for each shuttle ride. The shuttles have been run by Babaeian taxis, since they are the only taxis licensed to operate in Burbank.
Judith Johnston-Weston, executive director of the organization, said the group has received a $150,000 grant from the county transportation commission to have one firm exclusively operate the shuttles for the next year.
In Burbank and Glendale, Masood Babaeian's cabs operate under the names Checker Cab and Burbank and Pasadena taxis and Mahmood Babaeian's cabs operate under the names Yellow Cab, Red Top and Celebrity cabs.
Masood Babaeian said he and his brother do not make as much business off the Glendale Metrolink stop because two shuttle services already operate there. But Ward said the stop does generate a handful of passengers daily.
Since Masood Babaeian won a franchise to serve the San Fernando Valley, his company has been locking horns with Valley Cab. Each firm has complained to the Los Angeles Board of Transportation Commissioners--which oversees taxi franchises in the city--that the other company violates city regulations.
Last week, the commissioners ordered both Checker Cab and Valley Cab to forfeit bonds of $20,000 each on grounds that Checker Cab failed to put 44 cabs on the road by the city's deadline of Oct. 22 and Valley Cab ran misleading ads in several telephone directories, despite repeated warnings by the board to cancel the ads.
The commissioners also increased Valley Cab's performance bond against possible repeat offenses to $100,000 and ordered it to disconnect two telephone lines listed in the ads under the names of other cab companies, including the rival Checker Cab Co.