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SOUTH BEACH: SAN CLEMENTE

Plan Could Keep Taxi Firms Out of Jam

March 18, 1998|SUSAN DEEMER

When Ginny's Taxi began operating here four years ago, drivers delivered pizzas between calls for taxi service.

Four drivers took turns driving the lone taxi, a maroon station wagon, and owner Virginia Borja fielded customers' calls on her cellular telephone.

Borja says she's still "hanging on by the skin of my teeth" trying to operate her fledgling taxi firm.

That's why, when the city considered joining the Orange County Taxi Administration Program, Borja balked.

Because fees for vehicle inspections and permits do not recoup the city's costs, the City Council had been weighing whether it should join the county's program.

New permit fees would grow from $100 to $1,000 annually, drivers' fees from $50 to $75 a year. Also, new cab companies under the county program pay a onetime $3,000 fee; San Clemente charges a onetime $150 fee.

Under the county program, taxi companies no longer apply for separate city permits to operate in member cities. But for smaller companies like Borja's that generally operate within a single city's limits, or only to neighboring cities, the higher fees could prove a death blow.

City Councilman Steve Apodaca said the county program might kill off taxi service in this southernmost corner of Orange County.

"That unique geographical position makes it difficult for taxi cabs to operate here," he said at a council meeting earlier this month. "I am worried we are going to wind up with no service here at all."

Yellow Cab Express and Orange County Taxi are also licensed to operate two vehicles in San Clemente. But both are based in Laguna Niguel.

Borja said that if San Clemente joins the county program, the increased fees she'd face would certainly force her to raise fares, something she said she doesn't want to do.

As an alternative to the county program, San Clemente council members will consider tonight allowing taxi companies to obtain private vehicle inspections and drug testing. The proposal would still raise fees from $200 to $340 a year--far lower, however, than the county's minimum of $1,225 in annual fees.

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