Oakland is in the midst of a mini-entertainment boom that still is barely keeping up with crowds in search of diversion. Now that they can find more than one place to go for good food, music or dancing, they're stuck when it comes to taxis.
Finding a cab in Oakland after sunset is like finding a misplaced key. You need it, you know it must be somewhere, but you have to search all over to find it. Only the taxis take longer to track down, even during daylight hours.
The news is good but not great. Oakland won't get the number of cabs required to match the number of people who need them. But with some intervention by the city, taxis may become better-run and more available, even after midnight.
I mean, at least Cinderella could hail a pumpkin. What if she got busted for drunken driving because she couldn't find one?
The blueprint isn't complete, but most taxi fleets will have to cover all parts of the city 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Uptown and Rockridge districts on a Friday night probably will have more taxis available more often, and getting a cab in East Oakland or Lower Bottoms in West Oakland could be a possibility.
Oakland will be getting up to speed by enabling cabbies to accept credit cards instead of cash only.
After-hour cab service is sort of a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum in Oakland.
One cabbie from Nigeria told me he refused to drive at night in Oakland — anywhere. "Too dangerous," he said.
Good luck if you're poor, old or both, in need of a taxi for a trip to the grocery store. Some drivers don't even like going into some areas by day.
Oakland is no Manhattan, where taxis are like vehicular vultures hunting for a fare. Here, people just assume they won't get a taxi or don't consider it because the companies keep such a low profile. So taxi companies adjust their service.
Right now, cabbies cluster around 13th and Broadway as though they were competing for space at the taxi stands instead of fares. Sometimes a bus is faster.
No offense, guys (not a single woman drives a taxi in Oakland, according to Barbara Killey, the administrative hearing officer who has been putting the taxi plans together).
I've never had a bad driver, and most are trying to make a living. I met a cabbie from Afghanistan who was putting his six children through school on a driver's wages. Others have complained about fees they have to dole out and getting shoved around by their bosses.
Riders have complained about drivers who either are surly or don't know the city. (A new ordinance approved by City Council in October requires drivers to be courteous.)
Veterans Cab and the Friendly/Yellow/Metro taxi group (owned by one couple) took control of 217 of the city's 315 taxicab permits. That means two companies out of 65 in Oakland hold more than two-thirds of all permits.
Taxi stands — which the city plans to increase in number — declined from 40 in the 1970s, when they were paid for by taxi companies, to 10 today.
Ten also is the number of Yellows permits revoked by the city in 2006 because numerous cabs were idle longer than city rules allow. The owners fought the decision but lost.
Now those permits are up for grabs, in addition to one permit the city revoked from another company.
Even double the number being reissued is probably not enough with the growing city. Oakland's 1980 population was 339,337. On Jan. 1, it was 420,183, according to the California Department of Finance.
Taxi drivers opposed the city's plan to issue 50 permits (14 would have been equipped with special ramps for the city's 4,000 residents certified as disabled by the Americans with Disability Act) because the added competition and high gas prices would hurt business. Instead, the city will issue 11 permits — all requiring ramps — and instead of participating in a lottery, companies will have to win over the city with proposals for how they will enhance Oakland's taxi service.
No new taxi permits have been available in 20 years, though 29 were reissued in 2001. They all went to one company through the lottery system, Killey said.
"But," she added, "they're practically invisible in the city."
City Council members approved numerous changes to the city's taxicab laws and will tie up a few more details Tuesday at their regular meeting. Agendas past and present are available at www.oaklandnet.com under City Council agendas.