Berkeley taxi driver Nestor Salo begins his days long before the sun rises and works seven days a week between his three part-time jobs.
Despite the hours and the unpredictable daily earnings, Salo loves driving his taxi and chuckles as he recounts the quirky experiences he has had serving the Berkeley clientele in the last four years.
But in August, Salo received his first administrative fine for a parking violation, which was augmented when the city enforcer added two more charges — a policy known as a “triple jeopardy.”
“It doesn’t make any sense, and that’s why I’m so angry,” Salo said, gesturing in exasperation. “Now I have to budget. There’s a lot of bills, and rent in Oakland and Berkeley is very expensive. Gas is expensive … my earnings for (that) day is not even enough to pay for the ticket.”
At its Tuesday meeting, Berkeley City Council unanimously voted to refer an item establishing a new policy to the city manager, one that would issue one citation to taxi drivers for a single parking violation — instead of the three given for blocking public streets, not parking in accordance with designated signs and not parking in a marked zone during the day. Drivers will now only pay the $100 fine for one violation, instead of $300 for all three.
Salo’s citation is just one of more than a dozen that have been issued over the last four to six months, according to Said Ali, chair of the Berkeley Taxicab Association.
Although pleased with the decision to end triple jeopardy, Ali said the council has yet to address other pressing issues that taxi drivers are facing, such as the longstanding issue of taxis that are not permitted to operate in Berkeley taking away business from city cabs. Ali estimated that about 50 percent of taxis in Berkeley do not have proper Berkeley permits — which is a violation of the city permit code, he said.
“Up until now, nothing has been done,” he said. “We’ve been telling them for the last year.”
Salo agreed with Ali and said San Francisco — where he drives a taxi on the weekends — has stricter laws and fines for taxis operating outside their designated zone. Vehicle permits in Berkeley cost $75 each, according to the city’s taxicab application.
Councilmember Kriss Worthington, however, said the council has already begun taking action and is currently in the process of sending a memo that will include a phone number for city taxi drivers and residents to call if they notice a nonpermitted taxi transporting passengers in the city.
“It’s a good step that they are revising the policy, but they need to work a little better with taxi drivers,” Salo said. “We work hard. We help the city transport people. They should take care of our business.”
City spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross said the city manager will be reviewing existing policy and establishing a timeline and course of action in response to the referral in the coming weeks.
“I think if one person got this letter, then I’m expecting the other (drivers) to get a letter,” Worthington said. “I think it’s pretty clear that the city manager has accepted that one ticket is going to be one ticket instead of three.”
Staff writer Libby Rainey contributed to this report.
Daphne Chen covers city government. Contact her at [email protected]