Los Angeles police made nearly 650 arrests of “bandit” taxicab drivers in the first seven months of the year, more than double the number in all of 2006, reports the Los Angeles Times. The increase was attributed to the Bandit Taxi Enforcement Program, a joint venture between the city Department of Transportation and the Los Angeles Police Department. Many unlicensed drivers are arrested multiple times, said Taxicab Administrator Tom Drischler.
The City Council endorsed the program last August and approved a 20-cent surcharge on each cab ride to help fund it. City-licensed taxi drivers also pay $30 a month per cab to help cover the program’s annual budget of about $810,000. “Illegal and unlicensed drivers will not be tolerated on our streets,” Councilwoman Wendy Greuel said. “It’s clear that bandit taxis pose a threat.” Greuel said bandit drivers often charge exorbitant fees, have criminal records or have had their driver’s licenses revoked. Passengers of bandit cabs make dozens of complaints each year about drivers who demand sexual favors or rob or assault them. “People have died in bandit cabs,” said Taxicab Commission President Joe Czyzyk. “That doesn’t happen with a licensed franchise taxicab in our city.” Officials say there are about 2,000 bandit drivers across the city, closely rivaling the licensed fleet of about 2,300. Bandit drivers cost licensed operating companies an estimated $30 million a year.