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Taxi franchise system renewed by City Council for five years

October 26, 2010 |  2:45 pm

The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday renewed for five years a controversial taxi franchise system in a move lauded by supporters as an environmental breakthrough and assailed by critics as a sellout to a wealthy industry.

The renewal plan has proved an extremely contentious issue, filling the council chambers three times in recent weeks with advocates on both sides of the issue.

The current process regulating the city taxi fleet has been in place for a decade but expires on Dec. 31. The major point of contention was for how long the current system should be renewed. There was general agreement on the need to move to a “greener” fleet of cabs.

Opponents sought a two-year renewal while an independent study was conducted into ways to provide better service, reduce pollution and improve the plight of 4,000 taxi drivers. Some drivers voiced concern that the cost of purchasing more fuel-efficient cabs would largely fall on their shoulders. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa backed the two-year plan.

But the council unanimously opted for the five-year extension, to the delight of the taxi industry, which generates about $180 million in revenue each year, according to city estimates.

Supporters of the five-year blueprint said it would give stability to a critical industry and mandate that much of the fleet move to hybrid and other low-emissions vehicles. Backers cited the results of an industry-sponsored study projecting reductions in smog, greenhouse gases and gasoline usage.

But several environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the evidence of environmental improvement was sketchy and called for a two-year franchise renewal while alternatives were studied.

-- Patrick J. McDonnell at Los Angeles City Hall