Sting targets Tahoe taxis
Placer Sheriff’s deputies busted several North Tahoe taxi cab companies last week in Tahoe City and Kings Beach for operating illegally and violating county regulations.
The sheriff’s sweep occurred on one of the busiest Friday nights of the year and took illegal cabs off North Tahoe’s streets, forcing some Friday-night revelers to find an alternate ride home.
Allegations of drug dealing by taxi drivers and complaints that cab companies were not abiding by county regulations prompted the sting, said Placer Sheriff’s Capt. Jeff Granum.
Placer Deputy Dave Hunt researched county regulations of the basin taxi fleet prior to the sweep. Hunt found six North Tahoe cab companies in violation of business licensing and driver-permit regulations. Friday night’s sting was the next step in the investigation, Granum said.
Deputies found no evidence of drug dealing from any taxi cab on Friday. But, the allegations have not been dismissed because deputies did not pull over all of the suspected companies, Granum said.
The Sheriff’s department said in response to an inquiry that they chose Friday evening because they knew it would be a busy night and more taxi cabs would likely be in service.
“We do have an obligation to follow up in a timely manner,” Granum said in a phone interview. “For the safety of the public and fairness of the market.”
But some said their timing could have been better.
“They pulled … half the taxis in town off the road at a very inopportune time,” said Ross Scott, owner of Fast Taxi, one of several properly licensed North Tahoe taxi companies.
Scott said his phone started ringing off the hook and was deluged by more calls for rides than he could handle.
“[Eliminating the competition] would seem it would be good, but it overwhelmed me so much it ended up hurting my business,” Scott said. “Since I’m the guy on the phone, I’m the guy [the customers] get mad at.”
Sunnyside Bartender Scott Harris said he was swamped Friday with inebriated patrons who were stuck without a ride for more than an hour after the bar’s midnight last call.
“All of a sudden we’re stuck with several people who were obviously over the legal limit to drive,” Harris said. “It put me in a strange quandary that I’m not familiar with.”
If there’s a deterrent to going home safely ” such as a lack of taxi cabs ” people are more likely to persuade themselves to take their chances and drive home, despite the alcohol they just consumed, Harris said.
It’s ironic that the law enforcement ” which holds the restaurants liable for their patrons ” would eliminate the restaurant’s means to ensure a safe ride for their customers, he said.
“We’re responsible for the patrons that were in our building,” said Sunnyside bar manager Raif Anderson. “We couldn’t get rid of them. We’re asking minimum-wage employees to be responsible for [the patrons] because they couldn’t go anywhere.”
Harris said Placer sheriff’s deputies didn’t warn his restaurant about the taxi sting ahead of time.
Pete ‘N Peters bar in Tahoe City experienced a similar situation.
Captain Granum said the driving-under-the-influence citations did not exceed normal levels for a typical Friday night.
Granum said Deputy Hunt’s research suggested that North Tahoe Taxi, Alpine Taxi, Checker Taxi, Yellow Taxi, Independent Taxi and Blueline Taxi had all violated county regulations in varying degrees, from expired or nonexistent business licenses, to drivers lacking the appropriate permits.
The same research showed Anytime Taxi, Fast Taxi and High Sierra Taxi were compliant with all county regulations.
The sting was an educational operation, Granum said. Only two cabs were cited for violating county regulations, and no cabs were towed. The drivers were only informed they could not drive again until they had the proper taxi permits and business licensing.
Another taxi sweep will take place in the coming months, Granum said. Next time the consequences will be real, but until then the taxi companies have a grace period to get in compliance.
Of the taxi cabs pulled over Friday, all drivers consented to have their vehicles searched, Granum said. No drugs or illegal substances were found.
“That doesn’t mean that some companies aren’t dealing drugs,” Granum said. “We don’t know, nor do we have any direct proof, that any of the companies are dealing drugs. [The drug allegations] were just information given to us from people talking to our deputies.”
Placer Sheriff’s deputies pulled taxis over for probable cause, and then asked for valid licensing and permits, and searched the vehicles.