A hybrid taxi at the San Diego International Airport. Photo courtesy County News Center
A hybrid taxi at the San Diego International Airport. Photo courtesy County News Center

A cab driver Tuesday received the first new taxi permit issued by the city of San Diego and Metropolitan Transit System under a new policy approved by the City Council last year.

The city limited the number of taxi permits for three decades — with a total of 993 allowed in recent years. The council voted 8-1 last November to remove the lid.

Councilwoman Marti Emerald, who pushed to get rid of the cap, said the old policy created a limited supply that resulted in a black market for the documents, which sometimes fetched as much as $140,000 — when they originally cost $3,000.

The resulting economic squeeze on the permit-holder required drivers to work long hours at low pay, with no chance of becoming an owner, she said.

The first new owner passed his inspection by the MTS and was issued a permit at a facility in Barrio Logan.

“He’s the first of many longtime lease drivers who will soon be taking to the streets with their own businesses, and an opportunity to make a good living and support their families,” Emerald said.

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith helped lead the effort to get rid of the cap.

“We can all be proud of how quickly San Diego moved to end the taxi- industry monopoly and give our hard-working taxi drivers new opportunities and a bigger stake in our community,” Goldsmith said. “Their success is our success. This is what the American dream looks like.”

Emerald and Goldsmith both drove taxis when they were younger.

The city not only removed the limit on permits, but also limited the age of taxicabs to 10 years, prohibited the use of vehicles with salvage titles as taxis, reduced a requirement that a prospective permittee have five years of driving or management experience to six months, and clarified language regarding citizenship and legal U.S. residency.

Supporters of the plan said only 6 percent of permit-holders actually drove their own cab. Opponents said more taxis on the streets will lead to less income for an industry already buffeted by competition from technology-based services like Lyft and Uber, meaning cabbies will make even less money.

—City News Service