Armenian Cab Drivers in Uproar Over Santa Monica Measure

GLENDALE—For many Armenians who have immigrated to Los Angeles, driving a taxi has become one of the few ways of squeezing out a living. But for Armenian companies and drivers in Santa Monica, this source of employment may soon be cut off. 

“They are trying to push us out of the city,” said Elen Poghosyan, owner of VIP Yellow Cab. “Anybody with an Armenian last name is automatically being denied a taxi franchise in Santa Monica.”

As part of an overhaul of the taxi system in Santa Monica, a committee of City Hall staff recently released a recommendation calling for only five companies to be allowed to operate in the city. Out of these five companies, none are Armenian—despite the fact that at least six of the thirteen who originally submitted proposals to receive a franchise were Armenian-owned or operated. 

“How are we being denied a franchise when we are much more experienced, financially stable, and locally-based than most of the five companies the city is recommending?” asks David Bagramian of Pacific Yellow Cab. “The only conclusion we can draw is that they’re trying to get rid of us.”

Upon revelation of the city’s recommendation, taxi companies and drivers staged a protest in front of the Santa Monica City Hall on June 22, the night the Council was supposed to vote on the recommendation.  The demonstrators, majority of whom were Armenian, marched and chanted holding picket signs reading “Give Opportunity to Local Companies” and “Give Us Our Jobs Back.”

“They are giving the franchises to companies based in Los Angeles; companies that already have the right to pick up and work outside of Santa Monica,” said one of the protestors interviewed by USArmenia TV News. “Meanwhile, here in the city, over 250 of us are being left without work.”

Shortly after the permit was obtained for the protest, the Santa Monica City Council decided to postpone their decision until September, claiming that procedural issues required that they do so. Protestors and many observers believe that it was the demonstration which compelled officials inside to hold off on their action and postpone their vote. Even after the item was pulled from the agenda, more than 100 concerned taxi drivers and community members showed up for the demonstration. 

In addition to the protest, many cab companies voiced their criticism of the city’s evaluation process. Bill Gray of Santa Monica Community Cab, one of the companies that bid for the franchise, was quoted in the Santa Monica Daily Press as saying, “It seemed like they just subjectively picked them and that’s really disturbing.”

In response to this large outcry, a memo was released by the city revealing the total scores each company received. However, this document only raised further questions about how the companies were given these cumulative rankings. The surprisingly high scores given to some of the companies—considering the criteria the city itself specified—only raised further suspicion of bias and foul play. 

For example, the city initially said it was mandatory for all companies bidding for the franchise to have a computerized dispatch system. However, the rankings show that this was weighted as only three percent of the overall score. At least two of the recommended companies have no history of operating this equipment at all and are either in the process of purchasing it or have promised to do so. Meanwhile, several of the companies that were denied the franchise have had such dispatches in place for more than 15 years. In other areas such as financial viability, local preference, and experience, we again see some of the five companies that were recommended falling short of the ones that were excluded. 

The City Hall staff has, thus far, been reluctant to give any further explanations for these inconsistencies or reveal the itemized score sheets of their rankings. Such concealment by the City has only reinforced accusations that what is really at play here is discrimination against certain companies based on ethnicity, rather than merit. 

For the more than 250 Armenian taxi drivers whose jobs are on the line, a great deal is at stake. Being put out of work in these trying economic times will not only negatively affect them and their families but, indeed, the Armenian community as a whole. It should be remembered that many of those who drive taxis in Los Angeles also send money back to their families in Armenia, compounding the impact of being denied to operate even further.

As the situation stands now, the City Council will have final authority over how many franchises will be awarded and which companies will be allowed to operate in the city. They are scheduled to vote on the matter in September.

Many of the taxi drivers being denied the right to operate their cabs are vowing to continue their struggle until the franchises are distributed fairly and transparently. “We will stay resilient and continue our fight until justice is served,” concluded Poghosyan.

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10 Comments

  1. HartR said:

    ANC it is time for you to show your mussels and give a lesson to Santa Monica city.

  2. Krikor said:

    This thing (city staff recommendation) smells to high heaven.
    This is another proof that too much government is BAD government.
    I wish someone will publish ,salaries of those in Santa Monica city hall.I wonder what it will show?

  3. I.G. Romov said:

    Santa Monica is a model West Coast of NYC, or worse, Chicago, shadiness, crookedness, and your fundamental, everyday totalitariansim.

  4. ashot yerkat said:

    If they deny fanchise to Armenians, boycot taxis. Hail the cab, ask the driver if he is an Armenian — in English, then walk away. Hit ’em where it hurts most, the pocket. And yes, in fact walk instead of taking a cab; it will do you good. Don’t you people have a lawyer among you? Where is Mark Giragos?

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  6. Chris Manning said:

    The article said that at least 6 of the 13 companies which applied for a franchise were Armenian but that none of the 5 who got one were Armenian.

    I have calculated the likelihood that this would happen if every company had the same chance of being successful.

    It works out that if 6 Armenian companies applied, the likelihood of this happening is about 1 in 60; if 7 Armenian companies applied, it’s 1 chance in 200, and if 8 Armenian companies applied it’s 1 chance in 1300.

    I think this means there is a prima facie case of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity.

  7. Sevag said:

    OK, I am sorry but I am taking counterpoint on this one. I have lived in downtown LA and Santa Monica for the past 2 years, where I take cabs on a regular basis. Without exception, EVERY TIME the cab driver is Armenian, I get charged DOUBLE the normal cab rate. I’m sure the reason they are being shut out and not supported is because of all the complaints from Santa Monica residents who are FED UP with these Armenian cab drivers RIPPING US OFF on a regular basis. It’s easy to sit there and say support the Armenian cab drivers when it is not your own pocket they are stealing from. I am sure there are many legitimate Armenian cab drivers in Santa Monica somewhere trying to make an honest living, but I have yet to meet one.

    I always felt bad not wanting to officially report them, I would ask them why the fare is so high and they would never have a legitimate reason. They were always nice to me so I would feel bad and tip them anyway, but it has become a conspiracy on the west side. Wise up and become honest businessmen and local Armenian residents and organizations will support you. This is just Karma biting back against their dishonest ways. You guys say boycott non-Armenian cab drivers, sorry but I have refused to get into a cab with an Armenian cab driver for months now. I just can’t afford it.

    • Silva said:

      Sevag – I too live in Santa Monica, and I understand what you are saying, however, they are two separate issues. We need to support our people because what the city is doing is discriminatory, and, teach our people the right ways. We are Christians after all, and we need to act and live by the virtues very day. With respect, Silva.

      • Sevag said:

        Virtues? How did this become a religous issue? The cab drivers are lying and cheating. Whose the virtuous one? No one fights more Armenian rights more than I do, but not blindly in the face of what is right. I am on the fence on this for being cheated vs. Armenian discrimination. What is the lesser of the 2 evils? Not that my opinion matters as the Armenian community should and will rally behind the cab drivers, but I want people to be aware of the full truth of who they are and what they are doing, honesty is a virtue Silva.

  8. Sako Be said:

    I agree with sevag armenian tax cab drivers are pretty shady and i would rather walk ten miles than pay 50 bucks for the same service for know warranted reason other than “BIZNESS ARA”

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