Arlington cab companies are calling for tougher penalties and steeper fines for drivers caught transporting passengers without a county-issued operating permit, something they say is costing them hundreds, even thousands, of dollars in fares.

As it stands, cab drivers caught illegally operating in Arlington, known as either "poachers" or "gypsies," are issued citations for no more than $100 for their first offense and no more than $500 for each subsequent offense.

But Rick Vogel, the general manager of Envirocab, said it's easy for poachers to "cry a good story" in front of a judge, who'll then fine them a minimal amount or waive it completely.

"The problem is large, and the penalties are small," Vogel said. "When they don't get hit with maximum fines, it doesn't deter them from coming back."

Poachers -- especially those from the District and Loudoun County -- are most noticeable on Friday and Saturday nights, Vogel said, because they know the county does not have enough cabs in circulation to meet everyone's needs.

And even though the County Board is expected to approve the addition of 65 cabs, including 40 all-electric vehicles, to Arlington's 765-car fleet later this month, Blue Top Cabs Vice President John Massoud worries it's not enough to keep poachers away.

"We must have judges understand how serious an issue poaching is," Massoud said. "These drivers are stealing money from hard-working Arlington drivers. It's a serious offense."

Massoud said he's contacted the state General Assembly to see if it would allow fines levied against poachers to increase to no more than $500 for their first offense and no more than $1,000 for each subsequent offense.

Other localities are turning to different measures to help make rogue cabs stand out.

In the District, officials plan to paint all D.C.-licensed cabs the same color to make the fleet more recognizable. Later this month, they'll park four differently colored cabs in front of Union Station and allow residents to pick the new paint scheme.

DC Taxicab Commission Chairman Ron Linton said poachers are a "giant problem" in the District. But rather that impose a specific fine, he said officials charge the same amount that the cab's respective jurisdiction charges.

Vogel said he wasn't confident that a citywide uniform cab color would keep drivers out of Arlington, because hotels and restaurants will likely continue to grab the first cars they see to get customers who have been drinking home.

"The county hack inspector has done a great job setting up stings and issuing citations," he said. "But business is so robust here that drivers can make double and triple what they regularly do ... We need to increase fines."