The often futile practice of hailing a cab in San Francisco will soon become a little easier.
An additional 150 to 200 cabs will be roaming The City’s streets starting later this year, courtesy of a plan approved Tuesday by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s board of directors.
Based on testimony from taxi companies and an industry study showing that would-be customers had only a 40 percent chance of being picked up after calling for a cab, the agency board approved the increase despite arguments against the plan from drivers.
Under the plan, the agency will lease out the extra operating permits to cab companies that provide a certain level of dispatch service. The leases will last for three years, with the agency receiving $1,900 a month from the companies for the permits. If the agency leases out 200 permits, it would receive as much as an additional $4.6 million a year. The number of cabs on city streets would increase by 13 percent — from 1,535 vehicles to 1,735.
The agency will gradually begin issuing the permits in 30 days, agency spokesman Paul Rose said.
Officials elected to act on the proposal despite an ongoing agency-commissioned independent study on taxi demand in San Francisco. SFMTA chief Ed Reiskin said demand for taxi services was too high to wait for the completion of the study, which isn’t scheduled until January.
“Since 2007, we’ve been screaming for more taxicabs at my company,” said John Lazar, president of Luxor Cab.
“We haven’t been able to come close to addressing our demand. Putting out 200 more cars on the street should be a slam dunk.”
Representatives of the San Francisco Travel Association, a tourist organization, and the Hotel Council of San Francisco voiced strong support for the plan Tuesday, saying The City’s lack of cabs was among the top complaints of visitors. Tim Csontos, a vice president at Taxi Magic, a dispatch service located in 100 cities nationwide, said San Francisco is generally considered the worst metro area in the country to grab a cab.
Phil Ward, an attorney for Luxor and Yellow Cab, said an independent report undertaken by the companies indicated The City could add an extra 700 cabs and still not fulfill customer demands.
Taxi drivers, however, did not share that assessment. They pointed out that the agency was using travel data from 2000, and asked why the agency would issue extra permits before completing its own demand study. They also asked why the agency wasn’t cracking down on online transit alternatives such as Uber and Lyft, which they view as illegal cab companies.
“I must be working in a different city,” said Martin Kazinski, a driver for Green Cab. “I sometimes drive around for two hours before I get my first ride. Every permit that’s issued will take away money from me, and it’s already very hard to support a family as a cabdriver.”