More cabs will roll onto the streets this year, despite concerns from taxi drivers about the uncertain future of the industry.
Based on recommendations from an independent report, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s board of directors approved a plan Tuesday to add 120 taxis in 2013 and 200 in 2014. Depending on market needs, more cabs would be added in 2015 and the years after, eventually raising the total number of taxis in San Francisco from the current 1,620 to 2,300.
Dan Hara, an economist who carried out the report, cited the low level of personal car ownership in The City, a failing dispatch system and long waits for taxis in the downtown area as some of the reasons for the cab increase.
However, dozens of taxi drivers pleaded with the board to delay action Tuesday in light of the recent proliferation of unregulated ridesharing companies such as Lyft, Uber and Sidecar. The California Public Utilities Commission is in the midst of a study to determine the legality of those services, which number between 1,500 and 2,000 in San Francisco, according to taxi industry officials.
If those unregulated services become legal, struggling taxi drivers could be further hurt by the influx of cabs, said Mark Gruberg, spokesman for the United Taxicab Workers, a drivers’ organization.
“The Hara report is impressive,” Gruberg said. “But it’s essentially rendered obsolete by the profusion of illegal services.”
Hara said the new taxis would replace the ridesharing services, based on customer preferences to travel in cabs instead of limousines and personal vehicles.
Cabdrivers expressed skepticism with that scenario, saying enforcement of rogue passenger vehicles has long been nonexistent in San Francisco.
“You’re making us feel ridiculous when you let mustache cars and gypsy cabs operate without any reprimand or anything,” said cabdriver Barry Korengold.
In contrast to the concerns of cabdrivers, representatives from the travel and tourism industry praised the transit agency’s decision to add taxis.
Jon Ballesteros of the San Francisco Travel Association said The City’s lack of cabs was a major complaint among travelers.
Also part of the cab deal is a change in the sale of medallions, which allow owners to lease out their vehicles to other drivers, collecting a portion of the profits when they’re not working.
Currently, drivers have to pay $300,000 to purchase a medallion. As part of the report’s recommendation, the price of medallions — which can be purchased from other drivers or the transit agency — will be reduced to $250,000. The 200 drivers who have waited the longest for a medallion will have their cost reduced to $125,000.