“This is not about the money,” said Chris Hayashi, the agency’s deputy director of taxis and accessible services division. “This is about an important mode of transportation we need to make sure is available to people.”
Competition from mobile app-based services such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar is part of the reason for the first driver shortage Hayashi has seen in her five years overseeing taxis.
The waiver for the $155.50 fee, passed at the SFMTA board meeting Tuesday, is the first of its kind during Hayashi’s tenure and is anticipated to result in collecting $57,000 less in permit fees this year. It applies to applications through April 1 and retroactively for those from Dec. 18 until Feb. 21.
Whether it has encouraged more people to apply to become city taxi drivers is not yet known. Hayashi said her staff will attend a 2 p.m. protest today that some discontent Uber drivers have planned outside the company’s office at 706 Mission St.
“My taxi investigators will be out there handing out driver recruitment fliers,” she said.
While there seem to be more people with taxi permits than the agency has ever had — approximately 8,000, with at least 5,000 driving part time or full time — Hayashi said cab companies are having a hard time finding drivers to take taxis out. Aside from startup ride services, the driver shortage can be attributed to the addition last year of 120 taxi medallions, each requiring four or five drivers to keep shifts filled 24/7, she noted.
The City has about 1,900 authorized taxis, compared to more than 3,400 vehicles operating under UberX, Lyft and Sidecar that the San Francisco Cab Drivers Association has documented.
But the association’s president, Barry Korengold, said he does not believe the fee waiver will remedy the cabdriver shortage situation.
“I think there’s a lot of other fees [the SFMTA] should stop charging,” he said. “It’s unfair competition. I would like to see [officials] crack down on the drivers using private cars for commercial purposes, or get rid of all the rules we have to follow.”
The SFMTA is working with the state Employment Development Department and the city Office of Economic and Workforce Development to try to retain and recruit drivers, Hayashi said.
The waiver will be in effect for three and a half months, she said, because “we don’t want to keep it in effect indefinitely, but hopefully there will be a light at the end of the tunnel by then.”