BART airport service edging out S.F. taxis 

As BART ridership to the airport continues to climb, San Francisco cabdrivers are finding themselves competing for fewer customers needing rides to and from San Francisco International Airport — and that decrease could contribute to higher taxi fares in The City.

Total taxi pickups at SFO dropped from 1.2 million in 2002 to just 323,000 in 2006, according to an audit of the taxi industry by the San Francisco Controller’s Office released Friday.

While a skidding economy and a tourism slump after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, played a significant role in reducing the number of fares cabbies saw from SFO, the biggest drop came after BART opened service to SFO in 2003, according to the controller’s report.

To offset slipping driver incomes from BART — and a recent decision to add another 50 cabs to San Francisco’s existing fleet of 1,381 — the report recommends increasing taxi mileage rates by 5 cents, to 50 cents per one-fifth of a mile.

"This is meant to compensate for what is perceived as cutting into the income of drivers when more taxi permits are released," said Heidi Machen, executive director for the San Francisco Taxicab Commission.

Machen, who called the proposed fare increase "modest," said raising the mileage rate rather than the flag drop rate (the initial cost to hire a cab) affects those taking long rides rather than those zipping around town.

It was only last November that San Franciscans saw a 25-cent increase in the flag drop rate to $3.10, making The City more expensive to catch a cab in than many metropolitan areas, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Oakland.

Some taxidrivers blame BART for their lost business, according to Machen. The result is that fewer taxi drivers may bother to make the trip to the airport — where they can expect an hour wait for a fare — choosing instead to stay in The City, Machen said.

"I think people are catching on to how easy it is to get to and from the airport with BART, and how inexpensive it is," BART spokesman Linton Johnson said. Average weekday ridership at BART’s SFO station has grown 10 percent, from about 6,800 to about 7,500, according to BART.

Philip Abrams, a frequent airport visitor who has taken BART on occasion, called traveling to SFO by BART convenient from downtown. "It’s also incredibly cheap," Abrams said, noting that a standard BART trip to the airport costs about $5, while a cab ride can cost $30 to $40.

The Taxicab Commission plans to consider the mileage increase at a coming meeting, before sending it on to supervisors for a vote.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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