Cab-fare increase runs into roadblock 

S.F. Taxi Commission must devise health care plan for drivers first, supervisors say

Taxicab fares may not increase for at least another six months, after a Board of Supervisors committee refused to endorse on Wednesday a recommendation from The City’s Taxicab Commission to raise fares by 75 cents on Nov. 1.

The commission had voted on Tuesday to raise the "flag drop," so instead of a cabdriver starting the meter at $2.85, the meter would start at $3.60.

The commission also voted to raise the gate fee — the charge drivers must pay cab companies to drive their cab for a 10-hour shift — from $85 to $95.

The supervisors’ Budget and Finance Committee, however, was not supportive of the recommendations, saying the taxicab industry has not followed through on its obligation to provide health benefits for cabdrivers.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd said legislation adopted in 2003, which authorized the city controller to recommend adjustments to fares and the gate caps based on the Consumer Price Index, was also intended to make sure cabdrivers receive health care.

Heidi Machen, executive director of the Taxicab Commission, said the commission just established a committee to figure out a plan for providing drivers with health benefits. The plan is expected to come out in six months, she said.

The commission wanted the increase to go into effect for six months and then return to the Board of Supervisors with "other possible adjustments," according to Machen. "We may need to make some adjustments based on the recommendations stemming from" the health care plan, she said.

Commission President Paul Gillespie, who represents the cabdrivers and who voted against the fare increase, said he wanted to wait until the health care plan was issued.

"If we came to the board of The City for two meter and gate increases in the space of six months, that might be more difficult to do that," Gillespie said.

There are about 7,000 cabdrivers in San Francisco, according to Machen.

Supervisor Chris Daly, who chairs the budget committee, proposed waiting six months to adopt the commission’s recommendations, with the stipulation that a health care plan is forwarded to the Board of Supervisors.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin proposed a gate increase to $91.50 and a fare increase of 50 cents effective Nov. 1, and then raising them to what the commission recommended only if a health care plan was created within six months. If no plan comes in, Peskin said, the increases would expire.

The budget committee will vote on which proposal to forward to the full Board of Supervisors in the coming weeks.

Taxi fare rates have not increased since 2003. The taxicab industry provides between 40,000 and 50,000 trips a day for local patrons and travelers, according to a City Controller’s Office report in August.

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