City OKs 50 more cabs by summer 

Catching a cab in The City may soon get a little easier: Fifty more taxis will be put on the streets of San Francisco by this summer.

Improvements to the heavily flawed taxi-dispatch system, which one driver calls "a great mess," are also under way.

Thelast time additional cabs were permitted was in 2000, at the height of the dot-com boom and The City’s tourism industry. At that time, 400 cabs were added to The City’s fleet.

A report released last month said The City’s cab service is slow and unreliable, prompting the Taxicab Commission to overhaul the system. Half of the people who call for a cab during the week are left stranded, the report stated, and on Friday and Saturday nights, 95 percent of people who call will be left waiting, too.

Hailing a cab isn’t any easier. It takes about 10 minutes to flag down a cab citywide, according to the report, but up to an hour in some parts of The City, such as the Sunset or the Richmond districts. It’s even more difficult because most cabs drive around with top lights on with passengers inside, the report stated.

The poor service report comes about three months after The City raised the cost of hopping into a cab, called the "flag drop" fee, from $2.85 to $3.10. The City’s "flag drop" fee is now the second highest in the nation, falling just 10 cents below cabs in Las Vegas.

By this summer, the commission will put 25 more alternative fuel or hybrid cabs and 25 more vans to service the disabled on the roads, bringing the number of taxis on city streets to 1,430 — that’s one cab for every 525 residents.

"We’re hopeful [the addition of cabs] will help improve service and make taxis more available, but there are other issues we need to address, like the issue of better dispatch service," said Heidi Machen, the commission’s executive director.

United Taxi Workers Chairman Thomas George-Williams said he is "not pleased" with the commission’s decision to add more cabs.

"They do not address the real problem of the service structure with this. They talked a little bit about centralized dispatch — that would greatly improve the response time of the fleet," said George-Williams, who drivesfor Regents Cab Company. "There are so many ways to improve service without dumping more cabs on the streets."

Mayor Gavin Newsom strongly urged the commission this week to beef up the number of cabs citywide. He also called for an improved dispatch system in his October 2006 State of the City address.

At its meeting Tuesday night, the commission shot down an original proposal to add 100 more cabs, split between green vehicles and vans, but decided to permit only 50 because disabled residents advocated more vans and Newsom has called for The City’s entire cab fleet to be green vehicles by 2011.

THE LONG WAIT

Along with the 50 additional taxis added by this summer, the Taxicab Commission will address improvements to its taxi-dispatch system. A recent commission survey, collecting data from November 2006 through January 2007, found the following taxi service results:

» Percentage of taxis arriving within 10 minutes of call: 70

» Percentage of taxis dispatched that are no-shows: 49.75

» Districts with highest no-show rates: District 7 (64.86%), District 8 (63.89%)

» Average time between dispatch and arrival of taxi: 16 minutes, 20 seconds

» Average time callers for a taxi were kept on hold: 2 minutes, 58 seconds

» Average time Friday callers were on hold: 4 minutes, 39 seconds

» Average time for successful flag down: 7 minutes, 49 seconds

» Longest wait time observed at hotel: 25 minutes

- Source: city and county of San Francisco, Taxicab Commission

arocha@examiner.com

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