San Francisco seeks a smarter way to call a cab 

Frustrated cab customers may soon be able to call upon a new program that will help them call, track, and report any taxi in San Francisco. But one cab company that already has a similar system is concerned that The City-funded initiative will render its investment worthless.

The Municipal Transportation Agency, which manages cab operations in San Francisco, is recommending a $400,000 pilot program that would allow smartphone users to see a map of available cabs, and, with the touch of a button, contact and request the nearest taxi.

Getting a cab in San Francisco is notoriously difficult. According to a 2006 Controller’s Report, 33 percent of passengers trying to hail down a taxi on a weekend night waited longer than 30 minutes.

Cabulous, the San Francisco-based company that offers this technology, has been in talks with the MTA about serving as its technology provider. The agency would have to seek proposals from all interested companies before selecting one for its program.

Currently, Cabulous has contracts with 400 taxis in San Francisco. Under the proposal, all 1,500 San Francisco taxis would be outfitted with the technology, and the MTA would pay for the plan for the first year of its program.

But that idea has riled officials at Luxor Cab, who already have invested $100,000 in a similar smartphone application called Taxi Magic, which alerts passengers — through the company’s dispatch center — about nearby cabs.

“We want to know why this has to be a no-cost program for other companies,” said Charles Rathbone, a Luxor operations manager. “This is a business and Luxor has been making this investment willingly for years. There are other companies out there that haven’t been willing to invest a dime into this.”

Jarvis Murray of the MTA’s taxi services division said companies would have to begin paying for the service after the yearlong pilot program has expired. Under Cabulous’ pay structure, drivers pay $1.50 a shift, so companies could expect to pay $3 a day (two shifts) for each car they manage.

Luxor’s Rathbone said that many companies would drop the application the day the MTA program ends. He said that the $400,000, which would come from the MTA’s taxi medallion sales program, could be used for better purposes in the industry.

However, Mark Gruberg, a spokesman for the United Taxicab Workers said many cabbies support the program.

“This is just another option for passengers to get in touch with cab drivers,” said Gruberg. “It’s good for drivers and it’s good for customers.”

John Wolpert, chief executive officer at Cabulous, said that order efficiencies — the number of calls that result in cab rides — have improved by 50 percent for drivers who use the application.

An initial presentation of the MTA’s open taxi access program was made at the agency’s policy and governance committee on Tuesday. The plan will be discussed at the agency’s taxi advisory council for recommendation before going for possible final authorization at the MTA’s full board of directors later this year.


Scope of the program

400: Taxis that currently use Cabulous

1,500: Taxis that would use Cabulous, or similar program, under MTA proposal

$400,000: Cost to implement program

$100,000: Amount Luxor has spent on implementing its own program, Taxi Magic

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Will Reisman

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