Supes may raise fares to fund cabbies’ health care 

The price to enter a cab would decrease and the per-mile fare would increase, if a proposal put forth by the body that oversees The City’s cabs is approved.

To help fund health care for San Francisco’s currently uninsured drivers, the Taxicab Commission is recommending the Board of Supervisors to approve an increase of the $5.35 charge for a one-mile ride to $5.40, the current $9.85 charge for a three-mile ride be hiked to $10.20 and the current $14.35 charge for a five-mile ride increase to $15.

Just six months ago, the Board of Supervisors approved an increase to the so-called flag drop, the charge at which drivers start the meter, by 25 cents. For just stepping into a cab, riders are hit with a $3.10 charge, the second highest flag drop in the nation.

The commission was originally examining a hike of the flag drop by 50 cents to help fund health care. But on Tuesday night Taxicab Commission Chairman Paul Gillespie offered an alternative that he said would be better "psychologically," as riders will not experience the "sticker shock" of a $3.60 flag drop.

Last year, Mayor Gavin Newsom opposed a meter increase, saying it would discourage local residents from riding cabs.

The Board of Supervisors approved the flag drop increase six months ago, with the agreement that the Taxicab Commission would submit by April 1, a plan to fund health care for The City’s more than 7,000 cabdrivers, who do not receive health care benefits from employers.

Taxicab Commissioner Malcolm Heinicke had opposed any fare increase not directly tied to service improvements at a time when "we have seen quite a bit of evidence and testimony" that the taxi industry has service problems.

In January, a scathing report found taxi service to be slow and unreliable. The report prompted the Taxicab Commission to add 50 more cabs to the city streets.

Heinicke said he also worried that by "tapping into industry funding resources" for health care it would delay other needed service improvements, such as a better dispatch system.

The commission also recommended that the cost of the health coverage be shared among industry stakeholders including The City, cabdrivers and cab companies.

Taxicab Commission Executive Director Heidi Machen said the fare increase would represent a "real user fee" since riders would pay more for longer trips.

The Taxicab Commission voted late Tuesday to send the recommendation to the Board of Supervisors for consideration.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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