Taxi insurance lapse ensures confusion 

click to enlarge Hundreds of cabs lost their insurance policy and have been ordered off the streets. - BETH LABERGE/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Beth Laberge/Special to the S.F. Examiner
  • Hundreds of cabs lost their insurance policy and have been ordered off the streets.

About one-third of The City’s cabs were either idled or operated illegally Wednesday after more than 500 were abruptly left without sufficient insurance.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency requires that every taxi carry a $1 million liability coverage plan to operate.

On Tuesday, Dmitry Erenkov, the insurance broker for about 525 taxis — many serving smaller companies — revealed that he could not find an insurer to cover that plan, which lapsed at midnight. Calls to Erenkov’s office were not returned.

Made aware of the impending expiration, the SFMTA sent a bulletin to taxi drivers Tuesday afternoon ordering them not to operate unless they carried the $1 million insurance policy. Failure to comply would result in
suspensions or fines.

SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose said the agency is working with cab companies on the issue, which will hopefully be resolved in a few days. But until that occurs, he said, uninsured vehicles are strictly prohibited from operating.

Passengers injured in cabs without sufficient insurance could sue the driver, the taxi company and the SFMTA, industry officials said.

The policy lapse mostly affects owner-operator cabs not owned by taxi companies. Large companies, such as Yellow Cab and Luxor, own most of their cars and lease them to drivers. The bigger companies use a different insurance plan.

Rich Hybels, owner of Metro Cab, a small collective with 23 taxis affected by the lapse, said his drivers will continue to operate. He said that only about 50 cabs — out of 525 — were held off the streets Wednesday.

“I’m going to take my chances of getting fined rather than risk losing $4,000 a day,” Hybels said. “A lot of my drivers are living hand-to-mouth, so I’m not going to ask them to keep their cars parked for a policy that could get changed by the SFMTA a few days from now.”

Rose said his agency’s cab enforcement unit will patrol The City in search of cabs without valid

Mark Gruberg, founder of Green Cab, which also is affected by the announcement, said he believes his taxis are still able to operate legally despite the SFMTA declaration.

Gruberg said the $1 million insurance policy applies only to paratransit vehicles — taxis that pick up disabled passengers. A separate minimum policy, enforced by the Police Department, only requires a $500,000 plan, a coverage level that Green Cab does possess, Gruberg said.

Still, Gruberg has instructed his drivers not to pick up passengers who need the paratransit service. He said that he wasn’t informed by Erenkov about the pending insurance lapse until Tuesday.

“We were completely blindsided by this,”  Gruberg said. “The whole thing is a huge mess. Pulling 500 cabs off the street will certainly not help the public.”

Bob Planthold, an activist for disability rights in San Francisco, said many paratransit passengers will be left out in the cold by the policy lapse, which could have been avoided by better coordination between the SFMTA and the taxi industry.

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Will Reisman

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