Nearly 25 percent of people who call San Francisco’s Yellow Cab for a ride are never picked up, a dismal rate that prompted the business to again lobby for more taxi medallions.
Through the first six months of 2010, more than 280,000 citizens gave up on Yellow Cab after waiting too long for it to respond to their calls, according to a new report from the company. Yellow Cab, which accounts for roughly one-third of all cabs in San Francisco, said it needs an extra 139 medallion holders, an increase of 9 percent from the current 1,500 medallions. The regulation of medallions — the highly coveted permits that allow owners to lease their taxicab to other drivers — has been a contentious topic for decades. The City added 69 badges in 2007, bringing the total to 1,500.
Drivers — who pay medallion holders up to $104 per shift just to operate their cars — say the increased competition from extra medallions will hurt their already-meager earnings. Frustrated cab patrons and big taxi companies said the increase in drivers would address needs for demand.
Jim Gillespie, a manager at Yellow Cab, said more medallion holders would help drivers because the increased number would give San Francisco residents more confidence to call cabs for service.
“If we had more taxis and they were more spread out, people could get their cabs quicker and more people would call,” Gillespie said. “I understand the drivers’ concern, but more cabs would be beneficial for them in the end.”
A 2006 Controller’s Office study reported that 35 percent of patrons calling from home waited more than 30 minutes for a cab to arrive.
Scott Sorensen, a Danville resident who works in downtown San Francisco, said when he calls for a taxi, he usually ends up walking to the nearest hotel.
“I think a few extra cabs on the street would definitely be nice,” Sorensen said.
Tom Stanghellini, operations manager at Luxor Cab, didn’t speculate about how many more medallion holders The City needs, but he agreed with Gillespie that more drivers are necessary to address growing demand.
Spokesman Paul Rose of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees cab operations in The City, said the department is considering increasing the number of medallions, but only during peak demand times such as Friday and Saturday nights.
San Francisco resident Sarah Carlson agreed with the plan to add more cabs during busy times.
“Trying to get a cab in the Mission district on a Friday or Saturday night can be pretty pointless,” Carlson said.
Yellow Cab’s Gillespie said that peak-time medallions would not address the demand that’s still present during slower times of the week.
Taxi drivers said the answer for increased demand is a more organized dispatch system, not increased vehicles.
Driver Dave Schneider said a central call center that connects patrons to available vehicles at all San Francisco cab companies would create more-efficient and timely service.
Spokesman Mark Gruberg of the United Taxicab Workers, a drivers association, said more cabs would hurt an industry still recovering from the dot-com bust and post-Sept. 11 downturn.
“Drivers have had a really tough time in the past decade,” Gruberg said. “To flood the streets with cabs would be pretty reckless.”
Hailing a cab
1,094,742 Phone calls to Yellow Cab requesting service for first six months of 2010
281,297 Callers who weren’t picked up
24 Percent of callers who weren’t picked up
139 Extra taxi medallions Yellow Cab says it needs to meet customer demand
1,500 Current taxi medallions
November 2007 Last time The City increased the number of taxi medallions (69)
Sources: Yellow Cab, SFMTA
If feasible, part-time medallions could ease demand
Getting a cab in The City is never easy, but trying to flag down a passing driver on a Friday or Saturday night borders on downright hopelessness.
To address the weekend spike in demand, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is considering increasing the number of taxi medallions for peak times, a move that would allow more available cabs during busy weekends but wouldn’t bloat the streets with cars at slower times during the week.
The Controller’s Office is planning to conduct a supply-and-demand study on peak-time taxis. If the SFMTA can obtain sufficient data to gauge demand at peak times, it will make a recommendation on part-time medallions.
Malcolm Heinicke, an SFMTA director and former member of the now-defunct Taxicab Commission, said peak-time medallions are vital — not just for passengers, but local businesses too.
“There are vastly unmet demands for cab service on Friday and Saturday nights,” Heinicke said. “Residents and customers can’t get reliable cab service, so they’re staying inside. There is no doubt that’s having a negative effect on local businesses.”
Manager Jim Gillespie of Yellow Cab, which accounts for one-third of all taxis in San Francisco, said peak-time medallions are not feasible.
“We’re still waiting for someone to show us how this could possibly work,” Gillespie said. “Who’s going to pay for the cars for these part-time drivers? Who’s going to pay their insurance?”