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Taxi drivers hail new app that creates ‘virtual queue’ at SFO a failure

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A new mobile app, TaxiVQ, would set up a “virtual queue” for taxis waiting to pick up fares at the San Francisco International Airport.(Cindy Chew/2012 S.F. Examiner)

Taxis may soon line up to enter the San Francisco International Airport virtually, by app.

That’s under a new plan by the airport, officials told the San Francisco Examiner, which has a mobile phone app available for taxi drivers who wish to enter the airport to pick up fares.

Under the proposal, the app may soon require all taxis to queue up virtually before entering SFO’s taxi lot instead of circling around waiting for a parking spot to open up, a problem that the airport said leads to congestion on its roadways.

The app, TaxiVQ, is already in use for short fares, said SFO spokesperson Doug Yakel. The new proposal would set up a “virtual queue, so surplus cabs don’t need to circle the airport repeatedly when customer demand doesn’t call for it.”

Taxi drivers aren’t fans of the new proposal, however.

At the Airport Commission’s meeting on Tuesday, taxi drivers said SFO created its own congestion headaches by reducing the size of its parking lot for taxis, which prompted drivers to circle around the airport awaiting fares.

A group of about a dozen drivers told the Airport Commission that the new app requirements threaten their livelihoods by creating a technology-driven queue with the expectation that cabbies would drive elsewhere while waiting.

“You’re going to force us into The City when there’s no business in The City,” said James Williams, a taxi driver.

Tariq Mehmood, a taxi driver who organized Tuesday’s protest, lambasted the commission.

“Are you going to put 200 cabs in Millbrae?” he asked, since the app allows people to queue up for the lot while driving in a four-mile radius of the airport. Mehmood said drivers may seek fares four miles away, then rush “80 miles an hour” when granted parking to meet the app’s 30-minute time limit.

But Ivar Satero, director of SFO, said the app was created to help taxi drivers, not make their lives harder.

“This is what we felt was a benefit,” Satero told the Airport Commission and taxi drivers. “Why would you want to sit in the airport if you could be making money downtown?”

Satero said he would work with taxi stakeholders on a solution to the app disagreement.

Yakel told the Examiner that SFO did not take away permanent space from taxi drivers. The space that was removed was from an overflow lot that had about 70 spaces for taxis, he said.

“This access was always temporary, as the space was slated to close for the construction of [the] new Long-Term Parking Lot, a construction project which is now underway,” Yakel said.

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