Bus running late? Buzz a cabbie

Frustrated Muni patrons waiting for a bus to arrive might be able to find relief from a simple button.

The Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates Muni, is considering a plan to have an on-call button at each bus station that would connect people with an available cab if the wait for a transit vehicle is too long. Through a dispatch system, the nearest cab driver would be the first person alerted by the on-call button.

While MTA spokesman Paul Rose said action on the plan isn’t imminent, the idea has been bandied about at the agency’s Citizen Advisory Committee for taxi affairs, and its beginning to generate heavy discussions in the industry.

Charles Rathbone, a taxi driver with Luxor Cab, said the technology will provide cab drivers with one more tool to service passengers.

“Anything that helps us get more business is a very welcome improvement,” Rathbone said. “If the MTA can actually help us out, we’d be very happy.”

Other drivers are not so enthusiastic about the plan. Mark Gruberg, spokesman for the United Taxicab Workers, a drivers group, said Muni patrons could indiscriminately push the on-call button without actually needing a cab. Also, cab drivers waiting to contact their customers could get cited for waiting in bus-loading zones.

John Lazar, Rathbone’s boss at Luxor, said adding more taxi stands to city streets would be a better alternative than the call button at Muni bus stops.

San Francisco resident Crio Burley, a frequent patron of Muni’s 38-Geary, 31-Balboa and F-Market lines, said he would use the on-call taxi service if it was available.

“There are certain times during the day when I’m stuck waiting for the 38-Geary for 45 minutes,” said Burley. “To have the option to get cab service makes a lot of sense for people trying to get somewhere quickly.”

Since the MTA took control of the now-defunct Taxicab Commission in 2009, several ideas for reform have been proposed, including changing the overhead lights on vehicles to more accurately reflect availability, and making credit-card machines mandatory in all cars.

Nathaniel Ford, executive director for the MTA, called the latest proposal for the taxi industry a “good idea.”

“If this will help people move more efficiently around The City, I’m all for it,” Ford said.

Calling all cabs

4,000: Muni stops in The City*
7,000: Registered cab drivers
34: Taxi companies
10: Dispatch companies

* Includes light-rail stops

Source: SFMTA

wreisman@sfexaminer.com
           

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