Electronic hailing for city cabs approved by SFMTA board

Mike Koozmin/The S.f. Examiner File photoSFMTA Transportation Director Ed Reiskin expressed confidence in interim taxi head Kate Toran's ability to help keep The City's taxi industry competitive among the rise of app-based ride services.

A smartphone hailing system for taxis across The City got the OK from San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board members Tuesday, to the chagrin of some cab companies and businesses that have provided a similar service for years.

The SFMTA board of directors has unanimously approved a $6 million, five-year contract to Frias Transportation Infrastructure to set up an electronic hailing system similar to what mobile app-based startups Uber, Lyft and Sidecar operate.

The system is more than a year in the making and initially depended on dispatch companies’ willingness to provide data. Since some were unwilling to cooperate, the SFMTA included an option to install up to 2,500 on-board devices on taxis through the contractor.

But an approved amendment, proposed by board member Malcolm Heinicke, will give taxi companies until Feb. 1 to provide GPS tracking data and is expected to save the transit agency up to $2.3 million in installation and airtime fees over five years.

“Now is your chance,” Heinicke said to the taxi industry. “Use this opportunity to see if we can work this out so the info can come from you rather than another on-board device on cabs.”

Hansu Kim, president of DeSoto Cab Co., which has a 170-taxi fleet, was weary of providing data to the third party.

“Is it unreasonable for me as a small-business owner to say, ‘Please, let me have some say about giving data to someone before they put all my cabs in their network’?” he said.

Tim Csontos, vice president of business development for Taxi Magic, which works with Yellow Cab and Luxor Cab, said “The City and government are best being regulators and not technology providers.”

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