New cabs haven’t materialized

Nearly eight months ago, The City decided to allow 50 more taxicabs to pick up fares in an effort to cut down on long waits. But with the holiday season approaching and the convention business in full swing, those cabs have yet to hit the streets.

The Taxicab Commission approved on Feb. 27 the issuance of 50 more medallions, or permits to drive cabs, with the expectation that those cabs would begin cruising for fares by September, bringing relief to those frustrated over the unavailability of cabs. Half of the people who call for a cab during the week are left stranded, and on Friday evenings, those who call for a cab never see one 95 percent of the time, according to a recent study by the commission.

Only three of the medallions, however, have been issued due to an appeal filed to overturn the commission’s decision coupled with the “onerous” process to issue additional medallions, according to Heidi Machen, the Taxicab Commission’s executive director.

The commission was unable to initiate the complex process of issuing more medallions until the Board of Appeals rejected the appeal, which it did on Aug. 29. To issue more medallions, the commission must notify people on a waiting list of about 3,000, with those on the top of the list having waited 15 to 20 years for a permit.

Hundreds of notification of letters have gone out, Machen said, but “we’ve gotten very few replies.” Machen said that the new goalis to have the additional 50 cabs on the streets by January.

Once notified, a person on the waiting list must respond within three weeks, meet strict qualifications and pass a test. Once a person responds to a notice and meets all the criteria, it takes about a month before the commission can actually vote to issue the medallion.

In February, the commission authorized the issuance of 50 medallions, 25 permits for ramp taxis (those equipped to serve the disabled community), and 25 permits for hybrid or alternative-fuel taxis. Of the 50, three permits for ramp taxis have since been awarded.

The delay in issuing the medallions may make it difficult for the commission to decide whether to add more in February 2008 — when the commission re-examines the service level of the industry — since the impact of the 50 more cabs would be relatively unknown.

Staff had recommended that the commission add 100 more medallions, but amid opposition from some drivers, who worried that more cabs would decrease income for cabbies, the commission cut the recommendation back to 50.

To improve the industry’s performance, the commission is exploring the idea of “peak-time” medallions, which would allow for more cabs on the streets only during the times when they are in the most demand, such as on Friday and Saturday nights.

By the numbers

» 821: Medallions in 1997

» 1,381: Medallions in 2001

» 0: Medallions added between 2001 and 2006

» 50: Medallions approved for issuance in 2007

» 16 minutes, 20 seconds: Averagetime between dispatch and arrival of taxi

» 2 minutes, 58 seconds: Average time callers for a taxi were kept on hold

» 4 minutes, 39 seconds: Average time Friday callers were on hold

» 7 minutes, 49 seconds: Average time for successful flagging down

» 25 minutes: Longest wait time observed at hotel

jsabatini@examiner.com

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