In September, San Francisco's new taxi head calculated that there had been a 65 percent decline in cab traffic based on ridership in March 2012 compared to July 2014, an alarmingly steep figure that drew skepticism from the industry.
Cab companies are admittedly suffering — owed in large part to app-based ride services like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar — but it turns out that staff at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency generated that figure using only a small sample of the statistics those companies are required to submit and also compared two very different data sets.
Using only 15 percent of the data available, the SFMTA found that the average trips taken per taxi fell from 1,424 to 504. In other words, it was “a snapshot” from “easily available data,” said Kate Toran, the agency's taxis and accessible services director.
Toran said the 65 percent decline “was surprising” and that she was pleased to hear cab companies report that their actual decline was between 20 to 30 percent.
“I'd rather have the bigger picture be that the taxis have been less impacted by the [ride services] than the 65 percent showed,” Toran recently told The San Francisco Examiner. “If that's the case, that's a better story as far as I'm concerned. It's still a challenge and still not to make light of because that is still a big drop.”
Management with The City's largest taxi companies, Yellow Cab Cooperative and Luxor Cab, pointed out that the SFMTA report framing the highest and lowest trip numbers around different months — in this case, 1,424 in March 2012 and 504 in July — could be misleading because ridership changes from season to season.
“There are busier months and slower months, so you really need to compare apples to apples,” said Nate Dwiri, a consultant for Yellow Cab, which makes up about one-third of all taxis in The City.
If it were only dispatch calls being compared, Yellow Cab had 128,238 in March 2012 and 90,443 in July, a 29 percent difference.
Dwiri said a better measure would be total metered trips, which Yellow Cab did not record prior to October 2012. The company's average metered trips per cab was 1,251 in October 2012 and 1,284 in October 2014, which is a 3 percent increase.
Regardless of the numbers used, both the SFMTA and taxi companies realize there has been a ridership decline in the past couple years and they agree it's due to the likes of Uber, Lyft and Sidecar — dubbed transportation network companies by the California Public Utilities Commission, the state regulator.
“There has been some decrease in trips in the last year and half or so because of the competition,” Jim Gillespie, Yellow Cab president and general manager, said referring to TNCs. “The only thing we disputed was it wasn't anywhere near 65 percent.”
Luxor Cab, the second-largest taxi company in The City, declined to share trip numbers, but Assistant Manager Charles Rathbone said of the 65 percent decline, “We figured some of the other companies must be doing worse than we are.”
DeSoto Cab Co., the third-largest taxi provider, recorded a 26 percent drop in average trips per cab between October 2012 and this past October. Company President Hansu Kim said the industry is not afraid of competition, but feels like the CPUC regulations by which the app-based ride services operate on are not equal to those imposed on the traditional taxi industry.