Taxi fees could get even higher

Taxi riders in The City may be facing a $1 per passenger fee to offset rising fuel costs.

San Francisco cabs are already among the most expensive in the nation and it’s been less than two years since the last price hike.

Taxi riders currently pay $3.10 just to enter the cab, the second-highest “flag drop” rate in the nation, trailing only Las Vegas. Additionally, the price per mile — $2.25 — is the highest in the nation. The average cost of a taxi ride in San Francisco is $16.15, according to a January City Controller’s report.

The city agency that oversees San Francisco’s taxicab industry is considering a flat $1 per passenger fuel surcharge, no matter the distance of the trip. The head of the Taxicab Commission, Jordanna Thigpen, called it “an idea we are tossing around.”

Thigpen said she has a received a “deluge” of calls from cab drivers asking the commission to address the financial burden of soaring gas prices. According to the Automobile Association of America, the average cost for a gallon of gas in the Bay Area is $4.48.

Other municipalities have approved taxi fuel charges, including Cleveland, Chicago and Miami-Dade County. On Monday, members of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance asked the agency overseeing its fare rates to authorize a $1 charge to compensate for gas prices.

Mark Gruberg of the United Taxicab Workers, which represents the interests of cab drivers, said the gas costs are making it more difficult for cab drivers to “pay the rent, put food on the table.”

“This is not a high-paying job,” said Gruberg. “It’s the kind of job where you take $25, $30 out of somebody’s pocket and people are hurting, and they are.”

On average, a cab driver takes home $109.47 a shift, according to a January 2008 City Controller’s report.

Jim Gillespie, assistant manager at Yellow Cab, said he thinks the public would accept a fuel surcharge, as opposed to a meter increase.

San Franciscan Janet Clyde said. “A dollar wouldn’t keep me out of a cab,” as she stepped out a taxi Monday that cost her about $10 from North Beach to Civic Center.

The Taxicab Commission could recommend a surcharge, but any change in fares would require approval by the Board of Supervisors.

Any proposal for a surcharge would not be presented until after August, when the City Controller is slated to release a report on the industry, including analysis on cab drivers’ income and the impact of fare increases, said Thigpen.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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