San Francisco’s largest taxi company may soon declare bankruptcy, the San Francisco Examiner revealed early this month.
Now, as Yellow Cab Co-Op’s financial move has set off alarms across the industry, The City’s taxi regulator is finally weighing in.
Kate Toran is head of taxi services at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which regulates cabs in San Francisco.
First things first, she wanted to clarify that Yellow Cab’s bankruptcy is Chapter 11, which is a restructuring to shed debts — not necessarily to close. The Examiner initially reported that, but many news outlets re-reporting the story implied Yellow Cab was “doomed.”
“Overall, there’s still a demand for taxi service in San Francisco,” Toran said, countering assertions in the national news.
When asked for numbers to demonstrate that, she said Uber and Lyft historically have not shared similar numbers in public fashion with their regulators — the California Public Utilities Commission. Without a point of comparison, she said, people may make mistaken conclusions about the taxi industry’s health.
“Information they provide is under seal,” Toran said, of Uber and Lyft.
Yellow Cab’s bankruptcy seeks to shed debt in the untold millions of dollars. Lawsuits contributed to this, such as the case of Ida Fua. She was left paralyzed on the left side of her body when a Yellow Cab she was riding in collided with deadlocked traffic at 60 mph.
She sued Yellow Cab and won, for $8 million. It’s still unclear if bankruptcy will allow Yellow Cab to shed its outstanding debts.
“If anything changes we will deal with that change,” Toran said.
If a taxi company were to close, Toran said one concern for the SFMTA would be ensuring taxi medallion holders transfer those medallions elsewhere. A medallion is a license to operate for a cab driver, some of which are sold by the SFMTA to cabbies for $250,000.
“The main concern is making sure those medallion holders are placed at other companies, Toran said.
Also, she said preserving drivers’ records to an entity where they could be accessed would be another priority, after a taxi company closes. Among these records would be waybills, which are taxi drivers’ work history often used when trying to purchase or transfer a medallion.
Toran said it is “also important to point out the taxi industry is trying to innovate,” and the Flywheel app is an example of that. The
app works similarly to Uber and Lyft, but for taxis.
“It’s a game changer in a lot of ways,” she said.
Speaking about the taxi industry in general, Toran said “My perspective,” is “another thing the industry should do is stop being fragmented, shifting from each company focusing on its self-interest to taxis as a whole.”
That, she said, is the way for taxis to innovate in the new tech age.