Report seeks to improve what’s left of SF taxi industry

The taxi business has been struggling in San Francisco for a number of years now since Uber and Lyft entered the picture, and transit officials are now trying to reenergize the industry.

A report released by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Wednesday that laid out recommendations on how to improve the current state of the taxi industry in The City:

Kate Toran, director of taxis and accessible services, said:

“The MTA is really looking to get the right framework in place so the industry can compete and innovate.”

The report found that only 17 percent holding medallions to operate a taxicab earn an income that is financially sustainable, which has led the underutilization of taxi medallions and a driver shortage.

Those suffering the worst financially are the ones who purchased the medallion because they invested the most but have earned the least, the report said.

There are currently 1,530 medallions in service with 4,824 active drivers in The City.

The report from PFM Group Consulting and Schaller Consulting, commissioned by the SFMTA, recommends cab companies create a “full-service” package: Offer a smartphone app, dispatch service, trips to San Francisco International Airport, wheelchair accessible taxi service, set the rate of fares for taxis out of that company, and train drivers.

Under the recommendation, only full-service companies would be offered a permit to operate at SFO. The companies would be able to manage their own cabs at the airport.

Drivers can wait for hours for “that golden pick-up” and the goal is to make the taxi line at SFO more efficient, said Toran.

Those same companies would also be able to set their fare rates and offer customers discounts for special events like a concert.

The report also suggests the SFMTA to recall the coop, Pre-K and non-operational medallions:

“The goal of this recommendation is to adjust industry size to better match current trips volumes.”

There are about a total of 464 medallions that the SFMTA would get rid of under the recommendation.

The final recommendation from the report says the SFMTA should provide more incentives to encourage more taxi drivers to provide accessible services.

Currently, the SFMTA provides a $10 per trip incentive for every paratransit strip completed and one pass to jump the taxi queue at SFO for every two paratransit wheelchair pick-ups completed in outer neighborhoods in The City.

Toran said the transit agency already has some funding to help subsidize some of the cost of purchasing a taxi vehicle with a wheelchair ramp and help pay for some of maintenance and operating costs.

The SFMTA sent the report to the taxi industry the day it was released. Drivers will be able to have their say on the recommendations from the report at three Taxi town hall meetings on May 7 (10:00 a.m. to noon), May 14 (12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.) , and May 23 (2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.) at City Hall in room 400.

Eventually the SFMTA Board of Directors will decide on which recommendations they will carry out after the transit agency receives feedback from the taxi industry.

Toran said:

“This is a real chance for the industry recommit to customer service and really play to their strengths.”