Monday, January 5, 2009

More on the Broken Taxi System

Long-time readers know I have a serious beef with the San Francisco taxi industry, and the New Year's holiday has only added fuel to the fire.

To drive a cab in San Francisco, you have to have a taxi medallion. These are in limited supply, and so, a situation has developed in which holding a medallion, and renting it to others, can become a more profitable enterprise than actually driving a cab. In fact, one of the arguments you constantly hear against medallion reform is that medallion-holders depend on renting out their medallions as a way of having retirement income. Meanwhile, those who do hold this precious commodity fight tooth and nail against issuing any more medallions, using the specious argument that more drivers mean fewer fares for individual cabbies. However, no one has actually looked at what the real market for taxi services is in this city, so no one really knows what the optimal ratio of taxis to population should be.

New Year's Eve and New Year's Day provided an excellent example of how broken this system is. I watched, amazed, as people almost literally fought for cabs at 3.30AM outside SomArts and the Sea of Dreams party. Thousands of people in a two block area, all looking for a way home, and the taxi industry doesn't think it would be worthwhile to put more drivers on the street, and let those guys earn a good night's money (to say nothing of improving public safety by making sure fewer fucked up people were on the streets)? Then, at Cafe Cocomo the next evening, again, no cabs, and no sign that any were going to show up. So, when a black car gypsy cab pulled up and offered to give three of us a ride for $25, do you think I refused? Taxi industry flacks would have us believe that these gypsy cabs are stealing their fares, but where was the taxi I could have taken instead? They also make noise about these gypsy cabs being unlicensed, you don't know who you're getting in the car with, etc., but I've had plenty of taxi rides with obviously intoxicated cabbies driving wrecked-up vehicles. And when I want to go home at the end of the night, I want to go home, period. If an enterprising guy with a car wants to give me a lift, then you better believe that I'm going to do it. If a taxi wants my fare, then they need to be there to earn it, it's that simple.

I wrote a couple months ago about the Taxi Commission being brought under the Transit Authority, which I applaud as a good move. Taxi service needs to be treated as an arm of public transportation, rather than as a protectionist racket that serves only the interest of medallion holders instead of the public at large.

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