Broken: the taxi system in SF
While San Francisco may have a far-reaching system of buses and streetcars, another component of its public transit system, the taxicabs, has been broken for a long time. As the city’s Taxi Commission considers adding 100 cabs to the system, it’s a good time to say just how messed up the system is.
San Francisco likes to depict itself as a world city. Well, I’ve been to plenty of world capitals — Tokyo, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Paris, London, New York. In most of those cities, taxis are ubiquitous throughout the downtown area, and easy to call to your house in a neighborhood on the phone. For the most part, the drivers know where they’re going.
San Francisco? Good luck on a rainy day… or when there’s a really big convention in town, like Mac World… or if you live west of Van Ness or south of Cesar Chavez… or, frankly, most of the time.
Not a cab in sight: at the busy corner of 17th and De Haro at 8:30 a.m. this morning, there wasn’t a cab in sight, despite this being the intersection of two thoroughfares — one which is a common route over Potereo Hill, the other a cross-town route between the foot of Potrero Hill and the Mission District.
My wife or I have spent endless minutes on hold to talk to rude telephone dispatchers, and then waited 30 to 50 minutes after the cab was supposed to be here, before giving up. We’ve called every cab company in town to find one that’s responsive — useless. When we’re lucky enough to get a cab, we’ve had to plead with the drivers not to speed at 50 m.p.h. up narrow residential streets.
And it’s not just in the neighborhoods. The other day, during our rainy spell, a local TV news broadcast showed a doorman at a large downtown hotel whistling hopelessly for a cab in the driving rain. It took more than five minutes for just one taxi to show up.
I know it’s not all the fault of the drivers. The way the system is in San Francisco, the drivers have less choice of making any money than a dancer at an empty strip club. The cab companies soak the drivers for every dime, and the price of gas doesn’t help them either. But the scant opportunity to make money at the job means that many of the people willing to drive cabs are desperate people with few other skills who are easily taken advantage of, because everyone else can get a better job, one that actually pays money.
Now the Taxi Commission, after receiving a report documenting the scandalous state of the city’s cab system, is proposing to raise the number of cabs on the street by a scant 8 percent. That is, in itself, just insult to injury for the city’s cab riders, yet the owners of the cab permits were down at the commission meeting tonight screaming that a few dozen more cabs will mean they’ll go broke.
Here’s an item for Mayor Newsom’s to-do list. Fix this broken system.
To read: an article on Beyond Chron, The Making of a Debit Card Monopoly: How San Francisco’s taxi paratransit program is getting ruined by politics, by former mayoral candidate Matt Gonzalez.