Will It Finally Get Easier to Hail a San Francisco Taxi?
June 26, 2012
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency recently broke with precedent and issued “temporary” taxi medallions to address the accurately predicted spike in taxi usage during the US Open golf tournament hosted at the Olympic Club golf course on the far West Side of San Francisco.
How did it go? It all worked according to plan, with San Francisco’s hard-pressed taxi drivers picking up extra work, more taxi riders finding a cab when they needed one and tourists in town for the tournament finding one more reason to return to San Francisco.
The Commission should be applauded for anticipating and solving a problem before it happened. But now we hope they will take the same bold approach to the regular scarcity of taxis in the city. The reality is that virtually every Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, finding a cab in San Francisco is hit or miss. If you live on the West Side, finding a cab can take hours and is almost always a maddening experience. Rush hour when it rains? Good luck.
With the successful results of the “temporary” medallion experience behind them, the Commission should now experiment with increasing the number of cabs on the street during regular peak periods, starting with peak weekend evenings. If that works, they should look at a more sophisticated demand response system, dispatching more cabs during other big events, from MacWorld to Outside Lands. Even experimenting with dynamic dispatching – for example on rainy mornings or afternoons during the workweek.
Perhaps more cabs at these times might also mean fewer cabs in the middle of the night or the middle of the day, when drivers have a hard time breaking even. The point is to match the cabs with the demand, so drivers are making a decent living and San Franciscans have a decent expectation of getting a cab when they need one. Some drivers have pointed out that some of the “extra” cabs are out of service because they need safety repair – so of course these concerns should be addressed.
Taxis are the Original “Car Sharing” Service
Reset San Francisco has reported the growing body of data showing just how much a typical San Franciscan can save by selling their car and loading up the Clipper Card. The average cost of owning a car is up to $ 10,000 per year. That means making it easier to navigate the city without a private car is more than a quality of life improvement and an environmental benefit. It is also its own powerful economic stimulus as locals spend less on foreign oil and more on local goods and services.
Making car-free or car-reduced living possible takes a mosaic of policies, starting with a better Muni, safer walking and bicycling infrastructure, smart planning and a system of car sharing so that on those occasions when San Franciscans do need a four-wheel solution to their transit needs, one is quickly available. While private and non-profit car sharing should be promoted, the original car sharing service known as taxis should also be brought into the 21st Century.
Each Car-Sharing Vehicle Takes Up To 15 Private Cars Off the Road
The reality is reducing the “transit anxiety” will reduce the number of private cars on the street – with all of the many benefits that will bring (including a faster Municipal Railway). According to one study, every car-sharing vehicle takes up to 15 private cars of the road. If San Franciscans know there is an option available for those few times during the week when they absolutely need a car or taxi – they will have the security to ditch the private car and rely on the networking of car-sharing and public transportation options.
Congratulations to the Commission for their experiment in demand response during the US Open. We’ll give them well-deserved applause when they make it a regular policy to make sure there are enough cabs on the street when San Franciscans need them. When actual Gov 2.0 systems like universal dispatch and real-time tracking become a reality – they will get the standing ovation such innovations deserve.