The SFMTA has approved a plan to add 120 more taxi cabs to its fleet in 2013 and 200 more in 2014. The decision came in spite of protests from Taxi drivers and companies who argued that the addition of more taxi cabs should wait until the illegal ride-sharing company issue was settled. Ride-sharing companies started to appear in San Francisco in the last couple years to address the shortcomings of the taxi industry. The companies use smartphone apps to locate riders, build trust between drivers and passengers and even take payment. They are unlicensed and unregulated. The taxi companies, who are heavily regulated by the MTA, say that this competition is simply unfair. Drivers argue that they have been asking for technology and dispatch upgrades for years, but that the bureaucracy of the agency has held them back. They are worried that the influx of new cabs along with the continued increase in ride-sharing opportunities will only hurt their industry.
There is no doubt that the taxi industry in the city needs a boost. Whether from a better dispatching system (one that is integrated between companies perhaps) or better technological options (the ride-sharing companies have the right idea with the smartphone apps), the industry must be able to compete. In addition, it should in some ways welcome the competition that the ride-sharing companies offer. San Franciscans and the many tourists and businesspeople who venture to the city on a short-term basis have very different transportation needs. A little diversity in public transportation in a city where few people drive can be an improvement.
In Chile, for example, there are four main types of transportation. Buses offer the most reliable transportation in between cities (much like BART or Trans-bay buses). Micros, mini-buses, offer transportation between set points in the city (much like Muni functions in the City). Taxis, offer the best service for groups of people (it is cheaper to share the fare), for trips to the outskirts of the city, for trips late at night or early in the morning, or when you are in a rush. Taxis can be flagged down on the street, but the best way is to call 10-15 minutes ahead of time and have them come pick you up. There is however, a fourth option, called a collectivo. Collectivos are a combination of taxi services and ride-sharing companies. They are extremely common (there are more collectivos on the streets then any other vehicle) and they are extremely cheap (Collectivos cost $1-2 per trip). They act like a taxi. Flag down a collectivo with 1, 2 or 3 people already inside and tell the driver where you are headed. If he is headed in that direction you can jump in, if not flag down the next one. It may take 10 minutes longer since the driver has to drop off the other passengers as well, but since you are all headed in the same direction the delay is not significant. The collectivos fill a gap left by the taxis. They are a way for commuters to get to work without worrying about bus schedules or having to walk blocks from the bus terminal. Instead of driving to the store for a gallon of milk and some bread, hop in a collectivo.
Obviously, Chile is not San Francisco, but they have a functioning multi-faceted transportation system that caters to the needs of its citizens and tourists by offering competition and diversity. There is no question that San Francisco’s cab fleet is extremely important to the city. However, it may not be the only solution to the city’s transportation woes.