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Study says SF needs more taxis

San Francisco needs more taxis if it wants to improve service throughout the entire city and prevent residents from choosing other car services such as Uber, Lyft and SideCar.

A draft of a report on managing The City’s taxi supply and demand — which included customer and driver input from surveys — suggests The City needs to increase the number of taxis to help better serve neighborhoods outside the downtown area.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees the taxi industry in The City, contracted last year with Hara Associates to look at how the transit agency can better manage the supply and demand of taxis.

Hara surveyed 649 San Francisco residents by phone asking how often they use taxis and the quality of service.

The survey results found that most residents interviewed were not satisfied with the number of available taxis in The City and that the dispatch service is “slow and unreliable.”

Overall, 56 percent of weekday users waited 15 minutes for a taxi. On weekends, 33 percent experience a 15 minute wait, while 27 percent said they have waited more than 30 minutes for taxi or it did not arrive at all.

Some of the worst areas in The City for taxi service are the Outer Sunset, Parkside and Lakeshore neighborhoods. The survey said only 33 percent of respondents who called for a taxi to their home on weekdays using the dispatch service experienced a 15 minute wait for a cab, while 26 percent said they waited more than 30 minutes — or taxi the never showed up.

Weekends were worse, with only 16 percent of residents able to get a taxi to their home within 15 minutes of calling the dispatch service and 26 percent of residents waiting more than 30 minutes or the taxi never showed up.

Other areas in the city that residents said they’ve experienced long waits for a taxi using the dispatch service include the Bayview, Excelsior and Visitacion Valley neighborhoods.

Although taxis seem readily available in downtown San Francisco, a study team observed cab stands at airport holdings, AT&T Park, and other formal and informal stands in The City — including downtown — found customers waiting at empty taxi stands.

The report said that this was another sign that the city has a taxi shortage.

Drivers want to be heard

Taxi drivers want the SFMTA to do better job in regulating and enforcing illegal taxis, limousines and car-sharing services such as Lyft and Sidecar. Hara surveyed 621 taxi drivers, with 39 percent of drivers said that this was critical issue to them:

“Drivers feel that their livelihoods are at risk and that the SFMTA is doing little to protect them.”

Taxi drivers also felt that SFMTA regulations for the industry hurt drivers and that the transit does not listen to taxi drivers enough.

On the issue of who should get new medallions, 77 percent of taxi drivers agreed that new medallions should go to those on the official waiting list, but 45 percent of drivers would like the issuance of new medallions to go by seniority once the official list is complete.

Increase the number of taxis

The city needs 600 t0 800 more taxis in order to meet the demands of customers, the report recommends — but not all at once.

It will take time for rider habits to change, said the report. Despite the popularity of limousines and car-sharing services, 27 percent of households gave a favorable answer when asked if they would take a taxi to work more frequently if it arrived within 15 minutes of calling for one.

44 percent of households said they would take a taxi more often for leisure if taxis came within 15 minutes of calling the dispatch.

The SFMTA has already issued 200 additional operating permits last year, which are leased out to taxi companies for three years. The report recommends the transit agency issue 120 more medallions this year and another 200 additional medallions in 2014.

For later years, the SFMTA can issue new medallions at its own pace based on demand.

The report said the increase in taxis will help make the dispatch service more effective throughout the entire city and improve service at taxi stands.

Another recommendation includes lowering the transfer cost of a medallion back to $250,000 from $300,000. Under the SFMTA taxi medallion sales pilot program, drivers were able to sell their medallions to eligible drivers for $250,000.

Last year the transit agency increased the transfer cost to $300,000.

The findings by Hara will be part of a discussion at taxi town hall meetings on April 9 at One South Van Ness Avenue, second floor Atrium Conference Room, from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

The SFMTA board will consider the study’s recommendation at its April 16 meeting.

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