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Transit agency gives SF taxi drivers chance to compete with Uber, Lyft

San Francisco taxi drivers will soon have the opportunity to compete with the likes of Uber and Lyft, by picking up their ride requests.

E-hail taxi app companies — such as Flywheel and YoTaxi — will soon be able to dispatch vehicles to trips that originate through third-party companies. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors made the change possible Tuesday by approving an amendment to its ​​Taxi Upfront Fare Pilot Program.

The amendment allows taxi apps to partner with transportation network companies, including Uber and Lyft — similar partnerships have already been established in New York. The ride-hailing giants have been accused of decimating the taxi industry and financially devastating cab drivers over the past decade.

Flywheel Technologies President Hansu Kim said at Tuesday’s meeting that the company wants to modernize the taxi industry, which has been behind the technology curve, so it can compete with other e-hailing apps.

Kim said:

“We think this is going to change the industry for the better. It’s going to revitalize the industry.”

The SFMTA board in September originally authorized the director of transportation to create a one-year pilot program that would allow taxi e-hail apps to provide passengers with upfront fare costs so they can lock in rates prior to pickup.

The partnership concept was initially floated as rules were being developed for the broader pilot program. However, not everyone is on board with the idea.

Mark Gruber, a cab driver with the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance, said there are still a lot of unknowns, and he expressed concerns about the ability to serve existing customers when taxi drivers are inundated with Uber requests. Gruber also worries that taxi drivers may find it hard to resist picking up Uber passengers during surge pricing, which could negatively impact “regulars.”

He said:

“When there’s surge pricing, many drivers would prefer those rides. Our regulars would be left out in the cold.”

Transit officials said taxi drivers can opt out of the pilot program by simply not accepting ride requests generated through the third-party.

The amended Upfront Fare Taxi Pilot Program will launch no later than Aug. 5. Kate Toran, the SFMTA’s director of taxis, said the agency will continue to conduct outreach in order to develop acceptable rules before the program officially rolls out.

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