Thursday, February 9, 2012

MTA's Plans For Future Improvements To Taxi Service, (Recapping Monday's Supervisors' Committee Meeting.) By John Han.

File photo by John Han
Last Monday, February 6, 2012,  the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) reported to the Land Use and Economic Development Committee, its plans to improve taxi services in the City.

It is the first of what is expected to be quarterly reports from the transportations agency regarding taxi service in the City.

Supervisor Scott Wiener, during the meeting, said two things necessary to improve taxi service are increasing the number of available cabs and improving dispatch service.

And while the SFMTA seems to agree on those needs for improvements, it did not ignore the complexities of the taxi industry.

The taxi industry in San Francisco and anywhere is extremely complex,” said SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin. “There a lot of different viewpoints, often divergent.”

Nonetheless, the SFMTA has a general plan to address both increasing the number of cabs, improving dispatch, and more.

SFMTA's Deputy Director of Taxi Services Christiane Hayashi revealed a somewhat comprehensive outline of what the agency plans for in the near future.

Serious Consideration Of Corporate Medallions:

Christiane stated on behalf of the SFMTA,

Along the way people have asked us, companies in particular have asked us, to give a number of permits, temporary permits to the companies so that they could operate those vehicles without a medallion holder involved.

And that's something that we're seriously considering.”

Electronic Waybills:

SFMTA is currently drafting legislation to require electronic data collection across the industry.

We think that will provide a very good beginning for the kind of quantifiable data that everybody needs to see in order to measure whether we're improving or not”, Hayashi stated.

Best Practices Study:

SFMTA has retained Hara Associates, a Canadian consulting firm to advise the SFMTA, and provide analytical data such as passenger surveys, which the agency says is lacking in comprehensive studies.

The Best Practices Study also calls for interviewing industry stakeholders deeply affected by taxi service, such as hotel and restaurant associations, other merchant groups, City supervisors, and the taxi industry itself. And, to establish performance standards not only for the industry, but for the regulators also.

There is to be a comparative study with regards to how other cities approach taxi issues, and a convenience and necessity study to help determine supply and demand, and meter rates.

Peak Time Demands And Single Operator Taxis:

Chris Hayashi stated on behalf of the SFMTA,

All of the medallions that exist today are required to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. This doesn't help our peak time service issues, because during the peak times you will never have enough taxis.

But if you over supply in order to address the peak time taxi demand, then you're going to have too many taxi in times when perhaps there's not enough demand. Or at least that's a consideration.

So that's why we're trying this limited program of 50 additional part time permits.”

Wheelchair Passenger Service:

This is the Paratransit debit card system. The SFMTA says the debit cards allow the agency to better monitor Paratransit patterns and the number of wheelchair pickups.

The agency considers the electronic method an improvement over the paper method, citing that the old way encouraged too much fraud.

It says that money saved from not having to investigate as much fraud is being invested back into the Paratransit service as incentives for Ramp Taxi drivers to pick up more wheelchair passengers.

5 Year Capital Plan:

SFMTA has included two projects in its 5 year plan.

  1. Uniform Top Lights: Currently, there is no “off duty” light, or way for drivers to effectively communicate to passengers who are trying to flag them, that they're en route to a phoned-in dispatch service, or are turning in off shift.  This is to subsidize new top lights that can signify that a cab is available or unavailable without having to turn off the meter.
  1. Electronic Taxi Hailing: A real time, electronic, GPS based platform allowing passengers to hail cabs directly using a desktop computer, laptop, smart phone, etc.

Christiane Hayashi stated on behalf of the MTA,

We have no intention of bypassing the existing dispatch services that have already built up their telephone business. We think that this will provide just sort of an overlay that will still allow customers to choose their taxi companies, but would give the customers the ability to find taxis that are actually available by communicating with the drivers on a more one on one basis.”

My comment – This would allow the taxi industry to compete with the growing popularity of Uber, and would allow passengers the convenience they seek through Uber, to be available in more affordable taxi service.

Dispatch Accountability:

This is to measure the success or failure rate of dispatch services as to how promptly, or whether or not, passengers get into cabs they called for, and then reward dispatch services for good performance.

It's also to measure how well dispatch services pick up the phones in the first place. The idea, obviously, is to ensure that passengers who call for cabs actually get them, then get inside of them, and arrive at their destination.

There is only one minor problem with this, and it is minor. But it still may be worth mentioning. And it is that the transportation code doesn't necessarily define dispatch services as accountable to the SFMTA's goal.

Transportation Code Section 1102(i) defines a “Dispatch Service” as...

(i) "Dispatch Service" shall mean any person, business, firm, partnership, association or corporation that receives communications from the public regarding taxi service for the purpose of forwarding such communications to motor vehicle for hire drivers, and shall include any owner, manager, employee, lessee and any agent of said service. "Dispatch Service" shall not include any service through which the public is able to communicate directly with Drivers, and shall not include any effort on the part of a Driver to market his or her services to the public.”

(SFMTA Transportation Code Division II, Article 1100, Section 1102(i))

The part that may be inconsistent with the SFMTA's goal, is where it defines “Dispatch Service” as entities that,

“ receives communications from the public regarding taxi service for the purpose of forwarding such communications to motor vehicle for hire drivers”.

It seems to define dispatch services as an information referral service only. In other words, dispatch services are only obliged, by definition of the transportation code, to forward the passengers' requests to cab drivers.

So to measure performance based on this standard would only involve measuring how well the dispatch service picks up, or doesn't pick up the phone, and relays information from passengers to drivers.

That obviously is worth measuring.

But dispatch services do not seem obliged by the transportation code to ensure, or instruct the drivers to actually go get the orders, once and if the information has been successfully relayed by the dispatch.

To define dispatch services as accountable to that function could make the dispatch service a “taxi service provider”.

As many know, there are subtle tax reasons why cab companies, and their respective dispatch services do not want to be classified as “taxi service provider”.

They prefer to be defined as “leasing agents”, or, “taxi related services” that market services to taxi drivers, since “taxi service provider” would oblige them to service the public ridership.

If their primary function were defined by the City as being in service to the City's public ridership, that would put them in the same category of business, as the cab drivers that they hire to do the work.

For those who may not know, this could contribute to construal by government agencies at the state level, as cab companies hiring employees to perform the company's taxi services, but deliberately misclassifying them as independent contractors to avoid paying taxes, and other responsibilities.

Other items:

Other plans outlined include -
  • Improved driver training, including retraining for experienced drivers. The SFMTA says it hopes to implement retraining around June of this year, and would involve sensitivity training for seniors, disabled riders, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
  • The SFMTA is drafting legislation to revise its credit card policy, saying it wants to reduce the 5% credit card fee to something more comparable to what other merchants pay. It also mentioned the passage of the Frank/Dodd Act, but did not say whether it, for now, would authorize a minimum on credit card fares.
  • Improving the 311 system when passengers complain about drivers.

The video archive of the meeting is available at SFGovTv. CLICK HERE to view the video.


  1. Not another study from some Canadian taxi expert factory!? They promised; "no more studies."

  2. Anybody know what's going on with the phantom.

  3. San Francisco has the greenest taxis. Indeed, that is something to be proud of and something to build on.

    San Francisco also has the most expensive, least reliable, and least predictable taxis in the country. And even when taxis can be seen and apparently available (with their taxi 'available' light on), often drivers ignore you or give some excuse like "I'm not going that direction."

    We have a world class city but a taxi system not even on par with the developing world.

    To fix it, I propose 2 solutions:

    1) a paid taxi subscription service
    a) first, model the taxi system as in Singapore, the most affordable, modern, and reliable in the world. There, you phone in your reservation. The system automatically recognizes you from your last call and suggests you might like to go to the same destination as last time but lets you change the destination easily. Once you book, you receive an SMS confirmation and your taxi number. When the taxi is about to arrive, you receive an SMS notice. Upon arrival, you receive another SMS or call. if you no longer need the taxi, you need to cancel it or be charged a fee.
    b) IF we need to raise money to support a better system, I would gladly pay a $10-50 monthly subscription (that gives credit for the rides taken) for access to such a reliable taxi service. I'm sure a large part of the population would too.

    2) Abolish laws against REAL jitney services
    Jitneys are car services provided by any citizen with their own vehicle. I propose that drivers and passengers must first apply to meet appropriate jitney membership criteria (background check - there are services to automate that easily and affordably, valid driver's license, etc.). Jitneys were a popular service in the early 1900s across the country. Local governments regulated them away to promote public transportation service like busses and trams. Ironically, MUNI is struggling and cutting services while increasing fees. And the taxi system is in utter disarray. Jitneys are a common way of life in Moscow, and London (even though it has black cabs, it has gradually re-embraced jitneys, they call them "mini-cabs," and legalized them.)

    1. After listening to the video for about 4 minutes, the thought came to me that these politicians want a lot of great things that the 'free market' cab business can not supply . If they want all these great things then the city must subsidize the cab industry like they do the buses. Fares alone can not fund the bus system, same with cab business if they want this great system then they also need to look at subsidizing insurance that cab companies pay and then force cab companies to reduce gates, this would allow for more cab and cab drivers other than that their plans are not realistic.

  4. An important way to apply free market principles to the taxi industry would be to allow customers to bid for cabs on the internet or through their cell phones via an auction system. The highest bidder gets the quickest cab. I suggest the SFMTA deregulate the meters tout de suite.

  5. Ref. Mr Wiener: The case of the blind leading the blind.
    Commen sence should dictate ... how ever as Power Prevails, lead by pure emotion or is permotion.
    For instance...why don't we add cabs,(single operator ones) then keep them on hold while we talk about adding more and then study it.
    The data is already in ... but... it's to umberassing to release. The police collected some data (quartely's) in 1998 and 1999, 2000 and 2001 as i recall, which in hinesight wasn't half bad. The controller collected some one year around 2004 and it was half bad but one thing was clear, most of the respondents used Dispatch. Then there was the Taxi Commission's ...who one in 2007. It was so bad (based on pure emotion) it had to be deleted from the taxi archive. They aphthitsized ... "we need more cabs". Now the MTA and Mr. Winer are leading the charge down memory lane ... no data what so ever. Have you ever tryed to studing a moving target?
    Adding more cabs doesn't improve service it's only increases the exsisting "Bad-service" that's there. Beside MTA hasn't even defined what service is or where it isn't. The Taxi commission had some hefty goals too but they never walk the talk they only increased it.
    Never minding the data that was right in front of them all the time. As it is with the MTA. Never mind it was for free and delivered to they're door step. It only lacked onre wasn't do by them. It was paid for and collected by a poor smuck cab driver.
    Evidently un-biais feed back from 1,000 "taxi-customers" a year for 14 years is not good enough them or the MTA.

  6. Continued....

    Clearly the jury is in when it comes to taxi service but the judges don't like being up-staged. Just ask Paul G., Malcome H. and Bruce O. Data doen't lie and neither do video tape. But they do get deleted ... like the police data. If it looks like a fish swims like a fish and stinks like a fish .... there's something fishey going on. It's to bad no one's looking below the clam surface. They might find some interesting facts. With a 93% rate of return there should be no margin of error. Or if there is I(Peter Witt) would like to know what it is. I didn't say 99% but I might as well because there being ingored as is the current movement in citys all around America.
    I'm sorry if I can't whisle a tune or kiss ass but I prefer to leave that up to my customers. The facts always speak for themselfs unless it get deleted. I'm only the messenger, besides I'm under contract now.
    It would be nice to think the care-takers don't take and
    care. And don't base there decisons on idiolage but rather anylitcally. As big as my ego is ... it doesn't compair to the fat heads that rule around here who put profit ahead of people. Not that I don't have my faults to but I'm not ashamed to admit them or be corrected. I'm not a good speller (to say the least)for one ... I graduated high school (in S.F.) with a 5th grade reading ablity. Key word there...graduated. I set a persident once and have no need for fame. The system failed me and others as well. As is the case today with S.F. taxi service and the general public. Somehow the records just keep ironic.
    The MTA needs to see quaintifiable data...RIGHT!
    A compairative study...RIGHT!
    A failure rate... RIGHT!
    To commuAcate with drivers...RIGHT!
    Find out if we need more cabs ... RIGHT!
    Find out if we need to improve dispatch service...RIGHT!
    Evidently they're in no rush to deliver because they have yet to evaluate the pre-exsisting data that City Hall itself had produced. Surly if one were to follow the data and the undisclosed cost of it one might realize what's needed to make improvements around here.
    Common sence and/or any professonal would suggest a before and after needed to see what effect if any moight take place. But only after the full effect of ONE change has taken place. Not several changes at the same time and not after only four months. That's hardly enough time to even do one study let alone implyment a change.
    Besides if there's "never enough taxi where you need" them ...there's never enough. How do you measure that.
    S.F needs to take into account conjestion and peak-times and rates as the key, along with dispatch. That lacks incentive and reliableity for both the customer and the driver.

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