Illegal taxis suck, but they’re a symptom of insufficient supply, not lax enforcement.

An illegal taxicab operating on the streets of San Francisco.

A fellow SF taxi driver and blogger, the same guy or gal that posted a great map of where to find a cab in the City, posted a few pictures of a taxi operating illegally in the City during his evening shift. Then he posted a few more of another illegal cab.

A few weeks ago the Examiner reported on a crack down of illegal limos operating as for hire taxis on the streets. (Limos in the City are only supposed to pick up pre-arranged fares. They are not permitted to pick up on the street.)

Should the City be cracking down on illegal operators? Of course.

  • Illegal taxis often operate with no meter at all, or a meter that hasn’t been approved by the City Department of Agriculture and Weights and Measures. Customers can be easily ripped off in these situations.
  • Vehicle safety isn’t regulated.
  • Nor are driver ability or criminal background history checked. These drivers could be operating without a valid California driving license!
  • If you leave you cell phone in the cab, who would you call to get it back?
  • If you’re injured in an accident and it’s the operator’s fault, he or she may not have proper liability coverage. You would have to foot your own medical bills.

But, the real problem is that there aren’t enough cabs on the street during peak hours. When I work, often during non-peak shifts, I RARELY see bandit cabs. Why? I work kinda crappy (off-peak) shifts when extra cabs are obviously not needed.

The prevalence of illegal bandit cabs operating despite these considerable risks is strong evidence that our City needs peak medallions, the ability to operate more LEGAL taxicabs during peak times, immediately.

The City’s inability to implement peak medallions encourages the operation of illegal taxis which pose a real danger to City residents and guests.

Link (SF Taxi Live blog post)
Link (Examiner article)

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8 Responses to Illegal taxis suck, but they’re a symptom of insufficient supply, not lax enforcement.

  1. joecastle says:

    My biggest complaint against New York cabbies is that most of them are bad drivers. I wish these guys would pull thier pants down in public. I have no desire to see a naked man, but they might get arrested, even if it is for the wrong reason. When I’m in New York, I either walk or take the train.

  2. kfarr says:

    Wow, joecastle, that’s some venom against NY cab drivers.

    I’ve only taken a cab there once and I was a wee kid so I don’t remember the experience.

    Here in San Francisco you get all types of drivers — great ones, bad ones, chatty ones, those with phones glued to their ears, guys that barely speak English, those born and raised in SF, and even geeks like me.

  3. Athan says:

    The idea of peak time permits is coming from the right place but it is not thought out. Who would own these peak time medallions? Would an individual medallion owner be able to make a living driving only a few hours a week? How would we keep the cabs from being put into service at slow times? How would we define a “peak time”? Would peak time drivers just deadhead to SFO? Would peak time cab have the same insurance premiums and workers comp as full time medallions?
    I think the conclusion is usually that they would be cost prohibitive and there would be almost no way to be prevent the cabs from going out on almost every shift. It’s also likely that only Yellow and Luxor cab companies would be the only two companies that could afford to operate them.
    Unfortunately (for riders) there are times when cabs are just busy. There are legal and reasonable alternatives. People can call for a car service (Town Car, black car, sedan), they can use a Zipcar or take a streetcar or bus.
    The bandit cabs are not only operating during peak times. They are working along side medallion cabs on any given night along Mission St. and in the TL. They also place fake ads online and in the Yellow Pages. They are dangerous and uninsured. It’s not a maybe, it is a fact.
    The bandit cab problem is far more serious than some people realize and if it is not fixed soon it will become out of control. In Los Angeles bandit cabs sit on cab stands and cruise along with LA taxis. They openly advertise and market themselves. Some fleets have as many as 300 cabs. Bandit operators actually outnumber legal taxi operators in the Los Angeles area. Regulators have found themselves swimming upstream and drowning.

  4. kfarr says:

    Athan, thanks for the comments.

    I agree there are significant implementation challenges with peak medallions, especially considering San Francisco’s history of awarding medallions to individuals and not corporations.

    But, I think it’s essential to realize that the Taxi Commission works for the residents and guests (taxpayers) of the City, and residents can best be served by peak medallions, even if it will be difficult to implement.

    As you hinted toward in your post, the most realistic solution is to award the medallions directly to companies that have enough capacity to operate additional vehicles during these peak times: Yellow, Luxor and maybe DeSoto.

    You raised excellent questions. I don’t have the best answers, but here are my thoughts:

    >Who would own these peak time medallions?
    They would be awarded directly to the company.

    >Would an individual medallion owner be able to make a living driving only a few hours a week?
    If the peak medallions were awarded directly to the companies this wouldn’t be an issue.

    >How would we keep the cabs from being put into service at slow times?
    Contrasting medallion coloring would make enforcement simple for police officers: bright pink medallions (peak) vs. bright yellow/green (all) for example.

    >How would we define a “peak time”?
    It would definitely be tough to find a peak time upon which everyone agrees, but there are a few possibilities.

    Set a benchmark of average time to hail a cab on a busy street in the City. Get some data over a few weeks and you can get a broad idea of cab availability.
    Or, request that Yellow and Luxor to submit cab availability data (which their computers can record if so desired) and chart that over time and figure out during which times their fleet is almost completely utilized. Yellow/Luxor account for about half of City cabs and would give a good indication of general availability. They would be happy to cooperate since they would have the opportunity for additional revenue from the peak medallions.

    >Would peak time drivers just deadhead to SFO?
    The ‘peak’ shift would either be 10 hours like other shifts or, if not, then prorated to reflect less available working time. Either way, a driver’s behavior would be the same as any other, so some would deadhead to SFO and some would determine they can make more money by staying in the City.

    >Would peak time cab have the same insurance premiums and workers comp as full time medallions?
    Yes. I’m sure Yellow and Luxor could find a way to roll this into their collective insurance plans if it is an additional revenue opportunity.

    Of course, I agree that bandit operator enforcement should continue and perhaps even be stepped up. I think it would go a long way to make sure all SFPD officers understand the (very simple) ways to tell if a taxi is legit.

    Your tales of LA are very scary. I’m glad that the scope of the problem isn’t nearly that bad here in the City.

  5. Mark says:

    Why not allow an unlimited number of taxi medallions like they do in Washington, D.C.? It works there. Seems like the obvious solution. Limited medallions are just a way to restrict competition.

  6. Castrated Yuppie says:

    Why would anybody take ANY cab in a transit cities anyway?

    No, shut up, I don’t want to hear it.

    I’ve heard enough already.

    Starting with the ultra casual “just take a cab, man” attitude of everybody who CLAIMS to be “environmental” like the plastic sticker of a green tree adorning every piece of disposable Ikea crap they bought.

    Why would you take a taxi when 99% of the time, you know who you are, a bus or train would have gotten you all the way there or at least MOST of the way?

    All that wasted gasoline – a petroleum product – you know, the stuff that fuels all those deaths in the middle east – why waste it on a duplicated taxi trip when the bus or train is running anyway?

    Let somebody else burn that taxi’s fuel who actually needs to.

    Take transit as far as you can and THEN taxi the rest of the way.

    But don’t just cab the whole duplicate route. Waste is stupid.

    And no, don’t make the excuse that you’re “creating jobs” because that’s a BS cop out and you know it.

    Stop being a hippie-crite!!

  7. Shiva says:

    @”castrated” yuppie.

    Not every person who lives and works in a city has all the time in the world to use a transit system that is slow, un-reliable and sometimes dangerous, in lieu of a cab. The San Francisco MUNI has been independently studied and declared as the slowest in the Country (5 mph). Boston is the fastest (15 mph).

    For someone like me, time lost in a transit is money lost, so I would rather take a cab to get to where I need to be at in 15 minutes by paying a cab 20 dollars more, than take the transit system here in the city and arrive an hour late.

    Listening to you pout and splutter your cab anger, I cannot help but wonder if you sometimes make yourself sick.

    • Castrated Yuppie says:

      @ Yeshiva Blinde – Keep deluding yourself that stop lights in a cab are faster than MIUNI underground from Balboa Park, West Portal, Castro or Church or from 16th or 24th & Mission (BART privileges on MUNI pass) and many, many other places where people stupidly take cabs from. Not just delusional, but in denial. Stay away from transit for reasons such as “transit is for poor people” if you want, but don’t lie to the rest of the population who knows it’s much faster for the common scenarios above. And getting to the AIRPORT from downtown is just as fast on BART as by cab in traffic, only 10 minutes slower with no traffic. No excuses left for the single occupancy cab user. The only reason to take a cab to the airport is if you have 5 or more people because only then is the cab ride going to be cheaper than 5 BART tickets.

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