The number of taxis cruising San Francisco streets will soon surge. And drivers have plenty to say on the topic.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency on Tuesday approved 120 new taxi medallions, or operating permits, for this year and 200 for 2014.
Currently, the city has 1,700 medallions, which is already an increase of 200 compared with 2012, said SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose. The city had only 1,500 taxis for several years, he said.
The commission was responding to numerous complaints that taxis are hard to find, especially on weekends and outside downtown and the airport.
The agency also lowered the price of a medallion back to $250,000. It had briefly increased the price to $300,000.
Earlier, a couple of San Francisco drivers gave KQED's Aarti Shahani an earful of their thoughts on the proposal.
"If you want to add more cabs, it's OK, but first you have to clean the city of illegal companies," said Sufyan Alsharif.
He was referring to the many "ride-share" companies that you can call by using apps on your smartphone. The SFMTA regulates only those cabs that will stop for you when you hail them the old-fashioned way — with a wave or a shout on the street.
The state Public Utilities Commission regulates companies such as Uber, SideCar and Zimride's Lyft (famous for its mustachioed cars) that connect to customers through smartphones. The PUC, after first trying to squelch the new ventures, is now letting them operate while it figures out its next steps.
Alsharif said he had waited nine years to purchase a medallion and was told first that they would sell for $250,000 and then for $300,000. He has already put down $15,000 and borrowed the remaining funds to purchase a medallion.
"We drivers in San Francisco, we don't have any benefits, we don't have medical insurance and we don't have retirement plans," Alsharif said. "And they are increasing prices on us, and the MTA is not doing anything for the benefit of cab drivers."
Another driver, Ahmad Alboya, said the typical driver makes about $100 to $150 a day after expenses. He said he hoped that adding medallions would push back the rise of the ride-share companies, even though it will probably mean cutting into the income of drivers such as himself.
Rose said the SFMTA is trying to help existing cab companies compete by requiring them all to pool data for a smartphone app of their own.