In a move that will brighten the soul of anyone who's ever spent half an hour in search of a cab, the MTA Board of Directors voted 6-0 last night to issue between 150 and 200 new SF taxi permits over the next few months. With the second round of the America's Cup World Series and Fleet Week both on their way, to be followed in short order by the holidays, transportation director Ed Reiskin told the Chronicle that it was important not to wait for another four to five months to add more cabs to the streets.
The new permits are temporary full-time operating permits that will last up to three years and will be tied to each company's ability to respond to calls. (Since a 2000 study found that only 40 percent of taxis showed up at the destination to which they were originally called, it's apparently not a very high bar.) At $1,900 per permit per month, 200 new permits would net the city an additional $4.6 million per year, and increase the number of cabs by 13 percent (from 1,535 to 1,735).
We find all of this especially interesting considering the popularity of new smartphone services like Lyft and SideCar, which allow regular drivers to play cabbie sans medallion in exchange for a "suggested donation." Lyft, whose drivers are identifiable by the enormous pink fuzzy mustaches attached to their cars, was featured in Time yesterday, with a company spokesman noting that they've added more than 100 SF drivers since launching two months ago.
We've taken a few Lyfts in the past month, and have been consistently impressed by the reliability and friendliness of the drivers, as well as the cleanliness of their cars. (Ars Technica did a nice piece about what it's like to be behind the wheel.) Lyft has been shrewd here: the combination of low taxi stock, an improved customer service experience, and prices that average about 20 percent lower than a typical cab is going to make it tough for legit cabbies to compete. With more-expensive Uber having already encountered pushback from the SFMTA and the California Public Utilities Commission, another (and even bigger) Lyft-centric dustup seems inevitable.