You may have assumed that taxi cabs were an endangered species and likely bound for extinction in the next few years, but that assumption may be very wrong. As the Wall Street Journal reports, while there was a spike in selling off taxi medallions in 2013, that trend has slowed considerably, with only 16 medallion sales occurring last quarter a similar rate of medallion sales to 2010, when only 15 changed hands in a quarter.
Also, significantly, the number of people applying for taxi driver licenses, known as A-cards, has gone way up in the last two years. Between 2012 and 2014 there was a 100 percent increase, with 452 applicants in 2012, and over 900 applicants in both the years 2014 and 2015.
The reason, according to Flywheel Taxi (the company formerly known as DeSoto) owner Hansu Kim is that drivers can make more money per hour driving a traditional cab than they could as an UberX driver, and he's seen a spike in Uber drivers coming to him wanting to drive cabs. "There is a stigma attached to taxi cab driving," he says. "But Uber and Lyft have created a lot more people who would now consider driving as a way to make money."
Also, the city began waiving the $255 fee to apply for A-cards in 2013, which seems to have precipitated a spike. And perhaps horror stories like this one are actually convincing more people that traditional taxis are the way to go.
This is a pretty huge turnaround, especially for Kim, who as recently as 17 months ago was declaring that the local cab industry could collapse within 18 months. He went onto rebrand his fleet with the red Flywheel branding, which happened earlier this year in what he said was a "counterpunch" to Uber and Lyft, which had been kicking the ass of taxis, he said.
While taxi medallion prices have plummeted in other cities where their value fluctuates, San Francisco sets its medallions at a fixed price of $250,000, and resellers recoup that cost minus a 5% transfer fee. As the Chronicle noted in January, the medallion market has been somewhat steady in SF, with a capped total of 1,900 currently out there and that number is going up to 2,100. Of course the capped number of cabs is arguably one of the factors that lead to Uber's rapid rise to dominance here because no one could ever find a cab when they needed one, back in the day.
Kim admits that his drivers' incomes are still about 25 percent lower than they were before Uber launched, circa 2009/2010. But, he says, they can still take home between $150 and $300 in one shift, while Uber drivers, according to company, average about $19 an hour, before expenses.
It will be interesting to see how that may change, though, when Uber inevitably is forced to make their drivers employees.