- The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) board has passed reforms aimed at helping holders of taxi medallions in the face of competition from ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, reports SFGate. The reforms would make it easier for companies to hold more taxi medallions and would allow drivers and companies outside of San Francisco to buy certain types of medallions, giving more opportunities for drivers and owners of traditional taxis.
- The most controversial change would restrict lucrative airport pickups to only owners of "purchased medallions," which are medallions created in 2010 that cost $250,000 apiece. Owners of those have reported the most harm from ride-sharing competition.
- Taxi drivers held a protest outside of City Hall and delivered passionate testimony before the vote. "What the MTA is doing, it’s going to crush cab drivers," Mark Gruberg, a driver for over 35 years, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "Our blood will be on their hands."
The meteoric rise of Uber and Lyft has made a crippling dent in the taxi industry, where drivers have reported having to work longer hours for lower pay in the face of cheaper competition. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the number of monthly taxi trips fell from 1,424 to 504 between March 2012 and July 2014; ride-sharing services now make about 12 times the number of taxi trips.
That’s also crippled the market for medallions. In the spring, NPR reported that it had been two years since a medallion had been bought or sold in San Francisco. Easing restrictions on who can buy or hold medallions could help move the market, and offer a boost to owners who have seen wages drop.
Drivers were skeptical that the new reforms would raise their fortunes, especially the restriction of airport rides only to a certain class of taxis (those drivers have been hurt the most by competition, so giving them the most appealing rides could give them a boost). Even MTA board member Mark Heinicke said the reforms could cause "useless pain."
But there’s little that San Francisco — or many other cities — can do to regulate Uber and Lyft, which focuses attention on the already-regulated taxi industry. New York City became the first city in the country to cap ride-hailing vehicles, in part to blunt competition to taxi drivers (the industry there had been rocked by a string of taxi driver suicides). Other cities, including Chicago and London, have considered similar caps to level the playing field and give governments time to craft potential regulations on the new industry. If successful, the San Francisco move could offer a model of how cities can, in the short term, offer some relief.