taxi.jpgThe SF Airport Commission tabled a proposal that would have set a $17 minimum fare for taxi rides from SFO. The plan was to drop an incentive program that waives the $4 fee for cab drivers who return to the airport in less than 30 minutes and allows them to wait in a priority line.

The incentive program was started 8 years ago as a way to compensate drivers who sometimes wait hours in the pickup line only to get a short fare to a nearby city like San Bruno. After paying the $4 fee and splitting the profits with the company, a driver was lucky to break even.

Airport officials are now concerned that the program encourages taxi drivers to speed, creating a safety hazard. SFO spokesman Mike McCarron compares it to the days that pizza delivery drivers guaranteed quick delivery or it was free.

“They had people being killed by this, so they had to drop that policy,” he says.

The new proposal would have created one line for all drivers, and everyone would pay the $4 fee, no matter where you were going. The $17 minimum fare was meant to make up for the loss, but cab driver say that is not enough.

“We were pushing for a $20 minimum because we feel if there’s a single line, drivers are going to be waiting longer and we have to make it financially feasible,” said Barry Korengold, president of the San Francisco Cab Association, which represents about 80 drivers.

The proposal was tabled because of the many taxi drivers that showed up at the Airport Commission meeting to protest. When it comes to the safety concerns, Barry Taranto, a taxi driver advocate and retired SFO cab driver himself says “I don’t think eliminating the ‘short’ will eliminate the concern … I think maybe drivers will be even more desperate”, meaning they might speed back to the airport anyway.

Airport officials say that the changes will come eventually, they will just have to find a better answer. “My goal is to tip the scales back to even” between safety and the drivers’ right to make a living,” airport deputy director Tryg McCoy says, “It’s the right thing to do for the customers.”

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