taxi.jpgMonday afternoon saw the the last in a series of town halls held by SFMTA to hammer out the final version of a plan to increase cab fares for the first time in over seven years. The proposal will increase the milage fare to $0.55 for every 1/5 of a mile driven and $0.55 for each minute spent sitting in traffic–this is an increase of $0.10 in each case. The “flag drop rate,” the base amount a cab charges at the beginning of each ride, will similarly see a $0.40 increase to $3.50.

The plan has been gradually evolving over the past week as SFMTA gave cab companies and swarms of drivers a venue to opine about the future of their profession.

Among the proposals recently stricken from the plan are a fuel surcharge and a $2-3 fee for hailing cabs though a dispatcher designed to encourage drivers not abandon fares calling in from outlying neighborhoods.

The SFMTA, which sets the amount taxis in San Francisco are allowed to charge, is instituting these price hikes amid a climate of mounting frustration among cabbies. The combination of high fuel prices, a weak economy and the ever-increasing cost of renting their vehicles from cab companies has left individual drivers feeling the pinch. “I think a fare increase is a positive thing and it’s justified,” says spokesman Mark Gruberg of the taxi drivers’ union, United Taxicab Workers. “Every worker deserves a raise based at least just on inflation.”

All of the increased revenue generated from this rate hike will go directly into the pockets of individual drivers.

This rate increase is at least partially in response to the widespread protest among cabbies against the imposition of 5% fee on all credit card transactions. SFMTA plans to use the revenue generated by this fee to cover the cost of installing credit card terminals in every cab.

Credit card transactions have seen explosive growth over recent years and now make up one third of all taxi payments. When this fee was imposed in April, it drew a flood of drivers to SFMTA board meetings threating to strike if the policy was not rescinded.

The agency has been highly receptive to drivers’ input in light of recent calls by a local group, Cabbies Helping Cabbies, to take the regulation of taxis out of the purview of SFMTA and give cabs their own regulatory body.

SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose put the kibosh on that idea, telling the Appeal, “this industry was formerly regulated by the Taxi Commission before the industry supported a move to the SFMTA.” Even so, the agency is taking extra precautions to make sure drivers feel like their side has been given a fair hearing.

Even with the support of drivers, the fare hike remains controversial. Supervisor Scott Wiener came out against the plan, saying he won’t support a rise in prices without a corresponding bump in service.

“Anyone who has tried to flag a taxi during rush hour (or at any time in many parts of the City) or phoned for a cab on a Friday or Saturday night knows that this city is underserved by its current taxi fleet,” said Wiener.

“But instead of trying to put more taxis on the street, MTA is proposing to charge people more for the same inadequate service. This is not the right direction for our transportation system.”

In March, a Wiener authored a resolution calling for SFMTA to increase the number of taxis on the street by issuing peak hour permits–something the agency doesn’t seem to be seriously considering.

The new rates could come to a vote before the full SFMTA board as soon as this afternoon, however Rose said he’s unsure as to when the new rates would go into full effect.

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