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Life Isn't Fare 

Wednesday, Nov 29 2006
If you've taken a cab in the city in the last few weeks, you may have noticed it set you back a little more than usual. And immediately following your revelation, you probably thought, "Wait, cabs were already ridiculously overpriced here. How the hell did that happen?"

The recent fare increase came about after cab companies petitioned the Taxicab Commission for the hike; the commission then sent its recommendation, with only two dissenting votes, to the Board of Supervisors. The board's Oct. 17 vote was 11-0 in favor of a 25-cent increase in the flag drop (the base price of a cab before it takes you anywhere), effective Nov. 1. But legislation is only part of the story.

"We have a screwball system [of] medallions," says Heidi Machen, the recently fired, and more recently reinstalled, executive director of the Taxicab Commission. Medallions — owned and leased out by cab companies and individual drivers — allow drivers to operate taxis in the city, and over the years they've been hoarded by few and coveted by many, like batteries during a brown-out.

Proposition K, passed by voters in 1978, mandates the regulation of driving permits (medallions), and it also states that permits "shall not be sold, assigned or transferred." While its intentions were good, Proposition K was never adequately enforced, says Machen. Without that enforcement, the medallions have moved around like chips on a Vegas blackjack table.

At the time of the fare increase, Board President Aaron Peskin said the raise would help provide health care to the 80 percent of cabbies who lack it, but that's just political lip service; without medallion enforcement, the increase won't do the trick. "We need public policy to change the system, so that we have a level playing field for drivers," says Thomas George Williams, president of the United Taxicab Workers. And that won't happen without some kind of public action, be it by directive from the mayor or the supes, or at the ballot. Machen agrees. She says it will take a ballot initiative to keep fares steady, to say nothing of rolling them back to the realm of "reasonable."

Voter action on this not quite "mad as hell, not gonna take it anymore" issue isn't likely anytime soon. Though on election night 2006 San Francisco voters passed a toothless ballot measure calling for the impeachment of the president, when it comes to the cab fares, we've historically lacked the will to do much more than complain — and fork over the money.

About The Author

Jeff Hunt


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