Why Doesn't SF Have Enough Cabs?

By Matt Baume
|  Friday, Sep 17, 2010  |  Updated 1:00 PM PDT
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Ever wonder why it's so hard to find a cab in San Franciso? It turns out, riders have an unexpected adversary when it comes to catching a ride -- the drivers.

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Ever wonder why it's so hard to find a cab in San Franciso? It turns out, riders have an unexpected adversary when it comes to catching a ride -- the drivers.

Cab drivers have been pushing hard to maintain the City's artificial shortage of vehicles, which is capped at 1,500. The licenses to operate a cab, which for some arcane reason are called "medallions," are only issued to a select few, which leads to long waits and futile waving on street corners.

A recent study by Yellow Cab showed that a quarter of people who request a cab are never picked up. That's no big surprise to anyone who's placed a call and then waited on the street for half an hour. But it's unclear exactly how much the cab shortage is to blame. Drivers say that an antiquated dispatch system is at fault.

So, why limit the number of cabs? The only reason anyone can come up with is that the shortage helps artificially inflate drivers' earnings. By keeping resources limited, drivers have their pick of passengers and face less risk of driving around with an empty vehicle.

Of course, if you've been pushed to your limit by waiting for a ride, you can always call one of the City's many unlicensed cars. Although illegal, they may offer a more timely pickup. Plus there's the thrill of riding at your own risk. When taxis are outlawed, only outlaws will drive taxis!

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