Saturday, January 1, 2011

Fleet Taxis and Employees

The dawn of the New Year seems a good time for exercises in nostalgia and theory.

President of Desoto Cab, Jane Bolig, wants a return to the good old days when cab companies owned corporate permits. In a TaxTownSF post,  Remembrance of Peak Times Past, she writes that San Francisco didn't need Peak Time permits back in the good old 60's because Old Yellow Cab owned its medallions and didn't have to pay the medallion holder the fees that cripple companies today.

"To pay them (the fees),"  Jane says, "they (the cab companies)  have to put out all their cabs every shift, every day of the week, every week of the year. That is why drivers fight for rides most Sunday mornings and passengers can’t find cabs any Friday night."

Old Yellow was apparently so profitable that they could "hold back unneeded cabs (sometimes equaling 40% of its fleet)" on slow days and put cabs out when it was busy. "It’s why we discuss peak time medallions in 2010," Jane says, "and why we didn’t in 1968."

The thrust of Jane's essay is that allowing cab companies to have fleet medallions would cure all our peak time problems.

Simple as that!

Unfortunately, Jane is leaving out parts of the equation. Back in the good old days, cab drivers were all employees and belonged to unions. The real reason why Old Yellow didn't put the taxis out at slow times was that they split the meter with the drivers - to whom they first had to pay minimum wage. It wouldn't have been profitable for the companies. In fact, they could have been the ones losing money on bad shifts instead drivers who can't cover their gates today.

Jane also seems to be envisioning combining fleet taxis with a "gates & gas" system. Well ... it certainly would be a way for taxi companies to maximize profits but would they really hold back cabs on slow days? During a recession when people are desperate for any kind of work?

We're talking about the characters who currently manage cab companies in San Francisco - not in Shangri la. In short, fat chance.

Ms Bolig appears to be waxing nostalgic about the other side of the problem as well by assuming that Old Yellow covered the City better back in the good old days. Was this true?

I have word-of-mouth, anecdotal evidence that the service really was better in the neighborhood but this was largely due the fact that companies split the meter and paid minimum wage to the drivers. The companies made their money by actually dispatching taxis to pick up orders and drivers could afford to work areas like the Sunset or wait at the cabstands which were spotted around the outlying areas of the city.

But, how about coverage at peak times and on Friday nights?

San Francisco had a population about 10% lower than it does now and about half as many taxis. 1968 was peak time for the Vietnam war. Sailors and solders embarked for Asia from here. According to the old, old timers this was one of the busiest eras in San Francisco taxi history.

So ... Right Jane,  nobody waited for a cab back then.

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