Monday, January 18, 2016

Taxi Regulator Responds Over Cab Company Bankruptcy


San Francisco’s largest taxi company (Yellow Cabs) may soon declare bankruptcy. 

Yellow Cab Co-Op’s financial move has set off alarms across the industry, The City’s taxi regulator is finally weighing in. 

Kate Toran is head of taxi services at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which regulates cabs in San Francisco. 

Firstly she said, she wanted to clarify that Yellow Cab’s bankruptcy is a Chapter 11, which is a restructuring to shed debts, but not necessarily to close. It had been initially reported that the company would close, as many news outlets reporting the story implied Yellow Cab was “doomed.”

Although many customers have moved over to ride-sharing App's such as Uber and Lyft, according to Toran there’s still a demand for taxi service in San Francisco, countering assertions in the national news. 

When asked for numbers to demonstrate that, she said Uber and Lyft historically do not share numbers in a public fashion with their regulators, the California Public Utilities Commission. Without a point of comparison, she said, people may make mistaken conclusions about the taxi industry’s health.

“Information they provide is under seal,” Toran said, of Uber and Lyft. 

If a taxi company were to close, Toran said one concern for the SFMTA would be ensuring taxi medallion holders transfer those medallions elsewhere. A medallion is a license to operate for a cab driver, some of which are sold by the SFMTA to cabbies for $250,000.

“The main concern is making sure those medallion holders are placed at other companies, Toran said. 

Also, she said preserving drivers’ records to an entity where they could be accessed would be another priority, after a taxi company closes. Among these records would be waybills, which are taxi drivers’ work history often used when trying to purchase or transfer a medallion. 

Toran said “it's also important to point out the taxi industry is trying to innovate and the Flywheel app is an example of that. The app works similarly to Uber and Lyft, but for taxis".

“It’s a game changer in a lot of ways,” she said.

Flywheel’s strength lies in combining the might of the entire taxi industry under one app, she said. Some taxi apps, by contrast, only hail cabs from one particular cab company. YoTaxi, for instance, only works with Yellow Cab. 

“My perspective,” she said, is “another thing the industry should do is stop being fragmented, shifting from each company focusing on its self-interest to taxis as a whole.”

That, she said, is the way for taxis to innovate in the new tech age