Fact: The average wait time for a taxi in San Francisco is approximately ten minutes, however over half of cabs never arrive. (Source: SFMTA) During weekend nights, only 25% of cabs that are dispatched arrive at all.
San Francisco has a multiple issues in its taxi / cab industry that will make it difficult at many times for you to call for a cab and get it in a reasonable amount of time. Numerous complaints are found across the internet that stem from the business model of taxis in San Francisco
- There is a fixed / limited supply of taxis in San Francisco, limited by license or “medallions” sold by the City to the taxi cab companies. This limits the supply.
- Demand for cabs is “spiky”, it varies wildly depending on the time of day and weather.
- Cab companies are actually in a business model of serving cab drivers – who they rent to—not taxi customers. Unlike a pizza business, taking care of the customer doesn’t matter. The taxi company needs to keep its drivers filled with fares and running, to maximize their daily “rental” price of the cab to the drivers.
- You will find the dispatch phone operators to be particularly poor. You can be placed on hold for a long time, hung up on, or be promised a cab that never arrives. If you are in a busy area, you should try waiting for the cab outside, it’s often a more efficient route.
Because of the issues of limited supply and wildly varying demand for taxis in San Francisco, a number of both legal and illegal car services have sprung up to meet the demand. Although private car services are at often higher prices, they offer excellent service and accountability to their customers. It’s a great example of how the free market solves the business issue of the taxi industry by developing a market-based higher level of service. The popular iPhone / Android app, Uber is known for its ability to obtain car service with your smartphone and avoid conversations with busy dispatch operators. There are numerous stories of great, efficient service with both Uber and private car services.
If you need a taxi in San Francisco, don’t expect prompt or great service. There is just too many people calling for cabs in the 49 square mile city, and too few cabs to serve them. If you have the money, consider a private car service to get the service or timeliness you need to make an appointment.