04/17/2013 04:03 pm ET | Updated Apr 17, 2013

San Francisco Taxis Increase: Hundreds Of Cars Added To Fleets

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Getting a cab in San Francisco may soon become a bit easier following the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's decision earlier this week to allow 320 more taxis to hit city streets by the end of 2014, with the potential to add far more in the coming years.

"It is indisputable that we are not meeting the demand for taxis in this city," Malcolm Heinicke, a member of SFMTA's Board of Directors, told the San Francisco Chronicle at Tuesday's meeting.

The board's unanimous decision to issue the new medallions came after hours of testimony from local cab drivers who worried that putting more cabs on the street would further erode their bottom lines, which are already threatened by the proliferation of ride sharing services like Lyft, SideCar and UberX.

This move comes on the heels of the release of an SFMTA-commissioned report by economist Dan Hara that looked at overhauling the city's taxi system. The report's findings, which shouldn't come as surprise to anyone who has ever attempted to hail a cab San Francisco, are that the city is facing a profound undersupply of cabs--particularly in areas outside of the downtown core.

The report largely pinned the blame on SFMTA for not issuing enough new cab medallions to keep pace with a growing population that's becoming less and less dependent on their own private automobiles to get around. Since 2000, taxi demand in the city has increased 23.2 percent, while the number of medallions has only risen by 17.9 percent.

Representatives from the city's tourism industry insisted at the meeting that a lack of available taxis was one of the biggest complaints raised by visitors to San Francisco.

This vacuum has created the conditions where ride sharing services, which use non-professional drivers and aren't required to jump through nearly as many hoops as the city's tightly-regulated fleet of cabbies, can flourish. The report warned that it may be necessary to increase the number of cabs on the street by up to 50 percent over the next few years in order to prevent the entire industry from being taken over by new tech-savvy competitors.

The controversial ride sharing services, which have been targeted by state regulators and banned from the San Francisco International Airport, operate under a provision in state law initially designed to allow carpooling coworkers to collect gas money from each other without having to deal with government bureaucracy; however, critics have argued that the companies effectively operating as shadow taxi services are exploiting a loophole in the law.

"How do you determine the need for cabs when we have thousands of rogue vehicles in operation?” United Taxicab Workers spokesman and cab driver Mark Gruberg told the San Francisco Examiner. "Driver income is already down because of illegal competition. Putting more cabs out on the street will only make it worse."

Taxi drivers have charged that its unfair for SFMTA to put more cabs on the road without first dealing with issue of ride sharing services. While these services exist outside of the city's regulatory purview because they're handed by the California Public Utilities Commission, the latter agency is in the process of developing a set of rules specifically for these companies.