The Hidden Cost of Cabs

Obviously he's biased, but he has some real numbers. The Uber Cab guy busts on regular cabs:

[ For flagged-down cabs: ]

59% of cabs show within 15 minutes
88% of cabs show within 30 minutes

Apparently, however, only 35% of all cab rides taken in SF were flag downs, so most of you don’t bother trying to flag down a cab anyway!

[ For dispatched cabs: ]

64% of cabs show within 10 minutes
82% of cabs show within 15 minutes
99% of cabs show within 30 minutes

But those numbers are deceptive, because they’re only for cabs that actually showed up after dispatch promised a car. The SFMTA report found that 35% of dispatched cabs just never arrive!


Every third time you call, the cab they say is coming to pick you up just straight up won’t.

It gets even worse. That report breaks data down by specific days and times. Weekend nights? Horrible times to try and get a cab:

12% of cabs show within 10 minutes
22% of cabs show within 15 minutes
27% of cabs show within 30 minutes
72% (!!!) of cabs never show up

Holy. Crap. The vast majority of the time you call dispatch (if you can even get someone to answer the phone), your cab’s just not ever going to come. And if it does, it’s going to take well over 30 minutes.

The "taxi medallion" scam is one of the most egregious pieces of corporate welfare we have, since it screws up the world on a daily basis by breaking public transportation. "Oh, we have to limit the number of cabs on the streets, because without that artificial scarcity, cab drivers and cab companies wouldn't make enough money." Fuck you.

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12 Responses:

  1. Is Luxor still better than most? I drove for them 2002-3, and their computer dispatch system worked quite well, sign into it at the start of your shift, and every so often, it offers you a fare close to you, you accept, decline, or just ignore (and it will be offered to some one else in a minute or so). I suggested them to my club hopping sister, and to her surprise, they worked for her.

    Medalions are a fucked way of managing things (perhaps limit the total number of drivers, but not cabs, so there can be a ton of them Friday and Saturday night, for instance?), but the drivers are not getting rich of of them, back then they were worth about $18,000 a year, and your choice of shifts, so you made more money.

    And for a side thought, how do the cabs that sit at the airport all day make money? Cab rental (gate) was $100, fare to downtown was under $40, and most of the time you waited well over an hour for a fare, so max of 4 trips a day, after gas, etc, you are making only $40 or so a day? I, a brand new green driver with low standing for shifts usually made $100, grossing $22/h for 9 hours of a 10 hour shift.

    • jwz says:

      I haven't run the numbers on this, but I did once have a cabbie rant at me about how the guys who just camp at the airport make OK money because it's a bigger fare, but how it's easy to earn way more than that if you drive around and hustle more short, local fares -- but most cabbies don't do that because they're all lazy fucks.

      Which, you know, fits with my stereotype, and makes a nice anecdote to tell to my companions as we stand there on the corner, cabless, freezing our asses off.

  2. Here in Edinburgh I've only twice had a cab not turn up in 11 years - and both times a call to the dispatcher got me a replacement quickly. Sure, at 2am on New Year it can take 45 minutes, but most of the time it's 5-10.

    Mind you, most of the cab services here are thoroughly computerised, so the cab services know where all of the cabs are. I suspect they'd stop using one that was persistently badly behaved.

    • That's probably because in the UK taxi licensing is designed to ensure a reasonable level of quality and consistency in taxi services; y'know, how regulation is supposed to work. It doesn't surprise me in the slightest that California has a sort of cargo-cult impression of this which keeps all the symbols and magic dances but doesn't actually do what it's supposed to.

      Edinburgh taxis are particularly magic though. Dial the number, listen to the computer telling you your taxi will be there in ten minutes, put the phone down. And you get a 20% *discount* for this.

  3. I've found that Luxor + Taxi Magic works at least as reliably as Uber. Uber's primary advantage is that they will flat-out tell you when there are no cars available, which is nice.

    • Elusis says:

      I've tried Taxi Magic + Luxor one time exactly, with unfortunate results (multiple notices that our cab was a couple of minutes away, the cab showing up as close as 3 minutes away and then going to 10 minutes away, being utterly unable to get through to dispatch to inquire about said cab, getting a phone notification that our cab arrived just after a "10 minutes away" notification resulting in mass panic as people tried to snatch coats, exit bathrooms, etc. at light speed, going down to find no cab and a "12 minutes away" notification, eventually getting in my car and driving to the venue only to get a chiding email 30 minutes later saying we'd missed our cab, resulting in me having to do multiple email exchanges to make sure I didn't get charged for the trip.)

      Haven't been willing to try it again after that, frankly.

  4. Of course we have some bias. There's no way anyone would believe me if I said we didn't. But the data are really clear and they show how broken the cab situation is in San Francisco. That post was one of the easiest I've ever written in terms of how quickly it flowed out. That includes all the neuroscience writing I do.

    Anyway, if anyone has any more questions (about Uber, data, methods, my math, or brains) I'd be happy to talk.

    • Nick Lamb says:

      I have two questions. In a way they're related. One: What actually happens between filling out the driver application web form and getting a customer who doesn't know you from Adam in the back of your car?

      Two: Do you think your users understand the legal arrangement here (that you aren't actually agreeing to transport them anywhere)? Do you think a judge will see it the same way?

      • Nick: Sorry, but I genuinely don't understand what you're asking. Uber connects riders with licensed livery operators. Pretty straight-forward.