Taxis in San Francisco

Let’s start this off by saying that I am a licensed and experienced cab driver and dispatcher in San Francisco so my opinons may come off as a little harsh or biased as they may be but ultimately they are based on observations of the business from all sides.

As you may or may not be aware there is a very contentious fight happening in San Francisco right now between the established taxi and limo industry and what are being referred to as NOETS (new online enabled transportation services).  The term NOETS is a bit of a misnomer as the companies in question have basically co-opted existing e-hailing technology and applied it to private cars and drivers.  They publicly proclaim that they are “ride-sharing”, helping the environment, part of the “sharing economy” and that they are “just a platform for connecting people”, all while they recruit drivers via ads in social media saying that the driver will make up to $35 an hour and get drivers to work (pardon me, “ride share”) during the hours that people most need taxis.  These drivers are quitting their real jobs to do this driving for hire and working up to 10 hours at a stretch.  This makes them de-facto taxis in all elements but the name, top light and meter.

But wait, you cry, getting a cab in SF is almost an exercise in futility….

You would be mostly right in that there are many places in the city that it is not all that easy to get a taxi either all day or at certain times of day.  Frequently though its the manner that the customer is trying to get a taxi that causes this frustration.

These are where its the customer’s fault for not being able to get a cab:

1: They are calling for a cab from somewhere they could very easily just walk out the door and wave one down.

2: They live in a far flung part of town and call once, then wait 2 hours before they call back all mad about not getting a cab.

3: They have a history of calling multiple cabs or cussing out dispatchers and we remember that.

4: They are ordering a cab from a bar at 2am via a smartphone app and wondering why none of the taxis going by outside stop for them.  (its 2 am and all the taxis are full)

5: They are out on the street flagging for a cab, only they are on a busy thoroughfare with timed lights and one block away is a stream of empty cabs looking for fares (usually where they just walked from).

There are many more reasons why someone may have trouble getting a cab, but the root of the problem almost always is lack of common sense.

On the other side of the coin there are reasons why dispatching a cab to someone that should have no trouble getting one can be a problem.  These are the fault of the cab companies and their real customers, the drivers.  You see most people think that they are the customer of the cab company but the cab companies make the same money if you call for a cab, flag one on the street or don’t take a cab at all.  This is the reason why dispatchers, like me, can be surly, gruff, quick to get you off the phone or just outright rude.  We are dispatchers to help the drivers make money, not to get you picked up (unless you are going to the airport).

These functions of the business coupled with the unbalanced geography of demand and terrain in the city create large swaths of underserved areas.  This is a problem that many have tried to fix over the years and the easiest fix has always been to add more cabs.  The problem with just throwing cabs at the problem is we get more of the same.  The airport makes the holding lot bigger to hold more cabs thereby taking a portion of the new cabs off the city street.  New drivers are needed to fill the new cabs and the new drivers with challenged English skills that are afraid to play the city, sit at hotels and the airport hoping to just go to the easy locations and not learn the city, additionally reducing supply back to where it was before the new cabs were added.

This is where the NOETS are filling the void.  They are a new and exciting way for the smartphone generation to hail a cab without using their brains and they feel like they are riding with a friend not some creepy old guy that is lower on the social scale than the guy selling you your smokes but higher than the homeless guy begging for your change.  What the smartphone generation forgets (or is too ignorant to realize) is that the cranky old guy started out as a young happy cabbie.  The smartphone generation would much rather look at their phones for everything rather than open their eyes and look up, so any service that they can use to get a ride and make them feel that they are in control they will likely use, legal or illegal.  Granted most of these idiots don’t have a clue that the service is illegal because they are falling for the “sharing economy” line of bullshit that these companies are spouting.  Adding to this problem is the drivers for these NOETS being openly deceived by the NOETS themselves about the legality of what they are doing and the insurance requirements to do so.  This not only puts the drivers in personal danger but financial as well.  Speaking of danger, both the passengers and the drivers have signed away any right and recourse they have against these NOETS by agreeing to the terms of service.

Granted these NOETS have exposed a large demand that the cab drivers of the city and even the general public was unaware even existed until now.  But because the demand is there does not mean the taxi industry is nimble enough to capture it, private enterprise is.  What this exposed demand means is that if we get more cabs on the street and improve dispatch service to anticipate where cabs will be needed and when, the drivers can actually make more money once the city catches on that taxi service is more reliable.  I have said for years that more cabs better spread across the city via information to the drivers about where and when the demand is, they will go and the customers will start calling more and more.  Currently the only reliable way for a taxi driver to know where the business will be at any given time will be to call their buddy that is playing the airport and find out that “its moving” down there.  We need to change this.

Currently the NOETS have an uphill battle ahead of them with regulators.  Their refusal to open their records to regulators while maintaining the party line will ultimately kick them in the nuts and hard.  Transportation for hire is an industry that is regulated for safety of everyone, passengers, drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, grandma going to dialysis and to help keep city congestion down.  With the NOETS adding nearly as many vehicles to the city streets as the city will be adding with new cabs its inevitable that the added competition will make the congestion worse in areas where we are already having issues but it also lead to dangerous driving as more and more drivers compete for the same number of fares.  Plus with the NOETS brazenly claiming that they are not violating the law we are nearing a point that the regulators will step in and bring down the hammer, fed up with the evidence piling up against the NOETS.

Now you may like taking and Uber when you go on a date or are sending a car for your booty call late at night, but services like Lyft and Sidecar are not using the existing framework of regulated industry and are surely not in the same league as a true ride-sharing platform like TickenGo.  Lyft and Sidecar are trying to make a quick buck before someone files a lawsuit or the regulators crack down.  They are ultimately trying to sell their technology to a bigger fish but stepping on the backs of a legitimate industry and the unsuspecting public to do it.  Few tech businesses go that far and in such an ignorant and flagrantly illegal manner it is highly clear that the motivations are not nearly as altruistic as they claim.

For your safety and the safety of the drivers who risk their lives every day for the public, ride in a legal taxi or limo.


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