Mr. Judy Gets Clean

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“I’ve been feeling so much better since laying off the drugs,” says Mr. Judy. “I’m on top of my game and totally killing it, man.”

While describing the benefits of a steady diet of poke and quinoa salads in between text messages, I respond with vacant grunts. It’s hard to concentrate on much but the spectacle of absurdity surrounding us.

Traveling eastbound on 16th past Guerrero, we’re trapped behind an Uber/Lyft that stopped suddenly halfway through the block. Even though there’s an open space in front of Katz and vacant parking spots further down the street, the driver just put on his hazards, impeding half a dozen vehicles. Including the 22-Fillmore, which ended up stuck in the intersection once the light turned red. Since the westbound lanes on 16th are clogged with commuters and more double-parked Uber/Lyfts, the entire corridor is on lockdown until the person who ordered this ride shows up.

A salvo of blaring horns does little to dissuade the driver from staging in the flow of traffic.

Finally, Judy looks up from his phone and asks, “Why aren’t we moving?”

“Uber driver.”

“No surprise there,” Judy responds and snuffles twice.

When the light turns green, westbound traffic begins to move slowly. I see in my rearview that the intersection at Guerrero is congested with vehicles that can’t get past the bus.

“These maggots have no respect for anyone but themselves,” Judy continues. “It’s just me, me, me … Someone needs to do something.”

“You’re right,” I mumble, noticing a Sentra in the opposite lane hesitate, giving me a split-second opportunity to bypass the gridlock.

Of course, like most Bay Area drivers, the guy in the Sentra sees my move as an act of aggression and tries to play a game of chicken.

“YES!” Mr. Judy shouts in excitement. “FUCK YEAH!”

Now, I’m not driving like a maniac for the thrills. Besides thousands of hours of experience working the mean streets of San Francisco, I’m in a multicolored vehicle with a “TAXI” sign on top. Everyone else on the road should just assume I’m liable to do some “creative” maneuvering. But I’m also acutely aware that the thought of a hard-working cabbie doing his job is more than most drivers in San Francisco can bear.

As he lays on his horn, flashes his high beams and screams out his window, I careen through the logjam onto Albion.

“That was awesome,” Judy bellows with laughter.

Compared to the pandemonium of 16th Street, 17th is like Golden Gate Park after hours. At South Van Ness, I go left and take 14th to our destination: Best Buy.

Mr. Judy wants to buy a TV. Part of his new, wholesome lifestyle. No more staying out late at the bars, doing tequila shots and playing pool. From now on, he’s going home at a respectable hour to get enough sleep.

It’s all about reaching his full potential.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Shaun Osburn]

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Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

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At any time of the day, Market Street can seem like an inside joke among city planners and the wanton desires of the meddling tycoons who’ve exerted dominance over San Francisco since Day 1. Another example of the many laughable aspects of The City that’s so absurd it’s hard to believe the street was designed intentionally, rather than just the result of tossing I Ching coins, or a game of Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe.

From its original inception, Market Street has pissed off San Franciscans. More than 150 years ago, when the citizens heard about Jasper O’Farrell’s plan, they sent a lynch mob after the young surveyor, who escaped on horseback in the middle of the night and hid out in Sonoma until the furor died down.

Lucky bastard.

Good thing they didn’t have social media back then. Otherwise, Jasper would have been forced to change his name and/or live the rest of his life in a cave to avoid the infamy of a simple Google search.

Nowadays, during rush hour, commuting motorists, homeward-bound bicyclists, confused tourists, expeditious pedestrians, angry Muni operators, delivery truck drivers and thousands upon thousands of vehicles for hire all compete for access to the limited roadway. And instead of blaming Jasper, today’s citizens take their frustrations out on each other.

Whether traversing the thoroughfare from one of the many streets that crisscross it from the north or south, trying to reach the Bay Bridge or 101 South or just leaving work downtown for the Castro or Twin Peaks — which is where the street was originally supposed to go — it seems Herb Caen was on the mark, as always, when he called Market Street an “obtuse angle no traffic plan could solve.”

Read the rest here.

A Fool’s Errand

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This column is a continuation of the Flywheel debacle that began with “Pimp my Taximeter.” For a summary of the whole shit fest, go here.

Since last week’s column, I’ve responded to numerous emails and comments from readers worried that continuing to use the Flywheel app was a problem because of the resent unsavory business decisions by the owner, Hansu Kim.

Despite my criticism, let me be perfectly clear:

Keep using Flywheel! Please!

As previously mentioned, Flywheel, or an app like it, is vital for the survival of the San Francisco taxi industry. That is what makes Hansu’s actions so deplorable. Not only is he threatening the livelihoods of taxi drivers, who are already struggling to survive in a market skewed to favor the competition, but he’s also jeopardizing the patronage of the small percentage of San Franciscans who still use cabs by limiting their access to prompt service.

Since removing a large number of drivers off the platform, there have been reports of longer-than-usual wait times. Of course, one benefit of having fewer taxis online is that many drivers are seeing a marked increase in ride requests.

Despite my decision to abandon the app out of solidarity with the drivers who have been unfairly targeted, when Artur offered to reconfigure my Flywheel phone so I can accept orders again, it seemed foolish to resist. And not just because he threatened to smack me around for being an idiot.

Even though I’m still reluctant to go online, boycotting Flywheel only benefits the competition.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

The Second Editions of the First Two Uber/Lyft Zines

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Thanks to the Cotter v. Lyft class action lawsuit, a check for $495 showed up in the mail last month. At first, I assumed this must be some marketing scheme. There was no way the check could possibly be real.

Before tossing the thing in the trashcan, though, I went onto some the Facebook groups for Uber/Lyft drivers…

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Turns out, the check was totally legit.

What better way to spend the money, along with a small loan from a friend, than by printing revised and updated second editions of the first two Behind the Wheel zines, which I’d been wanting to do for some time. All of the text has been revised and additional content added.

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Both are 60 pages long, half-sized, staple-bound, fully illustrated:

Behind the Wheel #1 features hand-drawn maps of the major neighborhoods of San Francisco. [More info on Behind the Wheel #1]

Behind the Wheel #2 features b&w photos taken around the city. [More info on Behind the Wheel #2]

Included are two stickers:

“disrupt the disruptors”

“your uber driver hates you”

(while supplies last – I also have “my other car is a taxicab” stickers – you can include a note if you prefer one kind or another or whatever you want…)

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Price is $10 for BOTH – postpaid in the US.

So that’s $5 each, and I cover the shipping.

Outside the US, buyer pays shipping.

Order Here

The Regulars

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Not all rides are created equal. Some involve a series of obstacles, with one hassle after another and the expectation of a discount at the end. Others are just a pick-up and a drop-off for twice the meter.

Same with regulars. There are familiar cross streets you hear over the radio and flat out ignore. You could be a bingo, but not in the mood to deal with a hell ride, and no amount of cajoling from Artur, not even the promise of a bonus load, will persuade you to take the order.

Then, there are cross streets you know are pay dirt. Like this lady in Nob Hill who used to call every Thursday for a ride to Daly City. She paid $10 on top of the meter, which ended up being a $40 ride.

Drivers would fight over that fare. I was once three blocks away when the call came in and had the order on my tablet, but another driver beat me to the location by racing up Sacramento from the Financial in the taxi lane.

Sometimes, the promise of a paid ride out of an undesirable neighborhood will make a ride more appealing. Like when you hear Bryan’s cross streets in Russian Hill over the radio after dropping in the Marina. As a rep for a beer company, he’s usually heading to the Mission or another part of town with a high concentration of bars. I’ve tried on several occasions to snake that fare from other drivers.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

A Timeline of Flywheel’s Scheme to “Ensure a Superior Experience”

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Just when things couldn’t get any worse for the San Francisco taxi industry…

On April 4, Flywheel sent out a message to all the drivers on their platform, notifying us that, “In our continuing effort to ensure a superior experience for drivers and passengers in San Francisco, Flywheel Technlogies will be suspending all orders to drivers who do not drive for one of Flywheel’s Color Scheme partners on April 9th, 2018.”

 


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The following day, April 5, Joe Fitzgerald, wrote about Flywheel’s decision in the S.F. Examiner.

“It’s a war starting” – John Lazar of Luxor Cab

Flywheel Technologies was on the verge of closing but was purchased in late 2017 by Hansu Kim, he told the Examiner. Kim also co-owns Flywheel Taxi, the cab company that sports the logo of the app on its cabs, which was formerly DeSoto Cab Co.

Kim and the new owner of Yellow Cab, Chris Sweis, have different visions for Uber-like apps to draw riders back to taxis. Yellow Cab’s current offering, YoTaxi, is branded with Yellow Cab colors, which some insiders said may confuse riders of different-colored cab companies.

Sweis, the owner of Citywide cab, recently purchased both Yellow Cab and Luxor Cab, among the largest cab companies in The City. Flywheel Taxi is its largest rival.

Kim said the cab companies Flywheel barred from using its app were operating under-par in a variety of ways: Vehicles did not have proper insurance, drivers cleared to use Flywheel were sharing the app with unlicensed drivers, and some taxi companies refused to sport Flywheel logos on their vehicles.

“We’ve had drivers provide a poor level of service to the passenger,” Kim said, “We’re trying to force the industry to abide by certain service standards.”

But Sweis, the owner of Yellow Cab, said he’s “worried” that Flywheel is breaking its promise to “unite the entire industry.”


On April 6, Flywheel sent out a message that a few cab companies were now working to become color scheme partners:

 


On April 7, more cab companies were added to the list of potential color scheme partners:

 


On April 9, Joe Fitzgerald wrote more about the decision for the S.F. Examiner.

All told, 1,053 taxi drivers would have been effected, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. But as of Monday, Kim told the San Francisco Examiner that many of those companies were discussing options with Flywheel.

“It’s safe to say we are in talks,” said Mark Gruberg, who helped found Green Cab and serves on its board. “We have not made any commitment … We have not yet seen a contract. We have no idea, and I don’t think anyone else does either, what he’s asking of us.”

Though companies like Green Cab are in talks with Kim, the only holdouts are apparently the co-owned companies Yellow Cab Co-Op, Luxor Cab, and Citywide, as well a handful of smaller companies such as S.F. Taxi, Vina Cab, American Cab, and Comfort Cab.

The combined Yellow Cab, Luxor Cab and Citywide are, together, Flywheel’s largest rival.


Chris Speis, owner of the Citywide/Luxor/Yellow consortium, issued this response:

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On April 11, at the SFMTA Taxi Task Force, the main topic was Flywheel’s decision.

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Joe Fitzgerald was there to document the proceedings, which included a large group of angry taxi drivers:

They called Kim “useless” and said his decision was “extortion” and “cutting off your nose to spite your face.” They said Kim had a “God complex” and accused him of “lying,” running a “dictatorship,” and “effectively putting a gun to everyone’s head.”

Few were happy. But they also wanted answers.

Kim alleged taxi drivers would accept a rider’s request on Flywheel, only to cancel it once someone hailed them on the street “with luggage,” implying a lucrative airport trip, and that taxi drivers would tell Flywheel customers “it’s a scam” and demand cash. Kim also alleged some taxi companies misstated the number of cabs in their fleet when filling out insurance forms in order to seek lower premiums, and would not provide insurance documentation to Flywheel to prove otherwise.

“The fact is, overall, the level of service in the taxi industry is extremely poor,” Kim said.

Ultimately, Hansu and Chris Sweis agreed go into mediation to sort out the debacle so drivers could resume getting orders and the people of San Francisco could continue to get prompt service.


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Also on April 11, taxi blogger Alex Sack wrote about his concerns about the Flywheel app (which he refers to by its original came Cabulous) and his efforts to stay on the platform without sacrificing the entire industry to their control.

This is some misguided response to the new owner of Yellow cab having recently bought CityWide and Luxor, and consolidating them all under Yellow’s YoTaxi app! But, hmm… That doesn’t preclude those drivers from also servicing Cabulous hails on their personally-supplied Android, like me. Hell! And Citizen’s Cab isn’t involved with Yellow, or their YoTaxi app! Why are we on the list. Huh? Cabulous is pulling some crazy gambit to bully Citizen’s Cab, et al, to ditch their meters for the proprietary Cabulous one?? Like, after this, they should be trusted with half of San Francisco’s taxis dependent of their “smart meter” for every flag, hail or dispatch, and metering EVERY ride!


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My column appeared in the S.F. Examiner on April 12, where I try to convey the concerns of the drivers about Flywheel pushing to replace our traditional taximeters with their proprietary backend system called TaxiOS, as well as Flywheel’s Uber-like behavior:

As the prime movers behind the Uberization of San Francisco’s taxi industry, Flywheel, the taxi-hailing app, and Flywheel, the taxi company, seem so intent on emulating Uber that they’re even taking a page out of deposed CEO Travis Kalanick’s “Guide to Being a Complete Dirtbag.”

Last Wednesday, Flywheel sent out a message informing drivers not affiliated with one of their color scheme partners that we’ll no longer be receiving orders through the app. Unless, that is, we switch to one of the six color scheme partners.

Drivers were understandably outraged that Hansu Kim, the owner of Flywheel, the app, and Flywheel, the taxi company, would actually kneecap 1,000s of drivers who rely on the app for part of their income, as well as stymie users who expect Flywheel to provide prompt service and, through this divisive act, traduce the industry in the public eye.


The following week, I wrote an addendum to make it abundantly clear that I was in no way trying to dissuade folks from using the app.

Despite my criticism, let me be perfectly clear:

Keep using Flywheel! Please!

As previously mentioned, Flywheel, or an app like it, is vital for the survival of the San Francisco taxi industry. That is what makes Hansu’s actions so deplorable. Not only is he threatening the livelihoods of taxi drivers, who are already struggling to survive in a market skewed to favor the competition, but he’s also jeopardizing the patronage of the small percentage of San Franciscans who still use cabs by limiting their access to prompt service.

I also pointed out that since removing a large number of drivers off the platform, there have been reports of longer-than-usual wait times. This was born out after Artur reconfigured my phone to continue accepting orders and the first guy I picked up in Noe Valley told me that the previous week he’d been forced to take Lyft three times because he couldn’t get a taxi through the Flywheel app.


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The latest news comes from Alex Sack, who, on April 25, recounts his conversation with co-owner of Flywheel Matt Gonzalez on his blog.

Oh, and this happened last week when I tried to go online:

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So what does the future hold for Flywheel? The San Francisco taxi industry?

Probably not what you’d expect…

Marin County Thrill Ride

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During last call on Friday nights, I usually wait out the shit show in some dark recess of The City. A few weeks ago, though, trying to escape the sloshed fields of the Mission, I was driving past the Armory Club when a guy jumped in front of my cab.

“Will you take five of us?” he asks.

While it’s not exactly legal to transport more people than there are seatbelts, what are laws in San Francisco anymore but mere suggestions?

As three women and one dude pile into the backseat, laughing and grunting as they position themselves in a tight mass, the first guy holds the door open like he’s directing traffic, then jumps in the front seat.

“83 Elaine Ave.,” he says. “We’re going to my place. I have plenty of booze, so we can keep this party going. Right?”

Everyone cheers.

“Where?” I ask.

“Mill Valley,” he tells me.

“To the bridge!” the guy in back yells. “Take us to the bridge!”

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]