Category Archives: Cab Driving

My Kind of Passenger

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It was one of those nights, when you’re out late, chasing ghosts all over The City, even though the streets are as empty as the backseat of your cab, and there’s nothing left to do but follow the faint glow of your headlights and hope for the best, despite knowing you should just head to the yard, pay your gate and call it a night, because at 3:30 a.m., if your luck hasn’t changed for the better, it probably never will…

After one last circle through Union Square, I take Mason down to Market. Waiting for the light at Fifth Street, two Yellow cabs blow past me, toplights blazing. I hit my turn indicator. At least Soma is one neighborhood closer to the Bayview.

Like an apparition, she appears from behind a plume of steam billowing from the grates in the middle of the street. She walks straight towards me.

“You available?” she asks through the half-cracked window.

“Yeah.” I quickly unlock the doors.

“I was going to call an Uber,” she says, once inside. “But… you probably don’t want to hear about that.”

“Where you heading?”

“Redwood City. I’ll have the address for you in a second.”

I hit the meter and head towards the freeway. Guess I was wrong about that whole luck thing.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

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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…

Playing the Radio

I play the radio loud. Which is the only way to decipher cross streets when Artur calls out dispatch orders in his overworked and underpaid drawl.

The Russian accent doesn’t help. Especially when the two-way starts cracking up.

Believe it or not, National/Veterans still has regular customers. And Artur will browbeat drivers on the air to get them filled, calling out orders repeatedly and even singling out cabs he can tell are nearby, like a school teacher trying to get the class to answer a question nobody knows …

Last Friday, after dropping in The Castro, I’m inbound on Market while Artur is trying to fill an order for Geary and Webster. A regular customer at the Safeway needs a ride, but there are no takers.

For the next several minutes, Artur’s voice gets increasingly choleric: “Drivers! Geary and Webster! Somebody go pick her up! This is a regular customer! Come on!”

Even though I’m not close, I check in. “This is 233. Market and Sanchez.”

“233. God bless you. Go get her, please. I’ll give you a bonus load.”

With the promise of $10 off my gate, I get in the left turn lane. I figure Steiner through the Western Addition is my best bet. But there’s an Uber with Nevada plates in front of me, and when the light goes from green to yellow and then red, the driver doesn’t move.

Read the rest here.

[photos by Christian Lewis]

Hailing a Taxi Like You Own The City

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Lauren Bacall in Rome, 1960

You know it’s a slow night in The City when practically every taxi not at SFO is queued up outside Davies Symphony Hall waiting for Beethoven’s “Emperor Concerto” to break.

As I roll up onto the scene, the line stretches from the entrance on Grove to the corner and then across Franklin. While I’m assessing the situation, the first cab in the second line starts blowing his horn, presumably, to prevent me from usurping his position. But I have no interest in this line.

Turning right on Grove, I head to the Van Ness side of Davies, to the actual cabstand for the venue. The one with signs indicating that only taxis are allowed to park there from 9 p.m. to midnight.

Very few taxi drivers, it seems, have faith in the Van Ness side of Davies. While I’m waiting, a taxi will occasionally stop, lose patience a few minutes later and speed off around the corner.

Eventually, Late Night Larry pulls in behind me, followed by a few more taxis.

Then concertgoers emerge en masse from the symphony hall. As the first cab in line, I get a fare right away going to Market and Castro. While the light at Hayes is red, I slowly wedge my front end between a minivan and a pickup truck so that when the signal turns green, I’m able to speed away.

All the way up Market, the lights are on my side. After dropping my fare at Catch, I hightail it back to Davies, hoping for a double-dip. At the very least, I’ll get a decent spot in line at the Orpheum for when “The Book of Mormon” breaks.

While fighting the congestion on Franklin, I see a woman on the corner of Hayes with her arm in the air. I flash my high beams and, once there’s an opening, swoop in.

She’s heading to the Richmond District.

“Thanks for stopping,” she says. “The security guard back there kept telling me he would help me catch a cab, but I’ve been taking cabs in San Francisco for 35 years. I may be old, but I can still hail a taxi.”

“You’re flagging skills are impeccable,” I say. “I spotted you from blocks away.”

“There is skill to hailing a taxi, isn’t there?”

“There is,” I respond, about to proffer one of my favorite lines: “You want to put your arm out like you — ”

“Like you own The City,” she says, snatching the words right from my mouth.

Read the rest here.

[photo from How to Hail a Taxi – A Photoset]

A Taxi-Driving Hero Ain’t Nothing to Be

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As a general rule, I never read comments. Especially comments on my own stuff, either on the Examiner site or social media. But when someone tags you in a Facebook post, it’s hard to avoid the nastiness so common when there’s a computer or smart phone screen in the way.

That’s how I stumble upon this bitter perspective:

“I guess writing this column is the only reason you still drive.”

I instantly click reply, “What the fuck does that even mean? As opposed to doing what? Getting back on track with my fledging astrophysics gig?”

Does this person think I’m independently wealthy? That the Examiner is paying me the big bucks for my 700 words a week, which I invariably turn in late because I’m too exhausted from driving a taxi all week to write about driving a taxi?

Before clicking submit, though, I delete the response. Type out, “You sound like my wife.” Then replace “wife” with “mother-in-law.” And delete that, too.

Instead, I turn off my phone and roll over. As I watch my daughter sleep under the muted glow of a nightlight, my mind spins, processing this notion that I’m supposed to be more than a taxi driver. Why? Because I’m white? American? Male? College-educated?

Who makes up these rules?

Read the rest here.

[photo by Trevor Johnson]

Ed Lee’s Legacy of Grievances

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“San Francisco is a white-collar crime,” the woman in the back of my taxi says, in a machine gun-like monologue. “And Ed Lee is — was — one of the main culprits. It was Ed Lee who sold us out to the tech companies, turning The City into a playground for the rich.”

It seems like the only notable conversations I have in my cab anymore that aren’t long winded jeremiads are the ones that don’t involve politics. Or millennials. Or tech. Or San Francisco.

“Don’t get me wrong though … I didn’t want Ed Lee dead. Just out of office. Or in jail. He should have gone down after the Shrimp Boy case …”

When I pull up to the woman’s building at Bush and Jones, she hands me a $20 bill.

“So yeah … you won’t see me wearing a black armband anytime soon,” she says, as if there’s a moral obligation to mourn the untimely death of the mayor.

Granted, over the past few weeks, there have been countless public memorials, but the majority of the people I talk to in my cab haven’t changed their tunes.

Despite Willie Brown’s observation in his column for the Chronicle last week:

Everyone on all sides of the political spectrum has something nice to say about the guy. Everyone, that is, except the taxi drivers. They still blame Ed for the flood of Uber and Lyft cars that are killing their livelihoods.

Turns out, taxi drivers aren’t the only San Francisco not mourning the death of Lee …

From Bush and Jones, I meander through the Tenderloin and end up at the scene of the crime.

Inside City Hall, several hundred Google developers are having their corporate holiday party. A typical frock-and-jock event, the guys wear the usual business casual, and the women are decked out in festive evening gowns. Slowly, in their high heels, they cascade down the steps, past the assemblage of bouquets and wreaths laid out in remembrance of Lee.

Outside, on the Polk Street side, an ad hoc cabstand is forming.

While the partygoers gather and wait with their phones out like Geiger counters, a bunch of Hackers gather outside our cabs to kvetch about how slow business has been this holiday season.

“Every year, it just gets worse …”

“I just don’t know what I’m going to do, man,” Icarus says. “I have to get out from under this debt. It’s killing me!”

Saddled with a $250,000 loan for a worthless medallion, Icarus works five days a week just to make the monthly payments.

“Am I supposed to declare bankruptcy over this and run my credit until I’m 60 years old?”

Things aren’t any better for Hester.

“I’d be doing so much better as a gate-and-gas driver.”

“Ed Lee ruined my life.”

“Maybe the Credit Union will step in and take these medallions back.”

Just days after Lee’s passing, KPIX ran a story about the San Francisco Credit Union suing The City over defaulted medallion loans because the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency did nothing to stop the illegal taxis that flooded the streets. And since The City is in the business of selling taxi medallions for $250,000, maintaining the value of those medallions would seem like a no-brainer.

Not so in Lee’s San Francisco, where, by his proclamation, every July 13 is Lyft Day.

It’s actions like these that helped feed the rumor, mostly spread among taxi drivers, that Lee’s daughter is an investor in Lyft, or works at Lyft or has some connection to the company. Whether or not that rumor is true doesn’t matter. The damage has been done. And there’s no going back now …

Read the full column here.

Where Have All the Good Rides Gone?

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Without the fireworks and traffic along The Embarcadero, last Sunday night would have felt like any other weekend night. That it was New Year’s Eve only seemed incidental…

By midnight, I’ve already forgotten about the holiday. Walking into the Hilton on O’Farrell, I’m taken aback by the small but rowdy crowd in the bar/reception area counting backwards.

In the restroom, it hits me.

“Oh yeah,” I say aloud, my voice echoing off the tile.

I’m not alone though, as a flushing toilet drowns out the cheers from the lobby.

Back on the street, the doorman at the Nikko flags me and deposits an older couple in my backseat.

“What’s going on?” the gentleman in the leather suit asks me.

“It’s the New Year,” I reply.

“Yes.” He laughs. “But where are all the people?”

“Still home for the holidays?” I suggest.

They’d been at Bix, where they’ve celebrated New Year’s Eve for the past 20 years.

“We always book months ahead of time,” he says. “But this year, the bar was only half full.”

“It was very odd,” the woman adds. “We left early, thinking the traffic would be dreadful.”

Ahead of us, Market Street is wide open, hardly a vehicle on the road and barely a soul on the sidewalk.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]