Category Archives: driving in San Francisco

Stranger than Fiction

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This week’s I Drive S.F. column for the S.F. Examiner is about the other side of San Francisco, the one you don’t see from an Uber/Lyft – the taxi side of The City … 

“Since they’re spoon-fed ride requests, Uber/Lyft drivers don’t have to troll the streets of the Tenderloin at 1 a.m. looking for junkies running late meet up with their dealers before they turn into pumpkins … 

“During my eleven months driving for Uber and Lyft, most of what I documented were studies in vapid entitlement, the occasional comedy of errors due to a technical glitch and jeremiads about the exploitative nature of the business model.

“Once in a taxi, though, things went into overdrive and I charged headlong into the unknown, fueled by a guileless enthusiasm tinged with fear and a thrash metal soundtrack. Each shift came with a variety of misadventures, discoveries and altercations. All I had to do was write it down.

“Although only some of the stories made it into the column, as many encounters weren’t – and still aren’t – suitable for the general reading public. The really wild rides are reserved for the zines, where I have more freedom to describe the sordid and ribald aspects of driving a taxi in San Francisco. But I still have to be careful what’s divulged, to not risk losing my A-card …” 

Read the whole thing here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

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What’s Wrong With This Picture?

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That’s Powell at Bush. This shithead taxi driver has either gone rogue or he’s a recently deactivated Uber/Lyft driver who thinks cabs can drive on any red carpet in The City. Newsflash: they can’t. That’s a Muni-only lane for the cable car.

There Will be Traffic – The Lyft Guarantee

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Lyft sends out a postcard invitation to drivers across the region: come to San Francisco and flood the streets with your incompetent driving. Oh yeah. What could go wrong?

Read here.

 

The Outside Lands Transportation Shit Show

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On my way to the city to work Outside Lands

I just completed my fourth Outside Lands as a driver, which prompted me to reevaluate my previous reportage on working the three day music festival in Golden Gate Park. 

My first OSL was in 2014 as an Uber/Lyft driver. I covered that experience here.

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My second OSL was in a taxi and I wrote about it here

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Since I didn’t publish anything about my third year working Outside Lands in 2016, I searched my computer for any notes I may have written and found this:

The tide is turning as anti-Uber backlash surges…

Passengers are starting to realize that Uber and Lyft drivers, the majority of whom aren’t from the area, are creating most of the traffic congestion in The City, especially during major festivals.

That’s what happened during Outside Lands.

I wasn’t making any money driving people home from the festival. With all the congestion getting back to the park for another load, it just wasn’t worth my time…

Next week, my column will be about working Outside Lands for the fourth time. And no, it’s not going to be pretty…

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Bay Area Drivers Are the Worst

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Stranger in my Hometown – The “I Drive LA” Edition

This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about my trip to LA.

Over the past week, Trumpmania has made it almost impossible to focus on anything besides the election results, as well as the sobering realization I may be one of those left-coast elites disconnected from the rest of the country.

Completely unrelated, though entirely opportune, I distracted myself from the armchair quarterbacking — and the taxi life — for a couple days with a road trip to Los Angeles.

Even though I’m a native Angeleno, I’ve only gone back to Southern California three times in as many years. These days, I feel more like a stranger in my hometown.

Also, driving a taxi 40 hours a week in San Francisco has no doubt helped shape my perception of the two places, because the differences blew me away immediately.

Read the rest of the column here.

Brains top Apps at 2015 Dreamforce Convention

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Originally published on September 25, 2015 in the S.F. Examiner

Taxis Come to the Rescue when Technology Fails

Dreamforce, Dreamforce, Dreamforce… That’s all everyone talked about on Thursday, the last day of the Salesforce conference that consumed SoMa and most of The City with a reported 160,000 attendees.

Earlier that week, I was walking up 3rd Street to BART from my friend’s vintage shop in the Bayview when I stumbled into a throng of business-casual rank-and-file with laminated badges hanging from lanyards.

The entire area around Moscone Convention Center was a madhouse. Howard was closed off and the archway they’d constructed over the street was heavily guarded to prevent anyone without a badge from entering.

Traffic was, of course, gridlocked. Sidewalks were jammed. From every angle, advertisements begged to be noticed. Booths were set up on the periphery promoting various tech companies, some with food trucks offering free chipotle burritos and pulled pork sandwiches—for those with a badge, obviously.

I’d heard reports from cab drivers that some conventioneers were even taking taxis. So when I started my shift Thursday afternoon, in a sparkling clean Prius, I had high hopes.

That night, Salesforce was throwing a huge blowout at Pier 70 with performances by the Killers and the Foo Fighters.

The two guys I dropped off at the event around 7pm—or tried to drop off, rather, since 3rd Street was a parking lot and they ultimately had to get out at Mariposa Street and walk the rest of the way—told me 70,000 badge-wearers were expected to show up.

After that first foray into the Dogpatch, it was apparent getting people out of the area when the concert ended was going to be a strategic nightmare. I envisioned a scenario similar to Outside Lands, but in an even smaller, much more difficult to navigate space.

Unlike most tech conferences, the event planners anticipated the need for taxis and arranged with SFMTA for a cabstand at 23rd and Illinois. But there was no way to get that close to the venue. The congestion was impenetrable.

Hey, it’s the thought that counts…

Like the electronic traffic sign on 3rd directing both taxis and Ubers to 23rd… Nice try, guys, but taxis and Ubers are not the same.

Since Uber and Lyft rely on GPS to connect drivers with riders, and since these GPS systems tell drivers to all go the same exact route, from the beginning to the end of the concert, Uber and Lyft drivers were stuck on 3rd and Mariposa like bumper cars piled up on the track.

The SF Hackers, on the other hand, had the game plan all worked out.

Instead of taking the Mariposa exit off of Highway 280, as GPS would recommend, we used the Army/25th Street exit, went down Pennsylvania to 23rd and turned right.

Worked like a charm.

Once I hit Indiana Street, a frenzied crowd greeted me with their arms in the air.

“We’re so glad to see you!” the first group told me effusively. “We’ve been trying to get a ride for fifteen minutes.”

Apparently, even with a 3.1 surge, the Uber and Lyft users were struggling to get rides.

“That’s too bad,” I said, as I flipped around, leaving the trapped Ubers and Lyfts to the clusterfuck of their own making.

I spent the next couple hours rescuing stranded concertgoers, utilizing the dark, secluded streets along the industrial side of Potrero Hill and overriding the “logic” of GPS with basic common sense: always follow the path of least resistance.

At one point, I was racing down Pennsylvania with a full load when I came upon the part of the road that went around a blind curve to 17th. I barely slowed down.

“Are you sure this road is going somewhere?” the guy up front asked, holding up his iPhone. “It says we should have taken a right back there…”

As I made a hard right onto Mississippi and crossed 16th to 7th, the lights of downtown getting closer with each block, I replied, “Where we’re going, we don’t need apps.”

Like having a candle during a power outage, experienced cab driving comes in handy when you just need a ride to your hotel in an unfamiliar city. Even if it is based on such atavistic technology as a taximeter. And a brain.

The Passenger is (Not) Always Right

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Nobody knows the streets of San Francisco like cab drivers. Not the cops, the firemen, the bus drivers… Only cab drivers traverse every inch of The City.

Sure, Uber and Lyft drivers cover almost as much ground (save the transit lanes), but with their faces constantly in their phones, following a line in a navigation app, what do they really see? Judging by how most drive, they certainly aren’t looking at the road. 

After a year of working the cabstands outside Mighty and Public Works, I’ve carved particular routes through The City that are, in my mind, efficient, both time-wise and cost-wise.

Since there is little traffic at 3 a.m., I drive as the bird flies, following the map of San Francisco imprinted in my brain and try to hit the timed lights.

When I get a fare out of Public Works, say, going to the Sunset District, I take Fifteenth to Castro, which becomes Divisadero, and turn left on Fell.

This path also works for the Richmond District, except, instead of continuing through the park, I take a right on Stanyan to Fulton.

Easy-peasy.

Out of curiosity, I followed the directions from Public Works to the Sunset District according to Google Maps: Mission to Van Ness, turn left on Hayes, another left at Gough and then a right onto Fell. In the end, this path cost over two dollars more and wasted several minutes.

So fuck you and your GPS, right?

Well, not so fast…

My column in the S.F. Examiner this week is about some of the most annoying passengers: directionally challenged backseat drivers. 

Read it here

 

(screenshot of the MacArthur Maze from Google Maps)

 

And now this, from Jimmy the Cab Driver: