Category Archives: Taxi Life

The thin checkered line revisited

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An Argument on Wheels

The other night I’m transporting a bouncer from The Fillmore to his apartment on Leavenworth. We’re inbound on Post when an Uber/Lyft in front of me hits the hazards and comes to a sudden stop.

I slam on my brakes and look in my side mirror. There’s a motorcycle in the other lane but I seem to have enough space to move over.

The biker, however, disagrees. He beeps his tiny horn and screams at me, “Watch out, motherfucker!”

At the light, I roll down the passenger window to apologize but the biker can’t hear me and most likely assumes I’m just talking shit.

He’s keeps yelling, “Motherfucker! You better watch your ass! I’ll fuck you up, motherfucker!”

It’s an honest mistake, but the guy acts like I’ve committed a capital crime and should be dragged out of my cab and pummeled into hamburger meat on the asphalt.

Now I’m sure the biker’s anger had more to do with the fact that I’m driving a taxi than anything else. Whenever there’s an altercation on the road and blame must be incurred, the easiest target is always the taxi. Not the fucking idiot Uber/Lyft driver who could have easily pulled into an open space to drop his passenger but chose instead to impede traffic since they don’t drive with common sense and just follow GPS directions. They’re not in a taxi, though. Despite the small, barely perceptible Uber and Lyft placards in their windows, they resemble any other vehicle. So they get a pass.

The taxi, though, is the idiot mucking up traffic…

As someone who drives a regular vehicle in the city as well as a taxicab, I’ve noticed over the years how different the two experiences are and how other drivers treat you when you’re driving a cab.

People seem to have this innate hatred of taxis based on the stereotypes that we’re filled with road rage, drive like maniacs and have no respect for anyone else on the road.

In reality, taxi drivers, who log 40+ hours a week behind the wheel, are some of the better drivers on the road.

Along with all the other difficulties of transporting people in an urban environment, there’s the constant disdain from the general public that never once considers the struggles we go through everyday trying to earn a living driving on the mean streets of San Francisco. Which is the topic for this week’s revisited * column…

Read it here.

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* Revisited from a column published last year.

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The way of the taxi stand

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My column for the Examiner this week is about the Hyatt Regency taxi stand, more daytime observations and a near collision with a BMW.

Usually, the EC5 cabstand moves at a decent clip. Besides the Regency and Embarcadero Centers, you get people hopping off BART and from the Ferry Building, as well as various randos.

But that’s the way of the taxi stand.

One second it’s moving, the next you’re just watching the world stream past.

After advancing two spaces, an Uber pulls over next to me. Instead of proceeding to the driveway that leads to the front of the hotel, a family of four disembarks right in the middle of Drumm Street. The driver, working hard for those five-star ratings, helps set their suitcases on the asphalt. Says goodbye and drives off. The tribe of fresh-faced tourists, slightly discombobulated, manages to gather their belongings and haul them between the line of taxis, across a jam-packed sidewalk and the driveway.

This is a common scenario at most hotels these days. As soon as visitors enter SFO, they are accosted with advertisements for Uber and Lyft, which both offer $50 in free credit for new users. Why not take advantage of an offer like that?

They’ve no doubt heard of Uber. Now they can experience it firsthand and tell their friends and family back home about the “future of transportation.”

Plus, it’s $20 from the airport into the city, which is cheaper than a cab, cheaper than BART, cheaper that Super Shuttle and almost cheaper than the bus. They still have more free rides to take. And hey… if Mom downloaded the app on her phone at the airport, can Dad also download the app and get $50 in credit? Sure he can. All the kids too!

So now tourists are taking Ubers and Lyfts instead of taxis. But what kind of experience are they having if their drivers come from Sacramento or out of state and have no clue how to assist them navigate The City? They’re essentially tourists themselves. Talk about the blind leading the naked.

And when it comes to hotels, there are many reasons why you rely on doormen. Making sure guests have — at least — the opportunity to show some class is one. Preventing fuckups is another.

A few nights back, while languishing in the Fairmont taxi stand, I saw a girl get her fingers caught in the door of a Lyft car. As her howls echoed off the façade of the luxury hotel, the clueless driver began pulling away. Her friends had to bang on the side of his car to make him stop…

Read the rest here.

[photo by Irina Dessaint]

Hailing a Taxi while Black

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Yellow cab driver picking up family at SF General. Photo by Douglas O’Connor

My column this week for the S.F. Examiner touches on some of the racial elements in taxi driving…

On the corner of Folsom and 6th, a guy is standing with his hand in the air. Even though it’s not a night to be turning down fares — if there ever are nights like that anymore — three empty taxis in a row blow right past him.

When he turns around to flag me, I see what the problem is: He’s young and black, with dreads protruding from his hoodie and a gold grill flickering in the haze of a streetlamp.

As he approaches my cab hesitantly, I gesture him forward, and he jumps into the backseat. Up close, he looks more like a lost kid than a gangster, despite the getup.

“I need to get to Richmond hella bad,” he tells me.

“District or city?”

“City.”

“Oh, man …” I stammer. “It’s after 1 a.m. and uh … that’s a pretty long ride. You think I can get some cash up front?” Adding a quick, “No offense or anything.”

Which actually makes the request more offensive.

Read the rest here.

How to Hail a Taxi

If the social inept techies continue to sway public opinion, the urbane experience of hailing a taxi may soon become a thing of the past.

The Rascally Couple Looking for Late Night Snacks and Adventure

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“Always say yes.”

During a recent Recitation of the Waybill, a bunch of us were standing around the National office as Late Night Larry offered up some of his incontrovertible advice.

“No matter the question,” he snarled. “The answer is always yes.”

I’ve implemented many of Larry’s words of wisdom over the years, but sometimes it’s my own rules that save the day. Like that Friday night when I was inbound on Columbus at 3 a.m., waiting for the light to change at Pacific.

Behind me, the neon lights of Broadway are diffused in the fog like the setup to a Scooby-Doo mystery, while stragglers lurk in dark corners.

Just as the signal turns green, a young black guy and an older white woman approach my cab. Besides the overwhelming stench of booze that’s almost palpable, their eyes are spinning in their sockets, suggesting other intoxicants.

“Hey! You’re cute!” the woman screeches at me. “Can I touch your hair?”

Less of a request and more of a warning, I try to dodge her grasp.

“Let’s not molest the driver,” the guy says with a giggle. “Yet.”

“Uhhh … Where to?” I ask hesitantly.

“We need snacks!” the woman shouts. “Pronto!”

“Driver, do you know where we can get some snacks?” the guy asks calmly, as if his companion’s exclamation wasn’t clear enough.

I suggest Union Square. With several 24-hour diners, fast food and a 7-Eleven, it covers all the bases for late night snack options. And close enough to get this rascally duo out of my cab. Pronto.

Read the rest here.

Looking for Fares in All the Wrong Places

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My column this week for the S.F. Examiner is an attempt to shed some light on one of the most confusing aspects of the taxi industry: the medallion system.

While discussing health problems and money woes, Loco and I shiver in the chilly night air and surreptitiously eyeball the BART passengers emerging from the station.

Loco has a paid medallion. As he describes the headaches and heartbreaks of paying off a $250,000 taxi medallion in the Age of Uber, his story echoes those of other paid medallion holders I’ve spoken to. It’s always tragic, since the only solution is for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to admit that the program to sell taxi medallions is a complete failure and offer financial amnesty to anyone who forked out a quarter of a million dollars for their worthless piece of tin.

The medallion was supposed to be a safety net for drivers as they got older. But for those struggling to pay off loans when the vehicle-for-hire business is in the toilet, it’s an albatross. 

Read the rest here.

[image via]