Pretty Fly (for a Taxi Hailing App)

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My biggest gripe with Flywheel (the app, not the taxi company, formerly called DeSoto, who tried to promote the Flywheel app by changing their name and color scheme) is that, instead of focusing on getting users through marketing, the company put all their energy in TaxiOS, a backend system to replace the current hardwired taximeter.

The obvious reason for doing this was to sell out. Which they did. To a company called Cabconnect. When I met the CEO of Cabconnect a few months ago, the first thing I asked was how he planned to handle marketing.

He had several ideas about incorporating paratransit into the app, as well as unique ways to hails a cab from hospitals and bars, but he didn’t have many ideas about WHY people would want to use the app to get a taxi.

Shortly thereafter, these ads popped up on Flywheel’s Twitter account:

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Beyond emphasizing that taxi drivers are properly vetted and trained, and that taxi rates don’t go up depending upon demand, these ads don’t really explain what makes taxis a better option.

Most users don’t care about the issue of training, insurance and background checks. And many users are more than willing to pay surge pricing.

So… what makes taxis special?

Figuring out the answer to that question compelled me to write the column “Disrupt the Disruptors,” but as the taxi industry continues to crumble, even the greatest marketing campaign ever conceived on Madison Ave hardly seems to stand a chance against the PR damage that’s been done…

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Disrupting the Disruptors?

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about the recent decision to give the money in the Driver Fund to the cab drivers, app-based transportation and marketing…

It’s hard not to feel like my taxi driving days are numbered. Hell, the entire industry seems doomed. As things continue to go from bad to worse, Green Cab started a GoFundMe campaign this week to crowdfund the $30,000 they need to stay in business, while the SFMTA plans to divvy up $4.7 million among 5,000 cab drivers to the tune of $400 to $900 each, based on seniority.

So what am I going to do with my “windfall?” Pay off my backbook at National? Buy a couple cartons of cigarettes? Wipe my ass with four crisp $100 bills?

Not to be rude, but using the Taxi Driver Fund as a retirement package is shortsighted and stupid. Even if I were to get the same share as a 30-year veteran, my rent is $1,700 a month. It’ll take more than a few hundred dollars to offset my financial problems.

When they mail the checks, they should write in the memo line, “Thanks for nothing, chump!”

Personally, I voted to spend the Driver Fund on advertising. Which may seem just as stupid, since taxis are repeatedly called a “legacy” industry, as if they’re already obsolete. But the only difference between an Uber/Lyft vehicle and a taxi is a color scheme and a phone number painted on the side. Oh, and centralized dispatch.

Uber and Lyft didn’t disrupt taxis, they disrupted the taxi companies that resisted centralized dispatch and made no effort to provide consistently good customer service. Brag about fingerprinting all you want, but if you can’t prevent a driver from kicking an old lady to the curb because she wants to use a credit card, you’re going to lose your customers once a better option is available.

Read the rest here.

“The View from a Taxi” Anthologized

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I contributed a story called “The View from a Taxi” to this anthology on San Francisco writing, Your Golden Sun Still Shines, edited by Denise Sullivan and published by Manic D Press.

You can order it on Amazon. Or through your local independent bookstore.

The Shapes of San Francisco

 

The Long Rocky Road to Buster’s

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Christian started it. That picture he posted on Facebook of his cab outside Buster’s triggered a hankering for a Buster’s Burger that I couldn’t satisfy with just one. Or two. Or even three. Pretty much any fare to North Beach over the past few weeks was an excuse to hit up Buster’s …

Last Friday night, after dropping at The Boardroom, I make a beeline to Columbus and Vallejo, hoping for rock-star parking at the green meter on the corner.

When I get there, an SUV is hogging the space and part of the red curb next to the fire hydrant, preventing me from squeezing in without blocking the crosswalk.

I consider giving up, but my Buster’s craving is too strong. I go around the block searching for another spot, then head to the Vesuvio taxi stand, which, fortunately, isn’t overrun by Uber drivers.
Just as I’m getting back into my cab, two guys approach me.

“Are you available?” the first one asks, opening my back door.

“Sure,” I say, thinking, Well, the fries are usually hot as hell anyway.

“We’re going to Parc 55,” the first guy tells me. “The address is — ”

“Parc 55,” I reply, cutting him off. “I got ya.”

“See, he knows where he’s going,” the other guy playfully chides his companion.

I take a right on Pacific and head down Stockton. As the cab bounces and jerks over a battle zone of potholes, buckled asphalt and metal plates, I apologize for the rough terrain.

“Does San Francisco have many streets that are in bad shape like this?”

I can’t help but laugh. “I’ve driven on dirt roads that were smoother than most of these streets.”

“Are there certain ones you intentionally avoid?”

“There are plenty of streets I’d like to avoid, but it’s almost impossible since so many are ripped to shit.”

“What are some of the streets you think are in the worst condition?” he asks.

I rattle a few off the top of my head: Van Ness, Haight Street, Broadway and Fourth Street.

“Potrero was a total shit show for like five years,” I add. “But they finally repaved it, although there’s still a stretch between Division and 17th that’s a complete suspension killer.”

When they ask me to spell out Potrero, I realize they’re writing them down.

[Keep reading…]

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.