Tag Archives: Cab Driving

The Thin Checkered Line

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For some stupid reason, I still start my shifts at Caltrain these days, even though the construction on 4th Street guarantees I’ll end up snarled in traffic. I guess I’m a creature of habit, but I also know there’ll always be a few people getting off the train who haven’t summoned one of the Uber-Lyfts that make up most of the vehicles in this quagmire on Townsend. 

I inch forward slowly with steadfast determination toward the sanctuary of the taxi stand. After waiting only two minutes, I’m loaded and heading back into the maelstrom. 

I try to squeeze in front of a Lexus, but the driver isn’t giving me any leeway, riding the bumper of a Honda ahead of him. When the light finally turns green, he lays on his horn as I try to get in between him and the Honda. 

“Do you not understand how a taxi works?” I yell out my window and then mutter under my breath. “I hope the next time you’re in a taxi, some asshole prevents your driver from getting you where you need to go.”

I see an opening to the right and, like a running back fighting my way across the line of scrimmage, I seize the opportunity. The PCO directing traffic motions me through the intersection just as the light turns red. 

So long, suckas! 

Read the rest of the column here.

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A San Francisco National Cab taxi at the intersection of Geary and Powell

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A Cog in the Wheel of Corruption

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner seemed to draw the ire of many cab drivers who think I’m revealing “trade secrets” by discussing our role in, and how we sometimes benefit from, illicit activities in the city, from paying bribes to hotel doormen for airport rides, taking kickbacks from strip clubs and massage parlors, transporting hookers, directing passengers to their desired transgressions and the complicity of the police and, most likely city hall, in it all. There’s also a Tony Soprano for good measure. What these critics miss is that corruption takes many forms, including tipping, which is a form of bribery. Tell a server you’re not going to tip at the beginning of a meal and see how great your service is. That we are cogs in this wheel of corruption is part of what makes the job of a cab driver interesting. Well, I think so anyway. See for yourself, if you haven’t already read the column and made up your mind…

As ambassadors of The City, cab drivers are both purveyors of myth and concierges of vice. From the tourist attractions to the ripped backsides, we navigate the orthodox and the underbelly to take you where you want to go.

Or at least point you toward the right transgression.

Naturally, most services come with the expectation of a gratuity. And once cash starts exchanging hands, everyone wants a piece of the action …

Read the rest here.

A Fool and His Money… A St Patty’s Day Story

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The up-and-coming neighborhood Upton Heights

This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about driving a drunk leprechaun to a strip club… Well, sort of.

It’s only 10 p.m., but when the guy wearing a green suit covered in four leaf clovers with a matching bowtie stumbles into the passenger seat of my cab and exhales a miasma of booze directly into my face, it suddenly feels like 2 a.m.

“Uhm, where to?” I ask.

“Just head that way,” he mumbles, pointing down the street.

I hit the meter and drive.

Read it here.

The Ebb and Flow of City Life

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In my rickety National taxicab, I own the streets of San Francisco. I take my turns with a vengeance. I converge on Union Square at full tilt. Like all cab drivers, I follow the rules of the road that were lain down by the cab drivers who preceded us.

After six months, I can usually predict what another taxi driver will do, because we are all part of the same hive mind. We run the streets. Everybody else is just in our way.

I watch other cabs constantly. Even in my Uber-Lyft days, if I was on a street and there were no taxicabs, I knew I was on the wrong street. Still, to this day, I try to learn from the maneuvers of other cabs. I pay particular attention to top lights in relation to mine. So if I’m driving northwest on Columbus and most of the cabs going southeast have their lights off, I figure I might be heading in the right direction.

Who drives the streets of San Francisco more than cab drivers? Who else knows the shortcuts and the fastest way to get from any point A to any point B? We’ve been trained and licensed by The City to transport its citizens and visitors across the entire Bay Area. That’s our job. We move people around.

For better or worse, the map of San Francisco is permanently tattooed into my brain. Even in the haze of my post break-up blues, I know where I’m going. Sure, there were a few times last week that I froze up. Like when I was idling in front of the Intercontinental on Howard, pondering the bleak prospects of living alone on a cab driver’s earnings, and two women opened my doors abruptly.

“Where going to Mighty. Do you know where that is?”

Under normal circumstances, I would have driven straight down Howard, taken a left at 10th, crossed Division to Potrero, hung a left on 15th and another left onto Utah to drop them off proper, but with my head in a fog of despair, I momentarily forgot where I even was.

Sensing my confusion, one of the women fired up her GPS. By the time I crossed 5th, I’d regained my sense of direction. But I still had to listen to Siri guide me the rest of the way, her robotic voice like a ruler across my knuckles at each turn.

It’s hard not to get lost in your thoughts while moving through the ebb and flow of city life. I have a 4:45 cab. I hit the streets at the peak of afternoon rush hour and fight the gridlock in SoMa and the Financial until traffic lightens up a bit for the evening crowd. Once it’s dark, there aren’t as many buses and tech shuttles, very few bicyclists and fewer jaywalkers—I mean, pedestrians—jumping in front of my cab even though I have a green light (AKA, Vision Zero). But as people head to restaurants, concert venues and bars, there are still pockets of congestion. It’s not until after midnight that the streets are deserted enough to drive without restraint.

Amid the belly to the bar slump, though, things get quiet and my mind invariably drifts to my impending divorce. I feel the desperation of the indigents crawled up in doorways and against the sides of buildings. I’m not sure yet whether I can afford my Oakland apartment or if I’ll end up living in a wrecked cab in Upton Alley with two cats. I keep thinking about that Bukowksi line: “Many a good man has been put under the bridge by a woman.”

During my third week back from “vacation”—you know, that tropical resort in the second circle of Dante’s Inferno where you don’t send “Wish you were here” postcards to friends—I have my head screwed on tighter. And while I’m not firing on all cylinders yet, I run the streets like I’ve been trained and I actually made some money. Not enough to pay rent. But enough to remind myself there’s still money to be made driving a cab in San Francisco.

Maybe even enough to keep a roof over my head.

Originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner on August 6, 2015.

The Risks and the Rewards of Working Outside Lands

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It’s Monday morning. While the rest of the world is waking up and getting ready to go to work, I’m drinking vodka and eating leftover red beans and rice, thanks to Ben, who took it upon himself to feed me before I started my shift yesterday.

I don’t usually drive on Sundays. But at the barbeque the night before, Ben and several other drivers assured me that the third day of Outsides Lands would be the most profitable night of the festival.

Even though I really need the money, I waffled a bit. I was still exhausted from the previous two days of Outside Lands. I wasn’t even sure I’d have the wherewithal to drive a fourth shift that week. But Late Night Larry made it official.

“You’re working Sunday!” he snarled. “And that’s final!”

Ben picked me up at 4pm. On the way to the yard, we stopped at Hard Knox for lunch. I had a few bites of my vegetable plate and saved the rest for later. I was ready to hit the streets.

After doing the tourist trade for a couple hours, I head to the park. Since I did Outside Lands last year with Uber and Lyft, I know it’s a strategic nightmare to match drivers with riders and all the major thoroughfares get clogged with lost and confused drivers from out of town. A perfect scenario for street hails.

Each night, as the headliners take the stage, people begin to leave the park and wander through the avenues and the streets in a frenzy, desperate for a way out. There are so many exiting festivalgoers clamoring to get in my cab, I could institute my own twist on surge pricing and auction off seats to the highest bidders. But that would be unethical, right?

After I drop off a fare, I deadhead, i.e., drive empty, back to the park. The demand for cars is insatiable. Strangers share rides and get to know each other in the backseat. One fare has three stops, the last one in Ingleside Heights. When I stop the meter, it reads $45. With a $10 tip, that’s an inside the park homerun.

It’s obvious most of my fares are regular Lyft and Uber users. They approach my window and ask permission to get into my cab.

Like this young couple at 25th and Cabrillo.

“C-c-c-an you take us to the Caltrain?” the girl asks timidly from the curb.

“I drive a taxi,” I say, feigning joviality. “That’s what I do.”

They need to catch the last train to San Jose that leaves at 9:15.

It’s 8:50.

“I don’t know if we’ll make it in this traffic,” I warn them, thinking about their options if they miss the train. A cab ride to San Jose is around $200, and that’s still cheaper than a hotel room.

“You’d be our hero if we do.”

Always up for a challenge, I take off down Cabrillo, head up to Turk and race over the hill and down to Golden Gate. I start hitting lights in Civic Center so I make a right on Polk and cross Market onto 10th. I head down Folsom to 8th. I take a left on Brannan, a right on 5th, through the sign onto Townsend, and come to a dramatic stop in front of Caltrain with five minutes to spare.

“I may have just broken a record,” I gasp.

The meter reads $22. The guy gives me $25. I’m so shocked I forget to say thanks as they get out. A $3 tip on a run like that? Is that how you reward a hero? I even yelled at this poor pizza delivery guy for making me miss the light at Masonic.

Feeling less like a hero and more like a chump, I get on the Central Freeway and work the park for the rest of the evening. It’s early. There’s still a long road ahead of me before I get back to my red beans and rice.

Originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner on August 14, 2015…

Stand Up for Taxi Drivers: Philip Liborio Gangi on the fate of the S-Medallions

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This is a Personal Statement From Philip Liborio Gangi: A San Francisco Taxi Driver since 1978

San Francisco will be losing 135 experienced and long-time taxi drivers this year. Some drivers who have been serving the public for over 40 years. This does not have to happen.

In 2012 the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (MTA) issued a new type of taxi medallion known as the S-Medallion. These medallions were issued to drivers in part as a reward for long-term service. The drivers who got the S-Medallions had typically driven more than 25 years and had never received a medallion under the old system. When I received my S-Medallion my name had been on the regular medallion waiting list for 16 years and I had been driving a taxi in San Francisco for 35 years. At the time I received my S-Medallion Michael Harris was the Director of Taxi Services at MTA. I remember him specifically saying to me that MTA was looking to reward long-time drivers and that I should not have to wait for my name to come up on the regular medallion list.

Well 3 years later Michael Harris is working in a different division of MTA and the new Director of Taxi Services at SFMTA, Kate Toran, says that the S-Medallions were only a pilot program and that she is discontinuing the program and will start putting the S-Medallions out of service at the end of July 2016.This will empty the streets of long time and experienced taxi drivers. Paratransit Coordinating Council last week came out in support of the S-Medallion and said they would be sending a letter to MTA.

With car services on the streets of San Francisco like Uber and Lyft I am making only about one-third of what I used to make driving a taxi in San Francisco. A few recent nights I only went home with $80 after a ten hour shift. That comes to eight dollars an hour, less than a
minimum wage worker. My S-Medallion is currently giving me a $30 discount each night I drive for CityWide Cab, my taxi company. Without my medallion and that discount I do not believe it would be worth driving any more. After driving for 38 years here in San Francisco I find it very sad that the city will be losing me, an experienced driver who knows the streets among all the other S-Medallion holders who also would not only find it unprofitable to continue to drive, but feel betrayed by the city after all these years. Most S-Medallion holders I speak with will also not be sticking around if the city takes back their medallion.

I do not want to be pushed out of my job. It’s not what it used to be, but it’s part of my life. After 38 years, I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen the Moscone Center and AT&T Park being built. I’ve seen happy 49ers fans celebrating in the 1980s on Broadway when the city’s team won the Super Bowl. I helped get people around the city during the 1989 earthquake. Over the years I have seen San Francisco change from a big town to a major U.S. city.

Please help Save the S Medallion, help MTA make the right decision and keep these long-time drivers on the streets. Keep the S-Medallion part of San Francisco. Write to MTA and the Board of Supervisors and request that the S-Medallion stay part of the San Francisco taxi fleet.

Sincerely,
Philip Liborio Gangi
S-Medallion Holder #S-17

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Top photo by Trevor Johnson. Bottom photo courtesy of author.

Maxie the Taxi on The Green Pea in Winter

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Maxie the Taxi was a comic strip in The New Deep City Press, a magazine published by San Francisco cab drivers in the 70s.

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I knew when I started driving a cab I was stepping into deep waters…

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