Tag Archives: evict mayor ed lee

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.

Do We Really Need Cab Drivers?

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On Monday, a delegation from the U.S. Conference of Mayors went on a field trip to several tech companies in The City, most notably, Uber, who was also a major sponsor of the conference. In response, the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance staged a picket line in front of Uber headquarters and urged the mayors to steer clear of the unscrupulous company.

I went down to the demonstration to show my support because I believe numbers matter in a protest, and it was important for these visiting leaders to know things aren’t all peaches and cream in Baghdad by the Bay.

I walked up Market from the Civic Center BART station. As I crossed 10th Street, I saw a large group of cab drivers, marching and holding up signs, surrounded by an even larger police presence. There were cops on motorcycles, cops on dirt bikes and cops guarding metal barricades set up along the perimeter. They even shut down 11th Street. For a while, taxicabs drove by, blowing their horns, but then police redirected traffic into the center lane.

When the mayors and their aides arrived on the same luxury buses that shuttle tech workers between The City and the campuses in Silicon Valley, they were quickly ushered inside the building as we waved our signs and shouted. Some glanced in our direction. A few looked amused or bewildered, but most didn’t seem to care about a bunch of rabble-rousing cab drivers.
Outside, several reporters eagerly documented our frustrations with Uber; how they’re allowed to skirt regulations while we must follow the rules.

One reporter brought up the oft-repeated statement from Uber that they’re providing economic opportunities for drivers and that consumers find their service cheaper, more efficient and much more pleasant than taxis. So why, he asked, don’t cab drivers just accept the future of transportation and embrace Uber?

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Besides the obvious reasons that Uber’s business model is predatory, exploitative, unsustainable for drivers and rife with potentially catastrophic risks, there are cab drivers who actually enjoy serving the public. Without taxis, how will the elderly, the disabled and the poor get around? Uber only satisfies the needs of one demographic.

And what about tourists?

The day retirees from Missouri who’ve worked their entire lives to afford vacations in places like California are required to buy smartphones and download an app before they leave SFO to get into The City is the day we can safely say San Francisco has not just lost its soul, it’s lost every trace of humanity it had left. At that point, we might as well just stop pretending and hand the keys to City Hall over to Travis Kalanik and his ilk.

What about those who don’t want to be tracked by a private company? Uber just amended their terms of service to acknowledge they’ve been tracking users’ movements regardless of whether they’re in a car or not. By just having the app on your phone, you give Uber the right to monitor and catalogue your day-to-day activities.

As Joe Strummer wrote, “Greed … it ain’t going anywhere!”

It’s easy to write off cab drivers as Luddites resisting technology that renders our profession obsolete, but we have smartphones. We use Flywheel, which works the same as Uber. Yellow has their own app (of course they do … they’re Yellow). And many drivers rely on Square to process credit cards.

There’s more at stake here than just apps. When you hang around cab drivers long enough, you hear a variety of predictions about the future of the taxi industry. Many old-timers prophesize nothing short of imminent demise. Some foresee medallion holders as owner/operators independent of color schemes. Others imagine taxicabs will become relics of the past, curiosities preserved like the cable cars or the streetcars that run down The Embarcadero and Market Street.

When they start contemplating doomsday scenarios, I can’t help but think of the telephone sanitizers of Golgafrincham in Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide. How they were deemed unnecessary and shipped off to another planet. And once they were gone, the Golgafrinchams were wiped out by a disease contracted from a dirty telephone.

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This article originally appeared as “Uber conformity with steal The City’s soul” in the San Francisco Examiner.