Tag Archives: market street

The Hooligans of Market Street

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about getting accosted by a bunch of kids on Market Street. The situation got pretty tense, but I was able to deescalate things and escape harm.

Interestingly, almost two years ago to the day, I wrote a post for Broke-Ass Stuart.com about taxi drivers getting accosted. I found this passage relevant and still applicable today:

As a new cab driver, I adhere to the principle that taxi driving is an inclusive public service, even though maintaining an open door policy exposes me to certain occupational hazards.  I know the chances of getting robbed or attacked are slim, but the fear still lurks deep in the recesses of my lizard brain.

It’s been over two years since I started driving a taxi and I still maintain an open door policy. Which means I sometimes get in sticky situations, but the alternative – profiling each passenger before I pick them up – is even less appealing.

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With “Hamilton” and “Into the Woods” breaking around the same time, Market Street at 10:50 p.m. is flooded with theatergoers. For taxis, it’s a feeding frenzy. After dropping off a family at the Marine’s Memorial Club, I shoot down Mason for another quick load.

As I turn right onto Market, a girl is standing on the curb with her arm up. Two cabs drive right past her. I pull over.

She opens the back door, turns and yells, “Hey! I got a taxi!”

Upon her exclamation, a group of kids emerge from the shadows and bum-rush my cab.

“Hold up, now!” I shout as they surround me.

The battalion of brats ranges in age, from the full-grown teenagers squeezing themselves into the backseat, to some goofy-looking adolescents pounding on my trunk and climbing onto the roof, to a precocious 9-year-old in the front seat trying to grab everything in sight: my iPhone, the Flywheel phone clipped to the vent, my Square reader and even the dispatch tablet mounted on the dash.

Read the rest of the column here.

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San Francisco Taxi Drivers are Dropping Like Flies

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This week’s column is about the consequences taxi drivers face dealing with unregulated competition… 

This following is a short excerpt with additional commentary that wasn’t included in the printed column due to space limitations… 

Last week, a Yellow driver jumped the curb on Market Street and crashed into a shoeshine stand, critically injuring the two men who worked there. This was big news. All the local newsites and TV stations picked up the story. According to initial reports, the taxi was recklessly speeding down Market, but it was later revealed the driver was suffering from a medical issue at the time. Which is why he never braked before colliding with a newsstand, the shoeshine stand and finally a light pole.

Based on what I’ve heard from people who knew the Yellow driver, he was a medallion holder with a perfect driving record. But, like so many others, he’s been forced to drive longer hours to survive in this new climate, and at the time of the accident, he’d lost consciousness due to extreme dehydration, one cause of which is stress.

This accident doesn’t bode well for Yellow, which filed for bankruptcy protection several months ago after settling two very expensive insurance claims. How this new accident will impact their longevity remains to be seen (the rumors aren’t good), but regardless, the career of the driver involved is tarnished, to say the least.

If internet comments are any indication of the general population’s feelings towards taxis, most people are happy to dance on the grave of the San Francisco taxi industry.

I know, I know… Never read the comments. But I’m a glutton for punishment. The most common statement I see is, “the San Francisco taxi industry can’t die soon enough.”

Well, Uber and Lyft lovers of San Francisco, your wish seems to be coming true.

The comment sections that follow the articles about this latest accident are rife with gleeful Uber fans gloating over the misfortunate circumstances: “SEE! YOU SEE! Taxis are out of control!!”

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What these cheerleaders of doom are not recognizing, however, is that we should be grateful it was a taxicab that caused this accident. Had it been an Uber or a Lyft, how would we know who was responsible? At least with a clearly marked taxi, there is no doubt who is liable. The reason taxis are easily identifiable is to ensure accountability. Look at the picture. There is a telephone number on the side, and a unique cab number that connects that cab to the driver.

The same can’t be said for Uber and Lyft vehicles, where the driver can simply remove the Uber and Lyft placards in the event of an accident and pretend to be a regular Joe Schmo whose personal policy, unlike commercial insurance, barely covers injuries and damages.  

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A few weeks back, a Lincoln Towncar racing north on Larkin Street, crashed into several parked cars before finally coming to a stop in front of the New Century strip club. At which point the driver ran away, leaving his mangled vehicle in the street with a passenger in the back. Although later reports, namely from a regular at the Ha-Ra, suggest the female passenger claimed she was driving, and that it all seemed rather… “druggy.”

Not that it matters. Word around town is, the police aren’t even required to notate whether a car involved in an accident was doing Uber or Lyft at the time when making a report.

That means there’s no telling how many accidents involving Ubers and Lyfts occur each night/day.

Interesting, right?

Ah, who are we kidding. Nobody gives a fuck.

Cheap rides and boiler plate San Francisco corruption… 

Nothing to see here, folks.

Just move along…

 

 

Taxi Drivers Confront Uber Driver with Toplight on his Prius

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After seeing this guy around SF for months, picking up street flags and running the Uber and Lyft apps on a phone on his dash, a Town Taxi driver decided enough was enough and confronted the gypsy cab on Market Street. I happened to pull up in National 182 right at the shit went down.

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The Uber fake taxi is blocked in by our cabs on Market Street, inbound at Sanchez. 7 more cab drivers came to assist.

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The SFMTA Parking Patrol arrived on the scene, took the side of the cab drivers and called the police, because when the confrontation first occurred, the Uber driver shot mace at one of the cab drivers. The PCO then blocked the confrontation so the Uber driver was not able to leave the scene.

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Investigating the toplight. It appears to be a Spoon Rocket topper that he appropriated into a top light and screwed into the roof of his Prius. A wire runs down into the interior through the side of the door covered in clear packaging tape.

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The Uber driver who impersonates a cab driver outside his car to the right, trying to film the 8 cab drivers encircling him, who ask him if he thinks what he is doing is legit. He never answers. Before the cab drivers were able to push his car over and set it on fire, like they did in Paris (just kidding), the cops showed up.

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The San Francisco Police having a talk with the Uber driver. Afterwards, the cops talked to the cab drivers and said, “That guy is full of shit. He’s on our radar now. If we see him around, we’re going to cite him. We gave him his one warning.”

Now it’s anyone’s guess if he’ll be back on the streets of San Francisco with that fake toplight on his Prius.

[Updated: He’s never been seen since.]

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.

I was priced out before I was ever priced in…


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Originally printed in the S.F. Examiner

 

San Francisco is like a drug. When it gets inside you, each moment is a revelation. Until things get ugly.

On Friday and Saturday nights, after the bars have dumped their cockeyed patrons onto the sidewalks and the feeding frenzy for rides is over, I look for a good cabstand. I used to work the Gold Club, but then I discovered the DJ venues.

Unlike the guys who frequent high-end strip joints and reek of alcohol and desperation, the passengers I pick up from places like the Cat Club and Mighty climb into my backseat with bottled water and cat-that-ate-the-canary grins.

Occasionally, they’re chatty. But it’s not easy having a conversation with somebody in the grips of a chemical high. One Saturday night, after listening to half the “Reign in Blood” CD while double-parked outside Public Works, my back door opens. A couple in their late 30s gets in.

“Seventh and Mission.”

It’s been a busy weekend for tourists, and I instinctively ask if they’re going to one of the motels there.

“No, my condo,” the guy says.

The woman laughs. “‘My condo.’ … You sound like a douchebag.”

“Hey, I’m too high for semantics.” He asks if I’m cool making two stops. They’re going to her apartment after picking something up at his place, which is actually on Natoma Street. He tries to give me directions. “Don’t worry. I got you.” I take a right on Eighth Street and a left into the one-way alley.

“See, he’s a real taxi driver,” the woman says. While the man runs inside, she asks me how long I’ve been driving a cab. “Almost a year.” I don’t mention that I did Uber and Lyft for most of that time. I’m not in the mood for another one of those discussions. “Where do you live?” she asks.

“Oakland.”

“Oh. That’s too bad. It seems like everyone is getting priced out of San Francisco these days.” She tells me about a friend who had to move to Oakland recently. “Now I never see her anymore!”

She continues to rant about displacement and gentrification until the guy returns. Then it’s on to the next stop.

“The Fox Plaza.”

I ask for the cross streets. They direct me up Seventh to Market and then onto Hayes.

When I see the high-rise apartment building on the left, I say, “Oh, I know that place.” I had picked up and dropped off there multiple times during my Uber-Lyft days. That’s why I don’t know the name of the building, just the pinned location in the app.

“You lie,” the woman seems to whisper. “No, really.” I laugh, thinking she’s messing with me.

“You’re lying.”

I realize she’s not whispering. She’s seething.

Confused, I pull up to the front door. The fare is $9.55. She hands me a 20.

“Give me back 10,” she says, snidely. “You know, I would have given you a fat tip, but I don’t reward dishonesty.”

“What are you talking about?” I ask, dumbfounded.

“You’re a liar,” she snaps at me while getting out of the cab. “You said you were from here. That’s not cool, man.”

As I cruise down 10th Street, I try to process what just happened. I never said I was from San Francisco. In her drug-addled mind, she assumed I had been priced out because I live in Oakland.

Sure, before the wife and I moved to Temescal a year and a half ago from Los Angeles, we looked for an apartment in The City first. But, of course, we couldn’t afford anything. So while we may not have been priced out, we definitely are priced out. Is there a difference?

Yes, there is.

I can hardly blame the woman for getting angry. Even before the latest housing crisis, assuming the role of a native San Franciscan was tantamount to criminal activity. Now that the stakes are higher, it’s an outright sin.

At Howard Street, I wonder how many cabs are in the EndUp stand, but it’s late. And the woman’s scorn still burns. My head is dizzy and full of regret.

I hit the 101 and drive back to the yard. I’ve had enough San Francisco for one night.

For Whom The Uber Tolls

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It’s Saturday night… not even late. A few minutes after nine. I’m at Mission and 7th. Get a request for an address on Market, a block and a half away. I take a right on 7th and pull into the far left lane. As I turn onto Market, a girl in cut-off jeans and a tank top waves me down. She’s practically in the middle of the street. Grabs my door handle before I can even stop. Climbs in the backseat.

I ask if she’s Andrea, the name of the person I’m supposed to pick up. She mumbles something and rolls down the window. The rider destination has already been added in the app so I start the ride.

“We’re going to the Richmond then?” I ask, anticipating a nice long ride with 1.5x surge. Cha-ching. She says nothing. I look over my shoulder. She’s curled up against the door, passed out. I start driving, hoping and praying she isn’t a potential puker. Turn off Market onto Hayes and then right on Franklin.

As I approach O’Farrell, I get a text from the generic Uber number: “I’m on 8th and Market across from Chase.”

I immediately pull over. What the hell? I wake up the girl in my back seat. “Hey! I think you got in the wrong car.”

She comes to, but her eyes are blurry. She’s not all there. It’s obvious she’s wasted. I don’t smell alcohol though.

“You got into the wrong car,” I tell her again.

She’s confused. “Uhhmmm… I can get out…” She has an accent. As her voice trails off, she looks around. She has no idea where she is.

Oh man… I feel my pulse accelerate as the reality hits me. I picked up the wrong passenger! And she’s not even sober enough to share my distress!!

Besides losing a profitable fare, I was hoping to make the $38-an-hour guarantee Uber’s offering this weekend. And the only way to accomplish that is by staying online for the entire hour. With the Treasure Island Music Festival and several other events going on in town, business was supposed to be “off the charts,” according to the numerous emails I’d received from Uber about it all week. With rent on the horizon, I really need the money from a busy weekend. But I can’t just leave this very intoxicated girl on the street in the Western Addition.

“Where do you need to go?” I ask.

She tells me an address on Battery Street. I assume that’s what she probably said when she first got in the car. I have her repeat the address a second time, just to make sure. Ask if she’s okay.

“Yeah.” She curls back up against the door.

I cancel the original ride and tap the fare review link. Select the option “don’t charge — wrong client.”

At least the Financial District isn’t that far away. If I hurry, I can get her home fast, get back online and maybe still score some of the Uber guarantee for the hour.

As I’m about to pull out, my phone rings. The generic Uber number. It’s Andrea, the girl who actually requested the ride. I explain, as apologetically and calmly as I can, that I picked up the wrong passenger. I tell her that I’ve already canceled the ride and will make sure she doesn’t get charged. And that I’ll send a follow up email to Uber. She asks what to do next. I tell her to request another ride. Apologize again. All the while, I resist the urge to tell her what really happened. Maybe she’s willing to help me? I could use some female assistance. What if I have to drag this girl’s unconscious body out of my car by myself?

I don’t even want to think about that scenario!

With growing trepidation, I begin my via dolorosa to Battery Street. Fighting traffic and shitting bricks. I can’t help but wonder, What if something happens along the way? What if I get in an accident? How do I explain to the authorities why I have some random chick passed out in my backseat? Is my conscience really that guilty? Or have I just been reading way too many news articles lately about rapes and assaults and all kinds of horrible situations in Uber cars? I mean, how can I not be paranoid, now that it’s happening to me? After all, who am I but some guy in a gypsy cab?

I try to take deep breaths. My fear has become sentient. It’s talking to me. Trying to convince me that I do, in fact, really need to freak the fuck out. Yes, old friend, I know… This is some serious shit. Best to get it over with as fast as possible.

As I’m rushing through Nob Hill, another request comes in. Damn it! I forgot to go offline. I let the request time out. Make sure I’m no longer in driver mode. I don’t need to screw up my acceptance rate too.

When I finally reach the address, I heave a sigh of relief. There’s even a place to pull over in front of the high rise with a glass lobby and storefronts. Finally, the universe is throwing me a bone. I take another deep breath and wake the girl up.

“Hey! We’re here!”

I’m surprised how easily she comes to. But she’s still really out of it. I ask if she needs help. She says no. Reaches around the seat and floorboard, seemingly for her purse or phone. It doesn’t look like she has either. I notice there are twigs in her hair. I ask if she’s okay. She says that she is fine. There’s a tinge of annoyance in her voice, like she’s sick of me asking. Opens the car door and careens into the street, in the opposite direction of the apartment building.

I yell after her, “You’re going the wrong way!”

Fortunately, there’s no traffic. She spins around and heads towards the right building.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” I call out.

She comes back towards me and reaches for my hand.

“Thank you so much.”

“You’re going to be okay, right?”

“Yeah.”

But I’m not convinced. She walks to the building and struggles to get through the door. A guy eventually opens it for her. She moves aimlessly through the lobby and then gets into an elevator. I can only hope this is where she lives and that she makes it into her apartment. I hesitate before taking off. Tell myself, At least she’s safer here than in the Civic Center.

I pull into the first parking spot I can find and contact Uber the only way I can: a support ticket through their clunky website. After clicking through a bunch of drop-down menus that encourage me to check the FAQ before contacting them, I explain in my message what happened, how I picked up the wrong passenger and had to take the girl home. I’m also worried how this mix-up will affect my rating. Since I have to rate Andrea before I can go back online, I’m sure she still has the option to rate me, at least until the fare has been reversed. I’ve worked hard to maintain my 4.9 rating. I’d hate to get dinged for what was essentially an emergency situation.

Why were there were twigs in the girl’s hair? I checked the back seat after she got out and discovered an enormous amount of crushed leaves on the floorboard. Way more than usual anyway. The girl could have been drugged at a bar on Polk Street and fell into some bushes as she wandered through the Tenderloin looking for a way home. With the influx of frat bros in San Francisco, GHB is floating around everywhere now. A few months back, the Wife and her friend were drugged at a hipster bar just a few blocks from our apartment in Temescal. The wife managed to stumble home, but her friend woke up the next morning in the emergency room. This shit is real.

More than anything, I wish there was a way to find out if she had actually requested an Uber and mistook me for her driver. Or was she so fucked up that she just saw the U in my window and expected me to take her home? The use of rideshare cars in San Francisco has become second nature for most people. Maybe, in her incapacitated state, she just followed instinct.

Uber, of course, would have some of these answers. They have the ability to see, in real time, all the Uber activity on the road. This isn’t the first time I’ve picked up the wrong passenger. It happened once while driving for Lyft. But that was several months ago and I was able to talk to somebody on the phone who told me he could see that the guy I was supposed to pick up had gotten into another car. Of course, that’s not an option with Uber. They have no telephone support.

The fact is, we are hardly protected if we get into an accident under normal circumstances. We are told to use our personal insurance, which won’t cover damages while engaged in commercial activity. And without a number to call, we can only email Uber afterwards and hope their insurance company decides to cover it. They also charge us a deductible. Had there been an accident while I was driving this girl home, I could have tried to use my own insurance and say she was a friend, or that I was just helping her out. But it would be difficult to explain why she was in my back seat unconscious. And I’d have to hope she would play along, if she remembered anything the next day.

It’s alarming to think how alone we are on the streets. This time, a disaster was averted. But what about all the other times? I’m not the first driver to face similar circumstances. This exact scenario happened recently in Boston and the driver raped the woman after forcing her to withdraw money from an ATM.

Every week there are new reports of Uber drivers assaulting and sexually harassing passengers. It seems Uber doesn’t worry about the negative publicity, as long as Uber is in the news cycle. Despite a storied history of erratic drivers, ridesharing continues to become commonplace. For each person who decides to avoid Uber because of a potential violent driver, there are others who see the counterpoint that one could just as easily be attacked by a cab driver. Still, it’s kind of ridiculous that when they have a chance to extoll the positive aspects of ridesharing, Uber is just as nonresponsive.

At the very least, they could have emailed me back. Told me something. They email me daily with deals for car loans and wake me up first thing every morning with texts about signing up my friends who drive for Lyft and Sidecar. And yet, I can’t even get a canned reply?

As it is, for all my effort, I’m just left with a potential low rating and an overwhelming sense of how vulnerable we are out there.

Every single one of us.