Tag Archives: market street

Taking Grandma to the Crack Store

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After dropping a fare in the Richmond District late one night, I head toward Haight Street. With low expectations and the 7-Noriega in front of me, I cruise past Milk Bar, Murio’s and The Alembic. At Cole, I manage to overtake the bus.

Outside of Club Deluxe a short, elderly woman sidesteps a group of smoking hepcats and hisses, “Cabbie!”

I hit the brakes.

She approaches my window with a crumpled $20 bill and mumbles, “Downtown.”

“Sure. Get in,” I say, cringing as the bus barrels down on me and she’s slowly climbing into the back of my cab. When she shuts the door it doesn’t close all the way. I take off anyway.

“Where downtown are you going?” I ask.

She responds in an unintelligible garble.

“Where?”

She mumbles something several times before I finally realize she’s saying, “Walgreens.”

“Which one?” I inquire.

“Downtown.”

“But there are so many.”

“Downtown!”

“OK.” I take a left at Ashbury.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

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SF Pride in all its splendor

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My column this week is about driving a taxi during Pride weekend.

On Saturday, The City is abuzz with gaiety. Market Street is like a jugular vein from Civic Center to the Castro. Traffic streams inbound and out. The sidewalks are crowded with partiers who stop at each bar and inquire, “Is this a gay bar?” To which the answer is always, “Yes!”

It is Pride weekend, after all.

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People, people everywhere, but not a flag in sight.

In the doldrums, I try to stay optimistic. Around midnight, the phone networks become overloaded, forcing people to wander onto side streets and up 17th to get a connection so they can order their Ubers and Lyfts. Other people jump in taxis.

“Oh, thank you so much for taking me home! I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t been there.”

It feels good to be appreciated, however misguided.

Read the rest here.

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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.