Tag Archives: national cab

Pimp my Taximeter

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As the prime movers behind the Uberization of San Francisco’s taxi industry, Flywheel, the taxi-hailing app, and Flywheel, the taxi company, seem so intent on emulating Uber that they’re even taking a page out of deposed CEO Travis Kalanick’s “Guide to Being a Complete Dirtbag.”

Last Wednesday, Flywheel sent out a message informing drivers not affiliated with one of their color scheme partners that we’ll no longer be receiving orders through the app. Unless, that is, we switch to one of the six color scheme partners.

Drivers were understandably outraged that Hansu Kim, the owner of Flywheel, the app, and Flywheel, the taxi company, would actually kneecap 1,000s of drivers who rely on the app for part of their income, as well as stymie users who expect Flywheel to provide prompt service and, through this divisive act, traduce the industry in the public eye.

As one driver put it: “Just when you think it can’t get any worse …”

But wait. It gets worse.

Since the color scheme partners listed in their first message all use Flywheel’s TaxiOS, instead of the traditional taximeter, most drivers assumed that was the proviso: Adopt their backend, app-based metering system and shoulder the massive costs associated with acquiring hundreds of smartphones to run the app, removing the old taximeter equipment and then paying them monthly service and network charges and a percentage of Flywheel orders, credit card-processing fees and dispatch orders routed through the app.

Displaying Uber-like greed, Flywheel seems to want a piece of all our action, on top of what we’re already giving the cab companies for leasing vehicles.

In return, we get the Flywheel orders back, for which we’d been paying them a cut of appropriately 13 percent.

Now that’s what you call a hornswoggling.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

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A Taxi Driver and His Cab

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This week’s column is about the Taxi Commandment: thou shalt not covet another taxi driver’s cab.

From my earliest days at National, I fought tooth and nail to get a regular cab that was clean and ran well. I cajoled and begged the cashiers, happily paying extra for National 182, a Ford Fusion that met the above criteria and didn’t have a regular driver. For almost two years, 182 was my trusted ride, until the medallion owner took it out of circulation on a long-term lease.

After that, I ended up with 1462, the only National cab with an ad topper, one of numerous cabs recently acquired from Yellow. I hated driving around with a glowing advertisement above me. Plus, the speakers were broken. So when Vic, the medallion owner/day driver, switched to a 24-hour lease, I was almost relieved to be back at the mercy of the window and the varying conditions and quality of the gate and gas fleet.

Veterans 215 was the best of the worst. Even though I’m not keen on Camrys, this was Juneaux’s former cab, and due to his persnickety nature, the inside had remained mostly clean. But as long as it stayed in general circulation, it’s condition rapidly deteriorated.

Months later, Alex finally told me I would be on Veterans 233, a Fusion with low mileage, leather seats and a sunroof. For weeks, I watched the vehicle transform from a regular car into a taxi. First the paint job, then the taximeter and tablet attached to the dashboard and a top light fastened to the roof. Eventually, SFO permit stickers were affixed to the side and, after several more inspections, the day arrived when I was handed the keys and medallion.

Now that I had a regular cab, my next battle was to make sure other drivers didn’t trash it. Because no matter how cherry a taxi is, most cab drivers seem intent on running a good taxi into the ground.

Read the rest here.

The Night We Drove Old Yellow Around

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It was just like the old days. Before the taxi industry went to shit. Back when people still called cab companies when they needed a ride. Especially on Friday nights, which is when the following aberration occurred.

Of course, as a driver in the post-Uber/Lyft world, the notion of taxis being in high demand is mostly abstract, based entirely on stories form drivers who were around then and still around now.

On this particular night, though, I got a taste of that bygone era…

It happened just after last call. During the transition period between 1:45 a.m. and 2:15 a.m., when most cabs are prowling the bars in the Mission, the Castro, Polk Street, SoMa and Union Square, while others begin forming ad hoc taxi stands outside DJ clubs like Public Works, the Great Northern, Audio, the EndUp and the Cat Club.

As I’m cruising down Valencia on my way to check out the line at Public Works, the dispatch radio comes alive.

Sometimes, I forget the two-way is even there, occasionally restarting the device to make sure it’s still functioning. There are nights when the only activity is drivers asking for radio checks. So I’m surprised to hear Jesse’s voice break the silence.

“Guys, there seem to be orders on the board,” he says. “I don’t know where they’re coming from, but I have phone numbers. If anyone wants to check them out …”

He starts listing off cross streets.

Since I’m only a few blocks away, I check in for Duboce and Valencia. I pull up outside Zeitgeist and ask for a callout.

“Hold on, 182.” After a short pause, Jesse responds, “On the way out.”

“Copy that.”

A few minutes later, a guy gets in the back of my cab, and I take him to Bernal Heights. I want to ask questions, figure out what’s going on with the sudden demand for taxis, but he isn’t chatty.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

Random Views from a San Francisco Taxi

Scenes of San Francisco and the Bay Area from behind the wheel:

Just Another Night in a Sanctuary City

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I’m inbound on Market. At Guerrero, a Luxor, a Citywide and a Vina are already waiting at the signal. Toplights blazing. When I roll up, two girls charge across the street from the Orbit Room and jump into my cab.

“We’ll be right there,” one screams into her phone. “We just got in an Uber.”

Uhhh …

Later, outside the W hotel, I pull up next to a Citywide. Out of nowhere, a guy makes a beeline for my cab.

“I’m not going far,” he says. “Do you know the Mint Plaza?”

I might feel bad about sideloading if the fares weren’t all crap.

After a futile loop through the Financial, I’m outbound on Sutter. There’s a Flywheel cab in front of me. Toplight on. Which doesn’t mean shit anymore. Even though their fancy new TaxiOS meters are supposed to revolutionize the taxi industry, they still haven’t figured out how to make the toplight go out automatically when they have a fare.

As we approach Stockton, the Flywheel moves to the center lane. I pull up next to him at the light. When the doorman at the Grand Hyatt blows his whistle, my Pavlovian response is to inch forward. I look over at the Flywheel driver. He’s actually empty, glaring at me. I can tell he’s salivating, too.

He may have been in pole position, but he changed lanes. That fare is mine. He’d have to do something cra—. What? He’s got his left turn indicator on? Oh, hell no! I inch forward. He inches forward. I inch forward a little more.

When the light turns green, I gun it and pull up to the hotel with the Flywheel hot on my tail. Sorry, Charlie. I avoid eye contact as he drives away.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

Where and Where Not to Buy Weed on the Street in San Francisco

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The only time I’ve ever been mugged was in the Civic Center BART station 20 years ago when I tried to buy weed from a crack dealer. After the guy stopped pummeling me and I gave him the $20 he knew I had, a man who looked like my “Shakespeare in Rome” professor asked me, “Did that guy just rob you?”

I’m heading inbound on Market, trying to prevent a Yellow cab in the right lane from getting the jump on me, when a guy flags me at the Seventh Street Muni island stop. He opens my front door, and I quickly grab my bag and stow it under my seat. He asks how much to Ocean Beach. I tell him around $20.

“Let’s do it,” he says.

I turn right on Sixth and start driving west.

His name is Hugh. He’s from Sydney, in San Francisco working on some project for a tech firm. Spent the past two weeks sequestered in an incubator in the Mission. This is the first time he’s been free to venture out and explore The City.

“So what have you been up to?” I ask.

“Well, I just lost $300 trying to buy weed.”

“Why’d you think you could buy pot around here?” I ask, more nonplussed than he seems to be. They only sell crack and heroin in mid-Market. Some pot dealers hang out by Jones Street, but they usually close up shop early.

Hugh shrugs. “I just wanted to celebrate turning in the first part of my project this morning.”

This week’s column is about buying drugs on the street in San Francisco… It’s not always easy…

Read it here.

I Drive a Taxi So You Don’t Have to

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This week’s column is about growing weary of the taxi conversation, creating confusion by driving a clean cab, exhaustion from working long shifts and unconsciously eating yoghurt naked due to said exhaustion… But not necessarily in that order…

There are days when I don’t even want to think about driving a taxi. Days when I’d just as soon contemplate anything but what goes on behind the wheel of a cab at night in The City.

Today is one of those days.

Given the option, I’d rather discuss this psychotic election cycle, the hunger strike outside the Mission Police Station, the fate of Syrian refugees or even my fucked up life. Anything but taxis. But this is supposed to be a column about driving a taxi … so taxis it is. 

Read the rest here.

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Photo by Christian Lewis.