Tag Archives: san francisco drivers

The Many Potholes on the Road to Self-Driving Cars

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“You know it’s a good ride,” Juneaux texts me after letting me know he’d gotten a ride to  Palo Alto, “when you’re using cruise control on the way back The City. 

Just as I’m about to respond with “You lucky bastard,” I get flagged by two guys on the corner of Post and Powell.

“Do you know of any strip clubs open this late?” one asks. 

Five minutes later and $50 richer, I drive away from New Century, thinking about the different services we offer as taxi drivers and how difficult it would be to replace the taxi experience with self-driving cars.

Take the four women I picked up earlier that day outside Magnolia on Haight for example. They’re going to the Marriott Maquis. 

“But first we need to see the painted ladies. Is that alright?”

That’s more than alright. A $15 fare turned into a $25 fare, since I obviously had to show them other Victorians in the neighborhood. 

How can you get service like that from a self-driving car? 

Read the rest here.

 
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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.

One App to Rule Them All: On Centralized Taxi Dispatching

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I had a 24 year old kid in my taxi this weekend who asked me the same question I get asked all the fucking time: “Ever thought about driving for Uber or Lyft?”

I always respond the same way, as I try to deflect the question and change the subject: “Don’t own a car.”

Further inquiry usually ends there, although some people know it’s possible to easily acquire a car to drive for Uber and Lyft, as these companies continue to make it incredibly simple for anyone with a pulse and halfway decent background history to drive for hire.

Well, this kid didn’t know about leasing options that Uber provide, thankfully, but he went on to tell me, in his opinion as a resident of Concord, how the San Francisco taxi industry failed and how, if they’d had an app early on, Uber and Lyft wouldn’t have bankrupted the cab companies.

I point out that Cabulous, which became Flywheel, predates UberX, which didn’t launch until Summer 2012. So, yes, taxis had apps even before Uber.

“Think about it…” I say to the guy. “Everyone’s trying to come up with ideas for apps… hailing a cab isn’t that original, especially in a city like San Francisco, where, as any longtime resident can tell you ad nauseam, it was next to impossible to get a cab. So coming up with an app to summon a taxi in San Francisco is kind of a no-brainer, right?”

The argument that taxis have failed to adopt to technology is crap. It was the cab companies who resisted both centralized dispatching and app-based dispatching out of pure greed and lack of foresight.

The drivers themselves, obviously determined to maximize their profits, have been experimenting with apps from the beginning.

Drivers use every ride-hailing app available, to varying degrees of happiness, and will no doubt praise and criticize any others that come down the road.

Drivers who don’t want to use their cab company’s Veriphone credit card processing get Square instead.

Drivers are also so determined to cross color schemes, several hundred us use the GroupMe app to communicate with each other in real time. Throughout our shifts, we post updates on when events are breaking and to let each other know where demand is high, which is similar to Uber’s heat maps or Lyft’s weekly email of upcoming events, except the information in the SF Hackers group is based on actual eyes-on-the-street reports and an actual comprehensive listing of all concerts and events provided by one of the members, who also happens to be a dispatcher.

Undeterred, to prove that taxis are the cause of their own demise, he brings up the price difference between taxis and Uber/Lyft, even though I immediately counter with the fact that when UberX and Lyft both started, they cost more than taxis and have only lowered prices to compete in a race to the bottom. And anyway, in the end, we all know Uber is only interested in logistics.

“But…” he goes on.

Whatever…

The issue is moot.

I guess Cabulous/Flywheel, Taxi Magic, Summon and all the other taxi-hailing apps, which could have provided San Francisco’s much needed centralized dispatch, just weren’t as sexy as the “Uber-iquitous” U symbol everyone has come to love and/or hate.

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Anyway, this week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about centralized dispatching.

Read it here.

Photos by Trevor Johnson.

When the driving ends, the real slog beings

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It would seem, now that your shift is over, that your work here is done. Soon, you’ll be home in Oakland, lying in bed, reading about the latest atrocities on Facebook. But you don’t have a car anymore. You lost that in the breakup. So you’re at the mercy of public transportation.

And since the first BART train doesn’t hit 24th Street until 4:20 a.m., you gas up at the Chevron where you don’t have to prepay, turn in your cab and wait outside the office smoking with the other drivers, building up a head of steam to make the 30-minute walk to the station.

Read the rest…

Guilty of Driving a Cab

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Originally printed in the S.F. Examiner

 

 

Driving a cab in San Francisco is like wearing a target around your neck. It’s always open season on taxis. On good days, the contempt most people have toward the taxi industry misses the mark. But on the bad days, it’s a shot straight to the heart.

In the four months I’ve been driving a cab, I’ve been disrespected as a matter of course. Honked at more times than I can count. As if I’m asking people to sacrifice their first born to let me change lanes in front of them. Nobody cuts me any slack. During rush hour, I have to fight for each one-fifth of a mile to get passengers where they’re going.

I was driving up Kearny Street last Saturday night and a guy in an Uber SUV spit on my cab. The tourists in my backseat were horrified. “Oh, just part of driving a taxi in San Francisco,” I joked.

A month ago, while picking up a fare on King Street, some joker knocked my side mirror off and drove away. I spent two hours at the police station filing a report. “Won’t be the last time,” the officer doing the paperwork nonchalantly told me.

This week I paid San Francisco $110 for “obstructing traffic” in front of a strip club at 1:30 a.m. The SFMTA mailed the citation to my cab company. Claimed I was a “drive away.” Of course I drove away. I’m a taxi driver. That’s what I do. I drive, I stop, I pick up passengers and then I drive away.

From City Hall to fresh-faced transplants, everyone hates cabs. And yet, I can’t help but wonder: What happened to the mythology of cab driving?

My earliest memory is being in a taxi. The family station wagon was in the shop. I remember sitting in the backseat with my mother. The driver was listening to news radio. Something about President Ford.

As a child of the ’70s, glued to the TV set, I never missed an episode of “Taxi.” I couldn’t wait to see what shenanigans Latka and Iggy would get into. I’d laugh as Louie berated all the drivers who hung around the garage solving each other’s problems. In “Taxi Driver,” there was Travis Bickle, the loner moving through the streets of New York like a reluctant servant to the night and all its proclivities. Even “D.C. Cab” portrayed a struggling taxi company as the ultimate underdog, with Mr. T the baddest cabdriver who ever lived.

As fascinating as cabs were to me growing up, I didn’t use them much until I moved to New Orleans, where most of the drivers doubled as tour guides, concierges of vice or therapists. I’ve sighed more than once in the back of a New Orleans cab and had the driver say, “Lay it on me, baby.”

I never thought I’d drive a taxi myself. In my illustrious career as an overeducated slacker, I’ve worked as a cook, painter, flea market vendor, book dealer and personal assistant. Taxi driving wasn’t much of a stretch. So when the wife and I ended up in Oakland last year, with no other prospects, I decided to do the Uber-Lyft thing.

Before I ever hit the road, I pinned a map of San Francisco to the wall. I studied the streets and how they intersected each other. For two weeks, the wife and I drove around The City figuring out major thoroughfares and how to get from one neighborhood to the next.

After a few months, it was obvious app-based transportation is only a simulacrum of taxi driving. But I’d learned enough to know I could do the real thing.

Switching to a taxi was an intimidating proposition, though, based on all the horrible things I’d heard from my passengers. San Franciscans love to complain about transportation. And the only thing worse than Muni and BART are taxis.

I thought it would be different for me. Despite the muddied reputation I’d inherited. I wanted to be a great taxi driver. I still do. But it doesn’t matter who’s behind the wheel. In this city, a color scheme and a top light will always be targets for disdain.

SF Taxi Views: Finding Old San Francisco in the New

Sometimes in a taxi, if you squint your eyes just right, you can see traces of what used to be…national-cab-polk-street

Like smoking next to my cab with this homeless guy outside the Hilton in Union Square when a group of tourists fresh off a tour bus offer us their Buca di Beppo leftovers…

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Or giving a skanky hooker a free ride from Mason to Polk as she propositions me the whole way and then, after I repeatedly reject her offers for “sexy time,” bums my second to last cigarette and insists I drop her off right on the corner so the other girls can see her get out of a cab…

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Or waiting for the green light at Market and 5th next to a burning trashcan, pretty as you please, like that’s just what trashcans on Market do…

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Or cab-standing in front of the Gold Club at 2am, only to get a businessman burning the midnight oil who walked down from New Montgomery because he knew he could always catch a cab that late in front of a strip club…

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Or hanging out at a taxi driver cocktail party in yard, which is a cross between a hobo campfire and a bunch of pirates getting drunk after a night of pillaging and plundering…

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Or driving to Tiburon as the fog rolls through the Golden Gate and you can’t even see the bridge, but still confident that somehow you will make it to the Marin Headlands safe and sound…

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And especially, coming back to the city on the 280 after an airport run, taking the 6th Street exit and seeing San Francisco spread out across the sky, not like a patient etherized, but a stately pleasure-dome… an ascetic’s Xanadu.

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A Day in the Life of an Uber/Lyft Driver in San Francisco

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(an excerpt from the zine Behind the Wheel 2: Notes from an Uber/Lyft)

Most days, I wake up around noon. Usually hung-over. My first thought is always the same: probably should’ve skipped that last drink. At the time, though, it felt absolutely necessary. Vodka has a way of alleviating some of the physical stress from driving a car all night. At least temporarily.

After several months of driving for Lyft and Uber, my neck is like an open wound. The muscles that run from my shoulder to my jaw are steel rods. I have very little radius when I turn my head left or right. The tension never goes away. It makes my teeth ache. There is a real possibility that I have some dislocated vertebrae. My joints hurt. My right ankle has a creak in it. And I have a chronic case of hemorrhoids. No matter how much ointment I apply, they remain perpetually enflamed. Old age has not only crept up on me, it has run past me and turned around to taunt me.

Besides the physical exhaustion of driving a car in the city, there is also the psychological toll. It’s one thing to maintain a diligent eye on my blind spots, the other cars on the road, speeding bicyclists and cavalier pedestrians, but I also have to project a sunny disposition and be accommodating to my passengers. Or risk a negative rating. Not an easy task when I’d rather be committing murder. And yet, with enough Ativan and caffeine in my system, somehow I make it through another shift. Like when the endorphins kick in after a boot to the nut sack, these superficial interactions with complete strangers have a numbing effect after awhile. As long as it’s busy and I have enough rides to keep my mind off the grueling process. The slow nights can be torture and I can’t wait to get home so I can pummel my brain with alcohol, pills and weed until I stop obsessing over the streets of San Francisco, their order and how they intersect with each of the forty-seven neighborhoods.

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