This week’s I Drive S.F. column for the S.F. Examiner is about the other side of San Francisco, the one you don’t see from an Uber/Lyft – the taxi side of The City …
“Since they’re spoon-fed ride requests, Uber/Lyft drivers don’t have to troll the streets of the Tenderloin at 1 a.m. looking for junkies running late meet up with their dealers before they turn into pumpkins …
“During my eleven months driving for Uber and Lyft, most of what I documented were studies in vapid entitlement, the occasional comedy of errors due to a technical glitch and jeremiads about the exploitative nature of the business model.
“Once in a taxi, though, things went into overdrive and I charged headlong into the unknown, fueled by a guileless enthusiasm tinged with fear and a thrash metal soundtrack. Each shift came with a variety of misadventures, discoveries and altercations. All I had to do was write it down.
“Although only some of the stories made it into the column, as many encounters weren’t – and still aren’t – suitable for the general reading public. The really wild rides are reserved for the zines, where I have more freedom to describe the sordid and ribald aspects of driving a taxi in San Francisco. But I still have to be careful what’s divulged, to not risk losing my A-card …”
Read the whole thing here.
[photo by Christian Lewis]
“I’ve been feeling so much better since laying off the drugs,” says Mr. Judy. “I’m on top of my game and totally killing it, man.”
While describing the benefits of a steady diet of poke and quinoa salads in between text messages, I respond with vacant grunts. It’s hard to concentrate on much but the spectacle of absurdity surrounding us.
Traveling eastbound on 16th past Guerrero, we’re trapped behind an Uber/Lyft that stopped suddenly halfway through the block. Even though there’s an open space in front of Katz and vacant parking spots further down the street, the driver just put on his hazards, impeding half a dozen vehicles. Including the 22-Fillmore, which ended up stuck in the intersection once the light turned red. Since the westbound lanes on 16th are clogged with commuters and more double-parked Uber/Lyfts, the entire corridor is on lockdown until the person who ordered this ride shows up.
A salvo of blaring horns does little to dissuade the driver from staging in the flow of traffic.
Finally, Judy looks up from his phone and asks, “Why aren’t we moving?”
“No surprise there,” Judy responds and snuffles twice.
When the light turns green, westbound traffic begins to move slowly. I see in my rearview that the intersection at Guerrero is congested with vehicles that can’t get past the bus.
“These maggots have no respect for anyone but themselves,” Judy continues. “It’s just me, me, me … Someone needs to do something.”
“You’re right,” I mumble, noticing a Sentra in the opposite lane hesitate, giving me a split-second opportunity to bypass the gridlock.
Of course, like most Bay Area drivers, the guy in the Sentra sees my move as an act of aggression and tries to play a game of chicken.
“YES!” Mr. Judy shouts in excitement. “FUCK YEAH!”
Now, I’m not driving like a maniac for the thrills. Besides thousands of hours of experience working the mean streets of San Francisco, I’m in a multicolored vehicle with a “TAXI” sign on top. Everyone else on the road should just assume I’m liable to do some “creative” maneuvering. But I’m also acutely aware that the thought of a hard-working cabbie doing his job is more than most drivers in San Francisco can bear.
As he lays on his horn, flashes his high beams and screams out his window, I careen through the logjam onto Albion.
“That was awesome,” Judy bellows with laughter.
Compared to the pandemonium of 16th Street, 17th is like Golden Gate Park after hours. At South Van Ness, I go left and take 14th to our destination: Best Buy.
Mr. Judy wants to buy a TV. Part of his new, wholesome lifestyle. No more staying out late at the bars, doing tequila shots and playing pool. From now on, he’s going home at a respectable hour to get enough sleep.
It’s all about reaching his full potential.
Read the rest here.
[photo by Shaun Osburn]
Thanks to the Cotter v. Lyft class action lawsuit, a check for $495 showed up in the mail last month. At first, I assumed this must be some marketing scheme. There was no way the check could possibly be real.
Before tossing the thing in the trashcan, though, I went onto some the Facebook groups for Uber/Lyft drivers…
Turns out, the check was totally legit.
What better way to spend the money, along with a small loan from a friend, than by printing revised and updated second editions of the first two Behind the Wheel zines, which I’d been wanting to do for some time. All of the text has been revised and additional content added.
Both are 60 pages long, half-sized, staple-bound, fully illustrated:
Behind the Wheel #1 features hand-drawn maps of the major neighborhoods of San Francisco. [More info on Behind the Wheel #1]
Behind the Wheel #2 features b&w photos taken around the city. [More info on Behind the Wheel #2]
Included are two stickers:
“disrupt the disruptors”
“your uber driver hates you”
(while supplies last – I also have “my other car is a taxicab” stickers – you can include a note if you prefer one kind or another or whatever you want…)
Price is $10 for BOTH – postpaid in the US.
So that’s $5 each, and I cover the shipping.
Outside the US, buyer pays shipping.
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]
I was talking with a journalist recently about the inevitable death of the taxi industry. He seemed surprised by my response, that taxis aren’t going anywhere.
“They may not look the same in the future,” I said, “or function the same, but when the day comes that a retired couple from Omaha flying into SFO is required to not only possess a smartphone but also download an app, give a third-party company their personal information, agree to terms of service that allow them to track their movements and then sell that information to other companies for marketing purposes just to get a ride into The City is the day you can officially say San Francisco has lost its soul.”
We were at The Orbit Room, and while he wrote down my comment, one of those old streetcars from Vienna clattered past on Market Street.
No, taxis aren’t going anywhere. And automated vehicles are a long, long way off. In San Francisco, anyway. Unless The City invests millions of dollars in public infrastructure.
Several months ago, I drove two guys who picked my brain about which streets in The City were the worst to drive on. As soon as I found out they worked for Ford, I challenged them on the issue of self-driving cars.
“You know they’ll never work here, don’t you?” I demanded. “It’s hard enough for a human to drive in this city, much less a computer. Besides potholes the size of Lake Merritt, many streets don’t even have clearly marked lanes. How are lasers supposed to detect something that’s not there? It’s impossible, right?”
Both guys nodded.
No, taxis aren’t going anywhere.
Read the rest here.
[photo by Douglas O’Connor]
This was a very interesting project I participated in with a few other cab drivers. The idea, as conceived by creator Lexa Walsh, was to have people from diverging points of view get together over tea and hors d’oeuvres and talk things through.
The project gathers artists, writers, tech workers, “sharing economy” laborers (Uber and Lyft drivers, AirBnB hosts) and their critics (taxi drivers, tenants rights activists) together in a hospitable environment so each may share their positions in a safe yet open and critical dialogue. Each position will be respectfully held in the space.
Besides taxi drivers, there were supposed to be a few Uber/Lyft drivers, but she wasn’t able to find any willing to participate. So we sat around the table, drinking tea and talking about the problems we face because of the onslaught of unregulated/untrained drivers.
Some of the quotes were commemorated on plates that hung in the backroom gallery at Adobe after the talks.