Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Taxi Protest at City Hall

The sound of hundreds of honking horns rang through Civic Center at noon today as taxi cabs circled San Francisco City Hall for a couple of hours.

They were protesting the rise of ridesharing services, according to the San Francisco Cab Drivers Association website.

The SFCDA site announcing the protests states, "As we all know, our industry is under attack by illegally operating taxis like Lyft, Sidecar and UberX, who are undercutting our industry by avoiding regulations and insurance requirements. Let’s make our voices heard and show our strength in numbers. We will have speakers and news media present. There will be a rally on the steps of City Hall. Bring your cabs, come on foot to SHOW OUR NUMBERS. Picket signs will be provided to SHOW OUR STRENGTH AND UNITY. THESE CRIMINALS NEED TO BE STOPPED!"

Though the protestors' Mayor Lee signage with pink Lyft moustaches was amusing, it was difficult to feel much sympathy for San Francisco's cab industry. For decades, they have focused all their energies on a war between owners and drivers, and who could be squeezed the most. Meanwhile, any discussion of passenger customer service has been conspicuously absent, as fares became more expensive and service disintegrated.

In a Tech Chronicles post today at SFGate about the war on ridesharing services at the San Francisco Airport, a commenter named auntjenny left a familiar complaint:
"the taxi service in this town is abysmal. on a regular basis when hailing a cab, i will see four or five empty cabs go by me with their rooftop "taxi" light on (which signals they are available). and the driver looking at me tells me they see me. the drivers are more often than not discourteous and unsafe and are usually on their phones (although they all seem to use headsets). a good part of the time they do not even know how to get to the location i ask to be driven to. and then they expect a huge tip. i am 100% for the other companies picking up the ample slack in this service. they are more safe than the taxis, and are usually quicker and way more courteous."

I took my last San Francisco taxi about 15 years ago, after one trip too many with a discourteous, dangerously bad driver who didn't know where they were going. It actually seemed safer to take Muni than a cab, even on the bus lines' sketchiest routes. The personal boycott was also an excuse to embark on long walks instead, making sure to be be extra watchful for cabs making impatient turns in crosswalks, pedestrians be damned.


Hattie said...

There was a ride sharing service that went down Mission Street to Daly City in the 50's. I used it frequently. But I do appreciate that working class people are having a hard time everywhere, and SF is probably just about impossible for people of ordinary means.

Civic Center said...

Dear Hattie: The jitneys, which were once an integral part of people getting around in San Francisco, were killed by City Hall in the late 1970s/early 1980s.

Kevin said...

I don't think it's really necessary to slander all the taxi drivers. It should be enough to say that there is no legitimate reason for the city to outlaw these services. The idea that Lyft/Uber/Sidecar is somehow substantially less safe than a taxi does not stand up to a straight face test.

Civic Center said...

Dear Kevin: You are correct. There are plenty of good taxi drivers in San Francisco and I don't mean to slander them with my broad brush. There are also plenty of awful ones too.

The problem, I think, is more systemic than a few bad apples, though, and it's only gotten worse since the corrupt and dysfunctional MTA took over taxi and livery governance.

janinsanfran said...

One of my favorite San Francisco anarchists, Brad Newsham, of human beach art fame has worked long and hard as a driver and to organize drivers.

I suspect Brad would totally agree that the taxi industry is FUBAR, but it will only get worse if unlicensed services siphon off the easier fares ...

Civic Center said...

Dear Jan: One of the problems is that after decades of outrageously unreliable and expensive taxicab service in San Francisco, just about everybody is looking for an alternative, not just the "easier fares." You drive a car so maybe you don't know quite how dysfunctional it is out there.

I've known United Taxi Workers organizer Mark Gruberg for decades, and he's a smart, honest, articulate spokesman for drivers' concerns. However, I don't remember ever hearing a word about passenger concerns at any of those Taxi Commission meetings. The entire industry and everybody who is getting a part of the take, including the MTA, is complicit. They've killed their own not-so-golden goose