Why I drive a taxi

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By Beth Powder

OPINION I left a 17-year career in film to become a taxi driver. I just wanted to be here full time, drive a taxi, and write.

I've taken cabs in several cities and countries over the last 20-odd years. When I got here in 1998, it took two hours for a taxi to get to my house on 43rd Avenue. I still never would've gotten into anyone's personal car and paid them for a ride, no matter how hard it was to get a cab sometimes. Not in San Francisco. Not in Jamaica. Not in Jamaica, Queens.

I'm from Toledo, Ohio originally. We always went on road trips. Maybe being in such close proximity to Detroit, some of that car mojo rubbed off on us. My mother is the kind of woman who, at 70 years old, will drive cross-country alone, stopping to call me at 3am from deserted truck stops outside Amarillo, Texas. You might see why I'd drive a taxi.

I have a feeling that a lot of the anti-taxi contingent now in this city haven't taken too many cabs. Cabs could never put me off because I'd taken so many of them and I knew I was safer in one than standing in a crosswalk. I've been hit by cars on foot and on my bike but I've never been in an accident in a cab. Not in London. Not in Los Angeles. Not here.

I don't drive for Lyft or Uber because San Francisco cab drivers receive workers compensation and TNC drivers don't. Because Lyft mustaches look unprofessional to me. I went to taxi school, got fingerprinted, had a background check, and got licensed.

My taxi has 24/7 commercial livery insurance. My company pays the bills if there's an accident. San Francisco taxi companies don't have bylaws stating that passengers cannot hold them liable. San Francisco taxi companies don't have bylaws stating that passengers take taxis at their own risk. San Francisco taxi companies don't have bylaws that can be legally interpreted to allow discrimination against passengers of any persuasion. We have to accept pets. And we have to be green.

San Francisco taxis pick up bartenders, sweet old ladies at the hospital who don't have smart phones, teachers, lawyers, wheelchair users, people of color, San Francisco Giants, former mayor Willie Brown, hookers, trannies, ballerinas, and limo drivers. Everybody. You don't need a smartphone, but you can always hail a cab using an app called Flywheel.

I'm not a fan of the smugness emanating from Lyft, Uber, et all. Perpetuating spurious claims that cab drivers are all scary or awful is neither cute nor clever. And it certainly isn't true.

It's far more likely for a passenger to physically attack a cab driver than the opposite. About a month ago, several men took a cab from my fleet to San Mateo and severely beat up the driver. We have video cameras in every single San Francisco cab, but that still didn't guarantee this driver's safety. Nonetheless crime and accidents in taxis are down significantly.

We're mothers, fathers, grandparents, students, artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs. Cab drivers give companionship, counseling, and safe passage to their passengers.

I want to know how we can have faith in TNCs when drivers aren't commercially licensed, fully insured, and packing security cameras. How should we feel about droves of these Uber and Lyft phones being shared by multiple drivers, when only one is on record? What happens when a TNC is wrapped around a pole and the driver is held responsibility for their own safety and well-being. These brand new cars won't be paid off before we start to witness incidents such as this.

How's a "young mother just trying to make some extra pocket money" going to feel when she has her wages garnished into perpetuity because she rear-ended someone? She's personally liable with the TNC company. She's your friend with a car who absorbs all legal responsibility whether she's found at-fault or not.

Comments

I couldn't have said it better myself. The city has unfortunately decided not to demonstrate its appreciation of drivers like you and me.

Posted by Taxibarry on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 5:59 pm

After driving a taxi in San Francisco for almost 9 years. I wish I could believe what you say. I was in an accident with an uninsured motorist and the taxi company did everything they could to avoid paying my medical bills which were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. I felt n support from the taxi industry nor the SFMTA for being involved while working as a taxi driver in San Francisco. You are not as covered as you think you are in a taxi as a driver!

Posted by Dean Clark on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 10:47 pm
Posted by Guest on Jul. 16, 2014 @ 12:05 am

Enjoyed your well written article. I've been driving since 1983, you reminded me why I'm in this business.

Posted by GuestRon Wolter on Jul. 16, 2014 @ 12:08 am

I agree (mostly) with what the author says, very well written. He misses a couple of good points though but let's start with the negative before we get to the positive. Lyft and Uber exist for a reason and that's because the taxi industry has delivered what I consider appalling service over the years:

- I've missed lights because pre-booked taxi's haven't shown up and dispatch has refused to call the driver to find out where they are.
- I still sit in taxi's where the driver is loudly talking on his phone for the entire trip.
- We've all seen them break road rules, but we all do that :)
- On heavy nights, you can't get a taxi... there just isn't enough supply.
- I've had drivers argue with me on how to drive me to my house (like I don't know how to get home?).
- Taxi drivers refusing to take credit cards and demanding cash.

If everyone was happy with the taxi service, Lyft and Uber wouldn't exist...

Yet I still disagree with Lyfy and Uber in principle and will ONLY ever take a taxi and maybe I'll order a town car if and only if I can't get a taxi to come out to somewhere like The Presidio to get me here's why:

Lyft and Uber do not have the same barrier to entry that taxi drivers have (rules, fee's medallions etc). This is exactly the same as me opening a restaurant, paying rent, meeting health requirements etc, and someone opening a food stand outside my restaurant selling the exact same food but not paying rent or being inspected by the health department. If that happened we'd be all in an uproar.

The author missed two other important points to support his cause:

- These added drivers add congestion to the road. My ride/drive now takes longer because there are 1000's of extra vehicles on the road, many of which don't know how to drive.
- Taxi drivers (I think) have to have NEW hybrid vehicles when they upgrade. They cost more so the taxi drivers have a higher cost of entry into the market. The Lyft driver can have an old car, that is not environmentally friendly... more cars on the road, less environmentally friendly... do the math...

Like I said, I will still only ever take a taxi because I believe in fairness. Either you deregulate the taxi industry and have them all play by the same "rules" (or lack of) or you make Lyft and Uber follow the same rules as taxi drivers. That's only fair.

To show how Lyft thinks... Lyft have recently started placing advertisements as "comments" under fake names on Facebook Event pages, showing their company motto of getting things for free "advertise but don't pay for it"... "be a taxi, but don't pay for it".

I'm not a taxi driver, I don't know any taxi drivers personally but I am a person and I believe in fairness. The taxi industry is not perfect and certainly they have got better since Lyft and Uber started taking their business. But that is probably a result of competition, not them wanting to deliver better service. These car sharing services are not held to the same standards and that's just not cool by me so I wont use them.

By the way... I also use that Flywheel app religiously, it's really good!

Posted by Deke on Jul. 16, 2014 @ 9:30 am

Just a quick apology. In my post I said "he" when I didn't notice the authors name was Beth, I should have said "she". I'm very sorry about that sexist assumption!!!

Posted by Deke on Jul. 16, 2014 @ 10:25 am

Well-written. One typo you cd fix: "when a TNC is wrapped around a pole and the driver is held responsibility".
Dean Clark, whose comment is above, is a well-known trouble-maker, hates the cab company he drove for. He ran for mayor, I think. Cab drivers are covered for uninsured motorists.

Posted by tagletigre on Jul. 16, 2014 @ 6:29 pm

Hey Deke, thanks for your comments. I would have said more but 2,200 words got cut down to 700 here. I said we have to be green to cover the congestion and hybrid points that you made because I had to conform to a lower word count. And one of the many reasons I drive is because of the issues people have had with taxis here for years. There are some of us fighting right now to turn the industry around. Please remember that there have always been great drivers here in the city and they are all trying to educate some of the folks who contributed to the negative stigma this industry carries sometimes.

And don't worry about having said, "he." No biggie!

Posted by Guest on Jul. 17, 2014 @ 3:58 pm

I feel sorry for the individual cab driver, but...

some examples.

25 years ago I would flag down drivers and tell them where I was going,

Driver "I'm about to get off so I can't go to the Mission"

Me "your cab company is at 12 and Harrison 6 blocks from where I am going" or "Your cab company is on Army st, where I am going is between here and there"

Driver, drives away. At one time drivers would do whatever possible to stay out of the Mission. From the looks of some drivers I would assume lying was against their religion.

I used to get off work at 8am, it would often take an hour for a cab to show up, when going down New Montgomery there would be half a dozen cabs sitting in front of the hotel, 10 minutes from where I called from. I feel so bad that those folks sitting in front of the hotel now have compete with other services.

etc...

After decades of shitty unreliable service many people I know just gave up on calling cabs or used gypsy cabs if they lived in the Avenues. The cab industry and cab drivers have no one to blame but themselves.

The monopoly system failed now the industry wants a do over. For a monopoly to work it has to partner with the government, the cab companies restricted supply thanks to the city while the drivers pulled their bullshit. And the citizens they were supposed to serve got the screws.

Your "do it for the people" concept here would hold a lot more energy if it wasn't for the decades of "fuck you" that the cab industry has treated the citizens to.

Posted by comarade X on Jul. 19, 2014 @ 4:41 am

Sounds like the writer has some mental/psychiatric issues. After reading this krap I can tell you that have never driven a cab and some one paid you to write this phoney story.
I was a taxi driver in SF for 10 yrs till 2012. I had a long term lease with stupid Arrow checker cab paying $5700/month + $300 in tips+ my own car+ gas+ other running expenses +A TON OF RUSSIAN S**T a day. This price for hauling drunks all night.
I don"t know why some people are just sold to the cabs.

Posted by Guest paul on Jul. 21, 2014 @ 8:01 am

Nice piece Beth – who most certainly does drive a taxi. Keep up the good work

The above crank should try Desoto. They treat you like people there.

Posted by Ed Healy on Aug. 04, 2014 @ 8:45 am

No trouble getting Lyft or Uber in The Avenues.

Regular taxis have not been seen in The Avenues since the 1970s. The residents thought they were extinct.

Posted by Barton on Aug. 06, 2014 @ 7:43 pm

Reliable, available, comfortable and affordable.

I'm loving the sharing economy.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 06, 2014 @ 7:48 pm

You're one of the lucky few, I know several people who report as much difficulty getting a lyft or Uber in the outer Richmond and Sunset as they have had with real cabs.

Posted by guest on Aug. 07, 2014 @ 2:30 pm

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