I got a fascinating letter from a person who's worked in the tourism business in San Francisco for many years, and he's very worried about the impact of the faux cabs on the city's biggest industry. Here's his note:
I'm a concerned representative of the tourism industry who read your article, "The cost of fake cabs," with great alarm. In fact, I think you should have mentioned more on how it could affect tourism beyond that just "inexperienced drivers aren't good for the city's reputation." I've been the Chief Concierge of a major Union Square-area hotel for the last 11 years, and if even half of what you say is true, then I fear there could be even greater damage than what your article portends.
According to the last statistic I read from the SFCVB, San Francisco welcomed 16.5 million visitors to the city in 2012, and although many of them may be "tech savvy," they often do not bring their smart and cell phones with them because it cost to much to use outside their own countries. Therefore, they are just as dependent on our taxis as those seniors and disabled San Franciscans you wrote would be disenfranchised. if, as your article infers, companies like Lyft and Sidecar (Et Al) continue their dominating trajectory over our traditional taxi industry, I worry how the millions of visitors who come to the city will be affected.
Unlike the aforementioned vulnerable San Franciscans who at least are somewhat familiar with the city, many of these visitors often have never been here before, so they have no knowledge of alternative ways of getting around and know only a taxi as a means of transportation.
Again if, as your article infers, this trend means a "race to the bottom" of qualified drivers, I fear the detrimental affect would greatly damage our city's number on industry - tourism. I know first had how sites like TripAdvisor can enhance or diminish a hotel's reputation, imagine what would happen if that were expanded tenfold and millions of visitors who could have negative taxi experiences damage the image of the city on line. It's not beyond the realm of reason to imagine if one of these under-regulated and under-taxed companies didn't like tourist A or tourist B for some reason, and then disseminates that information to the other companies; essentially blackballing said tourist completely.
As much concern as I have for those of our most vulnerable citizens who are already suffering the deleterious effects as these companies proliferate, I fear that our city's greatest industry would be harmed in ways not yet imagined. We really have no idea yet what the future is, and I fear those who can can do something about it are doubling down on an untested concept with possible disastrous effects.
Thank you for this opportunity to share my observations.