Taxis reinvent themselves to be more like Lyft

As this image from Lyft's Facebook page demonstrates, some drivers are true believers.

For all the (justified) grumbling about the business models of ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber, the so-called ridesharing revolution may prove to be a catalyst for a taxi industry overhaul.

“We’re adding hundreds more taxis, and our board has approved regulations for each vehicle to provide real-time locational information,” San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency spokesperson Paul Rose told me in an interview yesterday.

“One of our goals is to move forward with making the data available to our customers to hail a cab with an app,” Rose added, referencing a plan unveiled by the transit agency several weeks ago. Faced with stiff competition from random vehicles adorned with garish pink mustaches, the taxi industry is taking a stab at evolution, or at least imitation.

This week’s issue of the Guardian includes a story by journalist and part-time Lyft driver Josh Wolf, exposing a catch-22 facing Lyft drivers seeking full-coverage auto insurance. On our Politics Blog, reporter Joe Fitzgerald highlights a similar question that surfaced around ridesharing after an Uber driver’s involvement in a terrible accident.

The question of who foots the bill after someone gets crippled in a rideshare wreck is one of many accompanying the rise of unregulated app-connected cabs. Customers hailing a car with Uber have nowhere to turn in the event of a bad encounter, in contrast with the SFMTA’s complaint system for monitoring registered cabbies.

The SFMTA receives 100 to 120 cab-related complaints each month, and requires the city’s 311 information hotline info to be posted in every registered vehicle. “We follow up with every incident,” Rose said. “Results range from addressing or notifying the driver, to the very extreme – a revocation of a permit.”

To be a cab driver right now, paying off the pricey medallion they must purchase in order to operate while oblivious new transplants rake in the cash without following the same set of rules, must be infuriating.

At the same time, let’s be honest here. There’s a reason people are ditching conventional cabs and climbing into cars with random strangers who may be beckoned with the tap of a smartphone. And it has nothing to do with passengers’ sentiments about government regulation or newly minted tech millionaires.

Head over to Yelp (sorry, but it’s instructive) and read the comments yourself: Services like Lyft, Uber, and Sidecar are garnering rave reviews (Homobiles actually seems to have won the most ardent fans of all), while Yelpers use the online forum for virtual venting sessions to describe their frustrating taxi experiences. Maybe it’s a skewed sample, but there seem to be lot of people out there who were left languishing while waiting for a cab, and they’re pissed. No wonder Silicon Valley investors think it’s a good idea to dump $60 million into some faux-taxi scheme lacking clarity on even the basic question of insurance.

Wolf wrote about his experience as a Lyft driver; here’s my personal anecdote as a taxi patron. I called for a cab on a recent weekday and it never showed. When I phoned again to ask where it was, a robotic voice intoned, “an error has occurred,” and then the line went dead. Twice. When I dialed a second company, the dispatcher told me flat out that there were no cars close by. He suggested I just call someplace else, because he couldn’t help. 


The taxi industry lags far behind the lightning-speed reality many Bay Area residents have come to inhabit, but if it weren’t for the competition, they might not have any incentive to change.

Rideshare services might be your quintessential rogue tech companies backed by nauseating sums of venture capital, but at the end of the day, people also want taxi service that does not suck. The Lyft drivers I’ve met tend to be people like Wolf – young, idealistic, bent on pursuing a creative passion despite the city’s high cost of living, and grateful for flexible work hours that make it possible to follow that dream and still make rent.

With that, here’s a sappy breakup letter composed to Yellow Cab by one Cori D., a Yelper. “I just don't love you anymore,” she writes. “You've left me waiting on the curb one too many times now without a word. No ‘I'll be a little late’ or ‘sorry you're late for work now.’ … So I'm leaving you. In fact, I'll confess that I've been cheating on you. Uber is just so handsome and reliable. … You might even say he bends over backward for me.”

True story? Or just some clever guerilla marketing orchestrated to plug Uber? Like most things pertaining to San Francisco’s information-age gold rush, it’s impossible to know for sure.


business wasn't so overbearingly regulated in the first place, then share-economy entities like Uber and Lyft would not find it so easy to gain traction. IOW, why isn't a can as easy to find in SF as it is in Manhattan?

Just like if there were no rent control, there would be far fewer short-term rentals in SF via AirBnB or whatever.

See, the share economy is a reaction to an over-regulated, over-taxed society.

That's a big fat old "DUH" looking right at ya there, Rebecca.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 09, 2013 @ 10:26 am


Posted by Guest on Aug. 09, 2013 @ 11:36 am

Without rent control the market-rate cost of a 1-bedroom apartment would probably be about 2 grand instead of $2,500. A significant difference, but no where near the differential that allows longtime San Francisco residents to remain in the city, thanks to their rent controlled apartments.

Posted by Josh Wolf on Aug. 10, 2013 @ 11:23 am

nobody ever moves and everyone desperately squats in the same place for a lifetime.

Housing policy should be set on the basis that we have the right kind of housing for the kind of worker that the city wants and needs.

A sclerotic housing policy inhibits the free movement of labour to and from the city.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 10, 2013 @ 9:20 pm

Oh I see, so you believe long time residents of SF should be pushed out by you Ayn Rand selfish socially bankrupt losers. Forced out of their long time HOME. Of course it doesn't occur to you that this is their home because you proly think of home being what ever state you came from - sometime in the last few years - leaving back there when you want to have your little miracle - oh wait resulting in higher real estate & rental prices. douh

Posted by Carol-O on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 8:11 am

If you wanted to make SF your permanent home, you should have purchased property here.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 8:58 am

because that is a matter for people to decide for themselves. But if public policy does have a preference for a class of people it should be for those who are productive and who create prosperity here.

The coincidental fact of how long you've been here isn't material.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 9:47 am


"No where". Should be nowhere.

Did that teach grammar in your remedial English class at State?

Posted by Anon on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 3:17 pm

You must feel stupid when, in making a comment about someone's grammar, you use the wrong word in the last sentence.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 01, 2013 @ 5:50 pm
Posted by Guest on Oct. 01, 2013 @ 6:24 pm


San Francisco has more taxis per capita than NYC.... FYI.
The geography of SF is not conducive to efficient fleet coverage everywhere in the city and when you couple that with violent swings in demand, it can be very easy or very frustrating to get a cab anywhere. It is not over-regulation at all that has messed up the taxi industry, its mostly people like you that think you know it all and feel its ok to treat a cabbie like they are less than human.

I'm sure you would post with your real name if you really knew you were right and not some troll.

Posted by Trevor Johnson on Aug. 12, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

The claim that society is over-regulated and over-taxed is so broad a claim it lacks meaning or utility. Regulations and taxes are not all intrinsically bad; the right regulations are beneficial, just as the right kinds and amounts of taxes are beneficial. But clearly the SF taxi the medallion system, which was always inefficient, overpriced, exclusive, and unfair, is now obsolete as well.

Government should require insurance companies to sell taxi insurance to any qualified driver who wants to start a taxi business.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 11:14 am

laws and rules are implemented early and then, as time passes, the laws and rules that are passed become ever more petty, invasive and counter-productive to the point where eventually it becomes a big fat mess. At that point we typically go through a de-regulatory cycle, and/or new technology and businesses evolve to arbitrage those rules and profit from their inflexibility.

There is no reason to believe that taxi's would be immune from that and what we are seeing here with Uber, Lyft etc. is the classic societal response to inappropriate regulations - a revolution.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 11:39 am

So, taxi companies are adapting. Deregulation apparently works sometimes, to the benefit of the public.

Tim Redmond would not have been happy about all of this innovation. He must be seething in his cocoon right now.

Posted by Troll the XIV on Aug. 09, 2013 @ 11:41 am

sometimes, it's also about more than reliability and quickness, and also about feeling safe. this is the main reason i use homobiles most of the time (i'm not surprised about their ardent followers). after having multiple incidents with openly homophobic/transphobic taxi drivers that caused me to feel unsafe, having a service that makes me feel secure is wonderful.

i mean seriously, more than one jackass has picked me up, and then felt the need to ask me super-personal and/or inappropriate questions because i look and/or sound different. one time i got into a dude's cab, he took a good look at me in the rearview and straight-up asked me "you some kinda faggot?" i told him to stop the car, so i could depart, and he got all defensive and refused for a couple blocks. When he stopped long enough for me to get out, he demanded the minimum fare. I walked off and he started loudly threatening me. Thankfully there were people around, otherwise I don't doubt he would have gotten physical. I've heard similar stories over the years (some, much more frightening) from many of my queer/trans friends, so these aren't rare or isolated incidents. in a town with such a large queer/trans population, this makes no sense from a business standpoint- and yet the taxi companies don't seem to care much when complaints are made.

Homobiles saw an earnest need for safe, non-judgmental transit... and I'm super appreciative that they exist. I hope they are around for as long as they are needed... which they definitely are, currently.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 09, 2013 @ 1:52 pm

Those that speak English that is.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Aug. 09, 2013 @ 4:22 pm

from Sidecar Somebody made me reconsider my support for the shutting down of comments here.

This garbage from Snapples makes me think you should shut off the comments.

I'm pretty sure that taxi drivers that don't speak English also have good stories.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 09, 2013 @ 4:40 pm

seriously though. i'd be happy not to comment on SFBG if we didn't ever have to hear from snapples again. i can't tell if they're a troll or just a horrible person. perhaps both.

Posted by derpderp on Aug. 09, 2013 @ 6:40 pm

cannot understand them?

Cab drivers in America should speak and understand English.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 09, 2013 @ 10:52 pm

Something else the Taxi industry could do to improve its competitiveness is to hire drivers who don't drive like speed freaks; jamming the accelerator to go a block, just to throw on the breaks to stop at the stop sign; clean up the cabs and make sure the seats are seats not just worn out hollow spots on a frame; drive in one lane instead of two; stop blocking traffic to take on or discgorge passengers; use your signals so other drives have a clue what you are doing; teach drivers common courtesy, and teach them it is OK to get out of the cab to help with doors and luggage. In other words, be real professionals. People don't really enjoy paying for a life threatening, extreme cab ride.

Posted by Guest observer on Aug. 10, 2013 @ 11:17 am

Ok we will do all those driving things when everyone else in SF starts doing them! Also, where then do you propose taxi's stop to drop off elderly, blind or your ass when it is too drunk to walk father then a few feet?? I guess it is ok for the nappy pink fur to stop in middle of street. In intersections, at the blind part of a corner because they didn't go to cab school where you learn not to do these things. If cabs were on one dispatch they wouldn't have to race around and the whole vibe and head space they are in would change!!

Posted by Carol-O on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 8:04 am

because they drive more and there is financial pressure to take short cuts. The car service guys seem better in my experience.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 9:46 am

extort money our of working stiffs.

Much of the city government is designed to put the screws to the citizens, the SFMTA being the worst of the lot. Oddly the Guardian encourages these abuses of the citizens they repeatedly claim to speak for.

The cab industry has no one to blame but themselves, their monopoly of providing shitty service is over.

I hope the poor folks who are paying off medallions can work something out, the greedy city is seldom understanding when money is an issue.

Posted by Matlock on Aug. 10, 2013 @ 12:59 pm
Posted by Guest on Aug. 11, 2013 @ 10:06 pm

lack the ability to make a substantive refutation.

What next? Call him a Troll? A racist?

Posted by anon on Aug. 12, 2013 @ 12:54 am

For one thing, these changes were already under way in the taxi industry, and if anything the deregulation movement will only delay progress in the long run, by eating up resources that could be better put to integrating taxis into an intelligent transport system -- or worse, if the TNCs succeed in completely deregulating and supplanting the licensed taxi industry, years (and perhaps many tragic accidents) will be needed to bring the new deregulated taxis back up to the standards we may be throwing away today. So no, these companies don't represent an advance but a sideshow or a derailment of progress.

Second, Yelp? That is a crooked site that sells reputation protection to businesses. If cabs look bad there it is because the companies haven't been paying yelp off. The more social-media savvy people at Lyft etc are sure to have a dedicated staff member who tracks and responds to yelp. So it is completely unimaginable that an informed journalist would treat yelp as a reliable source of information.

Posted by laughtiger on Aug. 10, 2013 @ 1:10 pm

But the terrible state of taxi service is no joke.

Posted by Matlock on Aug. 10, 2013 @ 1:30 pm

Uber solicits feedback for every single trip taken by a passenger, and that feedback is visible to the driver and the larger organization. Repeated negative feedback leads to the disintegration of the driver from the system. When was the last time a complaint to "SFMTA’s complaint system for monitoring registered cabbies" resulted in any action whatsoever? I know the BG has a soft spot for the status quo, but the largely 20-40 yo women who take ridesharing system have some feedback for ridesharing. It's great. And taxis suck.

The next time you're looking for a cab in the Sunset we can talk about'll have all the time in the world.

Posted by tidbit on Aug. 11, 2013 @ 5:01 pm

And I'd never get into a car with some dude. I could care less about apps, yelp ratings, and fist bumps. I can do without the fist bump. I need to know that the cab I'm getting into is licensed, registered, and insured. That makes me feel safer and lowers the creep factor.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 12, 2013 @ 10:48 pm

i spent 3 our of my 5 hr shift last thurs in sunset & richmond thanks to those now using Flywheel!! It works try it! Here is code for a $10 credit to try the app! K9VEPD anyone who would like to try Fly wheel feel free to use that code for a $10 credit!! Current Flywheel users can also enter that promo code for the credit as a thank you!! :) See some cab drivers are nice....

Posted by Carol-O on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 8:23 am

with the service of your fly-by-night-at-the-wheel operation? What's that you say, Carol-O? I can't really call the city, because the city doesn't regulate gypsy cabs (because they're illegal, duh!). Oh but I can use my smartphone to post a review on Yelp.

Uh, thanks but no thanks, Carol-O.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

and he mows your rosebush, who do you call?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 3:51 pm

The potential pitfalls of going with "some dude" on Craigslist include them mowing down your rosebush. The potential pitfalls of getting into some strange dude's car are... a little bit more serious. That's why lawn dudes don't have to be licensed, bonded, and insured, but taxi drivers do.

And if I had a prized rosebush that I really cared about, I probably wouldn't hire some dude off craigslist. As it happens, I don't. But I do care about my life and safety, which is why I personally wouldn't get into one of these cars with some dude.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 4:13 pm

As a licensed cabbie I can definitely confirm that 311 complaints do get investigated. In fact just yesterday I got a call from them because some asshat lyft driver thought calling 311 to report that me giving him the finger and blocking him at a green light for one cycle of the light, would get me fired. An illegal cabbie calling 311 to complain about a real legal cabbie. Now that is funny.
If everyone in the city with a legitimate complaint actually called 311 and gave a coherent complaint (read not drunk complaining about refusal to convey your drunk ass) about the service or behavior of the cabbie that was out of line, we would not have the 20% (yes that's it) of the industry wrecking our rep for the rest of us. Do your job as customer and report complaints to 311 and compliments to yelp.

Posted by Trevor Johnson on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 9:46 am

Excellent comments in here shredding fellow luddites SF cabbies and SFBG staff.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 11, 2013 @ 10:10 pm

should suit their egalitarian principles because people are doing it for themselves and bypassing centralized vested interest groups like medallion cabs and the bribed corrupt bureaucrats who try and protect them.

But the shared co-operative economy is in fact even more scary for progressives because how can they retain their command and control infrastructure if, duh, people are bypassing it and dealing directly with each other?

Oh what a tangled web Steven has woven. The internet has finally given the people the power that socialists and marxists always craved and - guess what? - they still aren't happy!

Posted by anon on Aug. 12, 2013 @ 9:37 am

I gave up using taxis because I could not count on them to arrive at a certain time. One app I used that was supposed to make calling a taxi more reliable suffered from errors … I kept getting reassigned from driver to driver, and none ever showed. It's as if they didn't want my business. So they don't have it anymore. Even if they change, I don't know if I can trust them again. They'll have to go a long way to convince me.

Posted by Omar on Aug. 12, 2013 @ 9:42 am

Didn't you guys just write a story about how Uber rips off its cabbies? I am a yellow cab girl and they never fail to disappoint.
Everyone in the city should donate money to Homobile. They have personally stopped me in the street to offer me a lift home without me even asking. You guys should write a story about them since they're a group who actually gives a shit about the safety and comfort of its citizens.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 12, 2013 @ 10:21 pm

The taxi industry is freaking out, and it's easy to see why. Their product sucks and someone came up with a better cheaper one. Big deal. Move on. Things change.

Why not let taxi's go the way of the dodo bird? Let them fade away like the newspaper industry. Nobody subscribes to a newspaper anymore, so all those printing press/ad/delivery jobs are gone. It's a rocky road for hard news and good reporting, but by and by, new media is getting its leggings and can inform the public in better ways.

So I'd be fine if yellow cabs become a memory, like the guy who used to deliver ice, or the milkman. If there is a ride sharing movement that can do a better job, let it.

Cabs stink. They can reinvent themselves any way they want. It won't work until they are highly trained and paid well--like they are in London. That's not going to happen in the US.

Posted by Robin on Aug. 18, 2013 @ 7:57 pm

One more thing. The complaints hotline issue.

If a LYFT ride ever went bad and the driver messed up, he'd lose his ability to drive. There is no complaint system or process. It's a simple matter of LYFT pressing a button and getting rid of the guy. Those drivers have to keep something like a 4.8 rating to continue driving, so if someone is just middling, they're gone.

Now that's a good system. It makes driving a rideshare a privilege, and if you don't tow the line, you're gone.

That's much better than the uninsured drunk cab driver who totaled my car, almost killing me in my car, sending his two paying passengers through the window back in 1994, whose cab company didn't pay out a dime for my totaled car, and whose driver was back on the job a couple months later. I know. I hailed a cab, and he was the driver. I got out.

Cabs suck. If they were better, LYFT wouldn't go anywhere. They're filling a need, and people are starting to feel okay about not owning a car in this city, and if that takes off, then it's the best result you could imagine.

Posted by Robin on Aug. 18, 2013 @ 8:03 pm

And for me that is a really good news and for sure I will see many improvements if we will continue in this way!

Posted by on Feb. 13, 2014 @ 12:52 am

FYI Taxi's have been using an "app" for almost 4 years now!! So it is they who follow taxi's. Flywheel (formerly Cabulous) is currently in, and used by, MORE THEN 1/2 the Taxi's in SF. If anyone really wants to see improvement in taxi service help drivers use Flywheel as a bottom up move to get all cabs on ONE SINGLE DISPATCH!! This would give you closest cab, increase drivers $$, reduce stress on drivers and eliminate the dangerous competition racing, allow you to see your cab, allow you to call your driver and visa versa, allow u to pay w/phone eliminating the issue of using cc, create both driver and customer accountability! Bam simple. but the MTA rather put out more medallions cause they make $$$ off them and anyone who takes muni knows they could care less about service.

Maybe instead of jumping on the Ayn Rand, be a selfish greedy douch bag, band wagon those pushing all the deregulation crap should try thinking socially - you know like you live in San Francisco....

Posted by Carol-O on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 7:56 am

Enter this code before your first lyft to get $10-$20 off


Posted by Guest on Aug. 24, 2013 @ 8:32 pm

This is ridiculous that the people treated cab drivers less than a human stealing their money. Instead of using share economy, just say "We are legally stealing their money and drive on the roads built with tax dollars but we don't have to pay tax. The corruption in the city hall is great !!"
Why don't the reporter wrote this article never interview a cab driver? Why there isnt any story about a cab driver? I will be ready for any interview and tell the true life story of a cab driver's life. I hope SF Bay Guardian is not a media company that Discriminates.
Rebecca Bowes>>>> feel free to contact me and I will be so happy to give my precious time to you and your team.

Posted by David on Sep. 21, 2013 @ 3:10 am

nice pictures... Chandigarh is the beautiful city. main importance is that the drivers are well educated.

Posted by Jaspreet on Oct. 27, 2013 @ 8:51 pm

I see the effects of Google putting $200 million into this grab for a share of cabdriver's incomes...People are paid to post comments...Advertisements offering employment with Lyft and Uber showing up on the top of Facebook...and on articles about any controversy in the industry...Slanted reporting...greedy rich people not satisfied with what they have get paid to disparage cabbies...You wait in line to get into clubs like Ruby Skye and 1015 Folsom...Right when the Curran Theater lets out you have Uber cars and limos double parking in front of R. Skye and the Clift Hotel...Where is the enforcement of laws prohibiting solicitation of rides that occurs often, or the ticketing of scofflaws for their numerous violations of the law and ethics?
Impatient young people think that waiting to get into a restaurant on a Friday or Saturday night is any different from waiting for a taxi? How about the wait in line for a new line of Air Sneakers?

Posted by WBDerby on Feb. 23, 2014 @ 11:39 pm

I have the same idea and I will try to implement it, it is not simple, but I will do it for sure! Thanks!

Posted by on Feb. 27, 2014 @ 1:23 am

To bad that the taxes are so big, I can not afford to start a new promotion campaign!

Posted by x-ray on Feb. 27, 2014 @ 6:49 am

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