OPINION These days, all signs point to the eventual deregulation of the San Francisco cab industry.
On any given weekend night in the city, you can find a wide array of illegal taxis operating with impunity, including limo drivers, out-of-town taxis, Super Shuttle vans, ZIP cars, and even some sketchy folks driving their private vans down Valencia Street at 2am soliciting rides for hire. If you have wheels, you can become your own livery service.
It’s a free-for-all out here. The city appears to be giving all comers carte blanche. And while the courts wrangle over ride-sharing rules and what constitutes a taxicab, the cab industry could cave in under the unfair advantage given to its competitors.
The general manager of ride-share startup Uber, Ilya Abyzov, has been quoted as saying that cab companies have had a “state-sanctioned monopoly. They’re not used to competition.” I have two words for him, and they’re not, Yo taxi! We’re competing with about as much chance as the proverbial one-legged man in a kicking fight.
The advertisement on the website of another startup, Lyft, uses for recruiting drivers reads: “Make $22 an hour, have a blast, drive when you want, meet new people, make friends, learn about new restaurants …” This idyllic version of a cab shift could never happen without real cab drivers holding up the foundation.
I don’t think you’ll find a Lyft cab willing to take a sick grandmother from Kaiser Hospital to her home in the Alice Griffith projects. A pink mustache sighting at Griffith and Fitzgerald will probably coincide with the next great earthquake because only a drastic geological shift will cause that to happen.
Right now, it’s a cakewalk for the ride-share drivers. But without the cab industry picking up the rear and girding the underbelly, these parasites couldn’t exist. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a parasite as an organism that lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the host’s expense. Substitute the word “nutrients” for the word “money” and you have what in the cab business we call a bingo.
At the end of the day, driving a cab is a hustle. And once your host is gone and the cab business gets deregulated, kiss your city tours goodbye. You won’t be able to rely on donations anymore, and your legal babble and dishonest terminology won’t save you from a harsh descent into the street, into the dog-eat-dog world of a real cab driver.
And then, you’ll know what it’s like to hustle, in the middle of the night when you’re worried about your gates and gas, and it gets real slow, and you have to take chances with your life.
Desoto Shelby III is the pen name for a San Francisco taxi driver.