A cab driver’s lament

Pub date December 4, 2012

OPINION I’m a San Francisco taxi driver. The reality on the streets is terrible.

Cab drivers are being squeezed from all sides. The Municipal Transportation Agency is part of the problem, because for the past year or so it has been energetically focused on enhancing the city’s revenues by selling taxi medallions (for $200,000) and putting hundreds of new cabs in service, at the expense of drivers.

That happened to coincide with the introduction of Sidecar and Lyft, to which the MTA’s response is painfully slow and ineffective. Neither problem is being resolved to the benefit of drivers.

SideCar and Lyft pretend that they’re just folks doing community service car-pooling, while being backed by millions of venture capital dollars. They are trying to be taxi services while avoiding using the word “taxi” in their names. They don’t want to talk about driver safety or insurance issues.

Cab drivers are heavily regulated for a reason — for your safety. There is accountability in the system.

There is no oversight of the new industry interlopers. The way these companies operate is not safe and not legal. When I went through my city-required week of driver training, photographing, fingerprinting, background check, and fee paying, everyone involved took it very seriously. If a cab driver screws up in any way, the company pulls him or her off the street.

Taxi drivers are held to a high standard of performance. We’re not the pizza delivery guy who’s now using his car to “ride-share” people around. Most of the time that won’t matter — until it really does matter. With SideCar and Lyft, if something goes wrong, you’ll find yourself with no protection and nowhere to turn.

I’m a night shift driver, and let me make it clear: Driving a taxi is a very hard job. You have to know the city, you have to deal with all kinds of people, have the patience of Job, make no mistakes, and be okay with little better than minimum wage — although there are no wages for cab drivers, what you make is whatever business you can manage to find — with no guarantees or benefits. The driver is the sole merchant, and he or she takes all the risks.

The regulatory framework needs to catch up with the technology, which is here to stay. The larger cab companies already use GPS technology. Luxor uses the “Taxi Magic” or “Cabulous” app to connect cabs to people who need rides.

But the taxi industry is already in a situation where, as a Guardian editorial noted, “too many cabs chasing too little money leads to bad behavior — and bad drivers.” The cease and desist order against the interlopers is being ignored. The fines imposed on them are being challenged and appealed.

So the industry is dysfunctional, with lawyers on all sides making things worse — and the drivers are the only ones who are suffering the consequences.

John Horn drives for Luxor Cab