After writing critically about problems in the business models of so-called “shareable economy” companies in last week’s issue — including our cover story on Airbnb and other companies that facilitate short-term home rentals (“Into thin air“) and a story on the rideshare company Lyft (“Driven to take risks“) — the topic continued to dominate the sfbg.com Politics blog, with fresh posts and lots of reader comments:
The excellent bilingual newspaper El Tecolote covered some of the same ground we did in its Aug. 1 cover story, “Unregulated Rental Business Takes Over Housing,” focused on how Airbnb is contributing to gentrification and displacement in the Mission District.
Reporter Jackson Ly found a couple that turned a rent-controlled apartment on 24th St. into a $249 per month de facto hotel room, booking it for 24 nights in August and making $5,976 in just one month, on top of the $3,069 they’re making in August renting out the guest room in the apartment where they actually live for $99 per night.
“It’s cheating the people that pay taxes,” Maria, who lives in the unit below this couple’s investment apartment and is tired of the rotating stream of tourists in her building, told the newspaper.
I got ahold of El Tecolote Managing Editor Iñaki Fdez. de Retana, who said that housing issues like this one are extremely important to the Latino community that lives in the Mission, and he’s been surprised that Mayor Ed Lee has been unwilling to address the impacts of Airbnb and other tech community contributors to the problem.
“It is very important,” he told us, noting that visiting European tourists are changing the character of the neighborhood. “In particular on 24th Street, which was once seen as the heart of the Mission, it’s changing overnight and [Airbnb and other housing rental websites] is a big part of that.” (Steven T. Jones)
UBER UGLY CRASH
Uber’s policy on insuring its drivers will soon be taken for a test drive, as the company that runs the mobile app-based ride requesting service and a driver were served with a court summons last week from a woman severely injured after a crash near a San Francisco intersection.
Those insurance policies were said to meet brand new regulatory requirements on rideshare services introduced by the California Public Utilities Commission on July 30, which was meant to solve the longtime regulatory battle between rideshare services and local governments.
The plaintiff in the suit, Claire Farhbach, was a bystander, not a customer, and that unique twist in the injury suit has experts from the taxi industry waiting to see if Uber will step up to the plate to pay for Farhbach’s injuries, or if Uber will leave driver Djamol Gafurov on the hook for the bill.
Fahrbach was walking up Divisadero street near Hayes at quarter of midnight March 12 when Gafurov’s black town car, operating as a private taxi, collided with another car on Divisadero while turning left. One of the cars then collided with a fire hydrant, and in the words of the civil suit, “this impact caused the fire hydrant to be violently sheared from its base and propelled through the air a number of feet northbound…when the fire hydrant struck (Farhbach) with a tremendous amount of force.”
Gafurov’s private taxi was operating as a “partner” of Uber, which is how the company defines its relationship to the network of drivers on its website. No private taxis or drivers are considered to be employees of Uber, as the company has repeatedly maintained, claiming that the drivers, and their actions, are not its responsibility.
Uber spokesperson Andrew Noyes told us repeatedly that drivers are not employees of the rideshare company: “Our legal team took a look at the files you sent. This is not an ‘Uber’ driver, they’re not employed by us. They’re employed by their licensed and insured limousine company.” (Joe Fitzgerald)
MAKING CABS BETTER
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 us.
“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.
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.
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. (Rebecca Bowe)