By Beth Powder
OPINION I left a 17-year career in film to become a taxi driver. I just wanted to be here full time, drive a taxi, and write.
I’ve taken cabs in several cities and countries over the last 20-odd years. When I got here in 1998, it took two hours for a taxi to get to my house on 43rd Avenue. I still never would’ve gotten into anyone’s personal car and paid them for a ride, no matter how hard it was to get a cab sometimes. Not in San Francisco. Not in Jamaica. Not in Jamaica, Queens.
I’m from Toledo, Ohio originally. We always went on road trips. Maybe being in such close proximity to Detroit, some of that car mojo rubbed off on us. My mother is the kind of woman who, at 70 years old, will drive cross-country alone, stopping to call me at 3am from deserted truck stops outside Amarillo, Texas. You might see why I’d drive a taxi.
I have a feeling that a lot of the anti-taxi contingent now in this city haven’t taken too many cabs. Cabs could never put me off because I’d taken so many of them and I knew I was safer in one than standing in a crosswalk. I’ve been hit by cars on foot and on my bike but I’ve never been in an accident in a cab. Not in London. Not in Los Angeles. Not here.
I don’t drive for Lyft or Uber because San Francisco cab drivers receive workers compensation and TNC drivers don’t. Because Lyft mustaches look unprofessional to me. I went to taxi school, got fingerprinted, had a background check, and got licensed.
My taxi has 24/7 commercial livery insurance. My company pays the bills if there’s an accident. San Francisco taxi companies don’t have bylaws stating that passengers cannot hold them liable. San Francisco taxi companies don’t have bylaws stating that passengers take taxis at their own risk. San Francisco taxi companies don’t have bylaws that can be legally interpreted to allow discrimination against passengers of any persuasion. We have to accept pets. And we have to be green.
San Francisco taxis pick up bartenders, sweet old ladies at the hospital who don’t have smart phones, teachers, lawyers, wheelchair users, people of color, San Francisco Giants, former mayor Willie Brown, hookers, trannies, ballerinas, and limo drivers. Everybody. You don’t need a smartphone, but you can always hail a cab using an app called Flywheel.
I’m not a fan of the smugness emanating from Lyft, Uber, et all. Perpetuating spurious claims that cab drivers are all scary or awful is neither cute nor clever. And it certainly isn’t true.
It’s far more likely for a passenger to physically attack a cab driver than the opposite. About a month ago, several men took a cab from my fleet to San Mateo and severely beat up the driver. We have video cameras in every single San Francisco cab, but that still didn’t guarantee this driver’s safety. Nonetheless crime and accidents in taxis are down significantly.
We’re mothers, fathers, grandparents, students, artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs. Cab drivers give companionship, counseling, and safe passage to their passengers.
I want to know how we can have faith in TNCs when drivers aren’t commercially licensed, fully insured, and packing security cameras. How should we feel about droves of these Uber and Lyft phones being shared by multiple drivers, when only one is on record? What happens when a TNC is wrapped around a pole and the driver is held responsibility for their own safety and well-being. These brand new cars won’t be paid off before we start to witness incidents such as this.
How’s a “young mother just trying to make some extra pocket money” going to feel when she has her wages garnished into perpetuity because she rear-ended someone? She’s personally liable with the TNC company. She’s your friend with a car who absorbs all legal responsibility whether she’s found at-fault or not.
As long as there’s a taxi industry, I’ll keep proudly driving my taxi in the city I love. I’ll pick up sweet and not so sweet old ladies, people in wheelchairs, people with dogs, and whomever else needs a ride wherever it is they need to go.
Beth Powder is a cab driver and writer.