Sunday, September 28, 2014

An interview with Tony Kelly Who is running for District 10 Supervisor

This is the first time I've endorsed anyone for a political office and I confess that my initial motivation for doing so was simply that Tony Kelly is not Malia Cohen.

That's current San Francisco District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen who in the past tried to block fines against illegal cabs and wanted to punish taxicab drivers for not picking up enough in her Bayview district by voting against a meter increase.

More recently Cohen together with Supervisor Scott Weiner blocked an attempt to improve public safety by regulating Uber, Lyft and Sidecar. This would've included requiring full insurance like taxis carry and thorough background checks administered by the Department of Justice using fingerprints.

Supervisor Cohen also wanted to officially name Uber, Lyft and Sidecar part of the city's transportation system despite the fact that none of these companies even include most of her District 10 in their maps of San Francisco.

I met future Supervisor Kelly at Farley's Coffee in Potrero Hill where Kelly has lived since 1994. It was an appropriate choice. It's the kind of unique neighborhood place he favors over national chains because it keeps money in the local economy and is part of what makes San Francisco "the San Francisco that everybody in the world thinks we are."

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Impressions of the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance

Since I'm working with impressions instead of facts, I think it's best to start with photos. They tell most of the story. Nine out of the eleven member San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance (SFTWA) board are in this shot. Another is included below sitting behind a National Taxi Workers Alliance (NTWA) organizer who is speaking in the following photo.

The final member of the board is Rua Graphis of the United Taxicab Workers (UTW). The SFTWA represents the merger of the UTW and the San Francisco Cab Driver's Association (SFCDA) with a bunch of guys I don't know and who haven't, except for an occasional protest, been part of the SFMTA's decision making process for the last five years. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. I'm not enamored with many of the people who have been part of that process.

The person most responsible for bringing all these different groups together is the blond at the table, Beth Powder, who is a film maker and short time cab driver with clearly exceptional organizational skills.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Who is John Galt? Uber, Lyft, Sidecar & the Culture of Deception

One answer to the above question is that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick thinks he is. Why else would he have t-shirts printed with the Uber "U" asking, "Who is John Galt?"

Kalanick obviously identifies with the hero of Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged. For those unfamiliar with Rand's philosophy, she sets the innovative genius against a society rife with democrats, communists, unionists, socialists, corrupt politicians, seedy journalists, the overweight, sleazy lawyers, environmentalists and their various shills.

I confess that I was a big fan when I was 19. Naturally, I identified myself as a potential fellow genius but beyond that I was attracted by the integrity of Rand's characters: Galt, Howard Roark from The Fountainhead, and Rand's persona Dagny Taggart. The books were not only about greatness vs mediocrity but truth vs lies.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Three Cheers for the SFCDA & Keep Those Photos Coming

The photos the drivers have been sending to the San Francisco Cab Drivers Association (SFCDA) are being used by insurance companies to warn drivers that they are not insured if they are driving for Lyft, Uber or the rest.

The photos are also being used as evidence in a suit filed by the Taxi Paratransit Association of California (TPAC)  against the California Public Utilities Commission's (CPUC) violation of the California Environmental Protection Act (CEQA).

Barry Korengold says,

"This data base has been an invaluable tool in our efforts to demonstrate the number of these vehicles and the negative impact that they've had on the environment."

Unfortunately, many drivers have recently eased off in sending in the photos. I confess to being the worst. I mean, it's a pain in the ass to keep the camera always ready to shoot whenever these miscreants turn up ... and they turn up endlessly. Cab driving is exhausting anyway. But there are more and more "S.H.I.T.S."(Smartphone Hailable Illegal Taxi Services) out there. There are an estimated five or six thousand active "tncs" woking every weekend and we need to document that fact.

The photos also help environmentalists understand that rather than taking cars off the road they are actually creating congestion and greenhouse gases.

So please keep the photos coming. For those of you who are new at shooting evil, contact Trevor Johnson at to find out how to upload the photos properly.

The important thing is to capture both the license plate and the symbol in the same shot – be it the pink mustache, the Uber U, the Sidecar sock or whatever.

I think it's past time to give the SFCDA the credit that they deserve. In my 30 years in the cab business I've belonged to or dealt with several cab driver organizations and the SFDCA has been by far the most effective and the most persistent of them all. They've fought for the cab drivers at the SFMTA, at the CPUC and now at the State Legislature.

So I want to give special thanks to Barry Korengold, Trevor Johnson, Jeffery Rosen, Francoise Spiegleman, Jam Khajvandi, the late Tori Lansdown and the rest for all the work they've done over the years without getting paid for it.

Three cheers! If we're still in the game we owe it to you guys.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Uber's Phony Surcharges or the Trickery of Travis

Uber is now changing a $4.00 airport fee. This is interesting for a few reasons:

  • It's illegal for them to drop at the airport.
  • An airport fee is for picking up at the airport.
  • Uber failed to inform the customer that there was going to be a surcharge.
Therefore, Travis as in travesty, when are you going to pony up?

Just as interesting is your $1.00 safety fee. Is this to protect the customers from your drivers?
Are you going to take care of that stuff, Travis? Is that what that one dollar is for?

Let me emphasize that last paragraph,

"In the email, Kalanick blamed the media for thinking that Uber is 'somehow liable for these incidents that aren't even real in the first place.' Kalanick also stressed that Uber needs to 'make sure these writers don't come away thinking we are responsible even when these things do go bad.'"

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Conversation with Desoto President Hansu Kim

I was about to publish an interview that I'd had with Desoto Cab President Hansu Kim awhile back when local journalist's came out with the story that Kim was thinking of turning Desoto into a sedan service – one writer said that it might happen in as little as 90 days.

Mr. Kim denied that he said he intended to convert to a sedan service in  "90 days." Only that he could convert in 90 days if he had to. But has "no intention doing so."

What he was doing was giving an "if" scenario.

"What I'm saying is that the taxi business as we know it will not be in existence in 18 months 'IF' the industry continues to be deregulated as it is."

"I don't believe that the taxi business will ever disappear but it could be that full service, dispatch-centric companies will no longer be in business as they are today."

"My feeling is that in a deregulated environment, it would be a race to the bottom."

Aside from usual sensationalism and inaccuracies that one has come to expect from the local media on the subject of  taxis, the coverage of Kim's statements lack context and understanding of what deregulation of faux taxi services like Uber x really means. What Kim and the other cab companies are spending money on is public safety.

Uber and the rest are endangering the public by cutting corners. To use a metaphor from the construction business I grew up in, what they are doing (not carrying proper insurance, not fingerprinting drivers, not guaranteeing the safety of passengers or pedestrians) is the moral equivalent of pouring sand into the foundation of a building in order to save money on concrete.

Friday, July 11, 2014

May the Farce Be with You.

When it comes to Uber, Lyft and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) I never know whether the appropriate comparison is Alice in Wonderland or Orwellian doublethink.

I went to Thursday's CPUC meeting filled with optimism because it looked like the Commission was finally going to make Uber, Lyft and the other faux taxicab corporations take some responsibility for clogging the streets with tens of thousands of amateur drivers in underinsured vehicles.

Commissioner Michael R. Peevey's (photo) Proposed Decision called for Million dollar insurance limits as long as the faux taxi driver had the app turned on (not ideal but a step in the right direction). The policy would also have given million dollar uninsured motorist coverage, $50,000 coverage for both comprehensive and collision, and $5,000 medical payments for driver or passenger.