Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The City vs Cab Drivers? A Micro History 2

I stopped involving myself in taxi politics from the Feinstein era until the Newsom era. There didn't seem to be much point.

During this period, when I come in to renew A-card every year, a woman would glare at me and say, "You're lucky to be a cab driver in San Francisco!"

About the third year I finally, truthfully replied, "And, San Francisco is lucky to have me as a cab driver." I could tell by the expression on her face that I'd been wise to get the A-card before I'd said it.

One night, I took a break and returned to my cab to find that some drunk, who claimed to be the head of the Taxi Detail, had stolen the medallion out of my cab and was writing me a citation for not having it in the front window - from where he had stolen it. I immediately understood that the city was going through another period of Taxicab Reform. It happened with every new administration. The new mayor would put more taxis on the street and the cops would reform the industry by hassling cab drivers for a couple of weeks.

This had little or no effect on service but it always played well with the San Francisco voters - who appear to have a collective IQ of around 53. They like things simple and the simple arithmetic is that more cabs automatically means better service.

The problem is that it's based on a false assumption ... namely that the job requires no skill.  I'm sure, for instance, that Mayor Willie Brown (photo) thought/thinks that if he (God Forbid!) stepped behind the wheel of a cab he would be just as good or better than an experienced taxi driver. Sorry Willie but it takes about three years to make a good cab driver.

Whenever San Francsico puts out more taxis, they flood the city with newbie drivers who hang out at hotels and SFO. From the standpoint of service, experienced drivers, are worth four or five of these rookies.

In 1997, Mayor Brown upped the ante by calling for 500 more cabs. He also improved the dog and pony shows by creating the "Taxi Task Force 1997-1998" to study Taxicab Reform. To be fair, this group actually recommended a few things: in-cab security cameras, the creation of the Taxi Commission, gate control and of course putting the Da Mayor's 500 cabs on the street.

Unfortunately, the dot.com economy began to tank just as they began adding the cabs to the fleet. Coupled with the effects of the 911 attacks, this created an excess of taxis that almost drove at least one cab company into bankruptcy. The full 500 cabs weren't completely put out until 2006.

There could be a cautionary tale here.

1 comment:

  1. Willie Brown drove a taxi in San Francisco while he attended SF State and law school. He told me a perfect Slick Willie story when I asked if he had any funny tales to tell. He and his friend split shifts and according to Da Mayor, his PARTNER put a magnet on the meter to make it click faster. Naturally, Willie scolded that partner, saying, "We can't do that; we are going to be attorneys." He didn't say they actually took it out though; just that they should.