Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Trolling for TNCs

My title is a misnomer. TNCs aren't hard to find. The night I rode with Investigators Eric Richholt and his new partner Andres Martinez, Lyft & Sidecars were blocking traffic all over town.

Contrary to popular opinion Taxi Services has been ticketing TNCs for violations as well as citing illegal taxis and limos whenever possible.

Investigators go out in pairs regularly six days a week.

Eric says that they write about 30 tickets a shift. However, most of the tickets during the day are given to limos while Eric & Andres do most of the citing of the TNCs at night. Most of the violations are for illegal parking or blocking traffic and run about $100. The penalty for making an illegal pick up is $5,000 but, because of smart phone apps, it is almost impossible write up a TNC or a limo for an illegal pick up.

Eric & Andres went out one night with Director Chris Hayashi as a decoy. She was wearing a party dress and high heels but couldn't get a Lyft or Sidecar to bite. The few TNCs that stopped when she flagged them insisted that she download their app if she wanted a ride.

Hunting for Illegal Taxis

Eric & Andres usually begin their shift by looking for illegal taxi and limos just like they did a few years ago when I originally rode with Taxi Services investigators.

We started in the Mission. It took all of five minutes of cruising before Eric & Andres spotted Sierra Yellow Cab Number 50 on 26th and South Van Ness. A few weeks earlier they'd spotted the same illegal taxi picking up flags at 3rd and Howard. The driver simultaneously saw the investigators and took off using high speed evasive action. The investigators chased after him but gave up on the freeway because Number 50 was making dangerous lane changes at 85 mph and they were afraid that he'd get somebody hurt or killed.

They received two other complaints from San Francisco cab drivers about Number 50 so Eric called the owner of Sierra Yellow Cab who said that he'd shut the driver down but, as we saw, this hadn't happened. Number 50 spotted us about the same time we spotted him and took off. He circled blocks, cut back and eventually lost us with a variety of lane changes on Mission near 17th.

A little later, Andres & Eric spotted another regular violator's illegal cab illegally parked on Ivy Street between Polk and Van Ness. Clearly a professional at illegal taxi driving, the dude had parked his car so that it couldn't be towed. This didn't stop Eric from giving it a ticket. He ticketed it again the next day.

Giving out tickets is one thing and collecting the money is something else again. Salim Soltaine, who Eric ticketed for $5,000 back in 2011 when I was riding along, was hit with $5,000 fines on three other occasions but left the country without paying anything. Nonetheless, Eric says that they've given out forty-five $5,000 citations which the court usually reduces to $500 for a first offense. Eric estimates that they've taken in between $7,000 and $10,000 in fines.

Congesting Traffic

TNCs don't usually start congesting major streets until 9 or 10 p.m. Eric (photo right) and Andres (photo left) thus usually takes a break around 8:30 p.m. at Miller's East Coast Deli on Polk St. Miller's claims to have the best sandwiches in town, which may or may not be true, but they certainly have the biggest that I've seen. I had two meals off the one I bought.

You, gentle reader, may notice that Eric does all the talking. That's because Andres wanted to leave all the speaking to Eric. A nice, quiet and friendly man, perhaps this is because Andres comes from a culture where people are taught to respect their elders.

In any case, fortified by the meal, Eric & Andres were ready to take on the TNCs, which complied by blocking streets, double parking and hanging out in bus stops.

We drove less than a block before handing out the first ticket to a double-parking Sidecar. There was no shortage drivers to cite. Despite babysitting me for half their shift Eric & Andres still handed out 28 tickets.

Eric says that TNCs and Black Cars have raised "havoc on traffic" in San Francisco. It's gotten to the point where limo drivers complain to him about the TNCs when he's citing them. ("Why don't you ticket those guys?)

Eric & Andres have been reaching out to the police who have agreed to step up enforcement to help unblock the streets.

Lyft? I ain't no stinking Lyft!

Lyft of course is the most obvious of the TNCs. Sidecars are supposed to have sleeves with S-i-d-e-c-a-r written on them over the back of their mirrors but very few of them actually do and, as far as I know, Uber xs have no identifying insignias what-so-ever.

Lyft drivers don't appear to like this situation and have taken to putting their mustaches inside the front windshield of their vehicles.

In this way, they can pretend that they are not working as commercial vehicles if they're in an accident or are stopped by the police for a violation. Or, even if they are being photographed by blogger like the dude in the right photo. The instant he saw me lining up a shot, he threw his mustache down on the front seat and floored it.

Local feature writers may be confused about insurance but Lyft drivers are not. They know that they're not insured.

Eric thinks that the insurance issue along with the hidden costs of driving and maintaining their own vehicles will kill off the TNCs in the long run.

He gave an example of neighbor of his in Oakland, a young woman, who was excited when she started driving for Sidecar. He talked to her a few months later and she said that she'd quit driving for the company because she wasn't making any money.

There are hidden costs to using your own car as a taxicab. There is the lack of collision insurance which could put the drivers back as much as $25,000 or $30,000 if they bought a new car to use as TNC. And, there is also a lack of Worker's Compensation insurance (considered a minor point by local media types) that could leave a severely injured driver destitute.

Even if the driver manages to cover damage to the vehicle, some cars are never the same after an accident. The cab I drove when I was a medallion holder, was hit when I wasn't driving it. It was supposedly fixed but there was a problem with electrical system and the car kept dying. This happened several times and the insurance company was reticent to pay the bills which rose to over $2,000. This wasn't a problem for me because the cab company owned the cab but an individual using his or her own car to transport customers probably would not be so lucky.

In addition, there are the normal maintenance costs that get higher and higher the the longer the cars are driven. Sooner or later Lyft and Sidecar drivers will realize that they are are talking all the risks (physical and financial) normally assumed by taxi or limo companies for little better than a minimum wage job.

Personally I do think that the insurance issue will kill off the TNCs but in different way than in Eric's scenario. When insurance rates start going up because of all the hidden mustaches and fake, felonious statements from deceitful TNC drivers, the public will demand that Lyft and Sidecar start paying their own bills instead of passing them on to us.

In the meantime, Eric & Andres are doing their best to clear the riffraff off the streets.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Murai, Rest in Peace

I'm sorry to inform my readers that Murai died yesterday. I don't know if I have much to say that I haven't said before. She lived as full a life as anyone I've ever met. She was a wonderful spirit who lived as thoroughly as she could every day. She never stopped learning. She never stopped studying. She never stopped loving. She never stopped sharing. She never stopped creating her daily art until the very end.

She remains a great inspiration to me personally and I'm glad that I was able to write my post about her before she did pass on. She liked the piece a lot and was excited about doing a video project with me that I'll have to finish without her.

I'll be forwarding a post written by her children as her last words after I send out this article.

I have one more picture. Who but Murai would dress like this to deliver a speech to the SFMTA Board?

Good luck on your new journey Murai. Vaya con Dios.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thoughts on Electronic Taxi Acess (ETA)

Director Christiane Hayashi would have had an easier time with the measure if she'd simply pushed for the Electronic Taxi Access part without including additional data collection. But the Director thinks the information to be gained will be invaluable in helping her regulate the taxi industry and she's never been one to back down from a fight if she thought she was right.

On the other hand, Yellow and Luxor killed a similar measure two years ago so she would have had a battle in any case.

I supported ETA, despite a few reservations about personal privacy, because I think this may be our only chance to get a universal dispatching system. And, without universal dispatch, we'll never be able to compete with Uber and the TNC's (Twit & Nerd Carriers).

Company Opposition

Hansu Kim, President of Desoto Cab, told me that he favored a universal App but was against the Frias Transportation Infrastructure (FTI) platform. He said that FTI had refused to co-operate with San Francisco taxi companies and that the taxi companies had offered their data to FTI but the tech company had refused to give them the technology necessary to transfer their data. He also seemed to fear that FTI (an offshoot of Frias Transportation which runs cab companies in Las Vegas) would try to take over the local business.

The compromise with the SFMTA would appear to render Kim's first objection moot. If the San Francisco companies provide the data necessary for ETA, FTI would have to provide the necessary technology to use it or loose their software contact.

As for Frias taking over ... I guess that is a legitimate concern. However, Hayashi has said that the contract with FTI includes clauses that will prevent them from entering the taxi business in San Francisco.

Down Dinosaur Walk

Nate Dwiri of Yellow cab presented his usual set of dubious statistics at the Board meeting and then pulled my-favorite-all-time-argument-for-more-taxis out of his cellar. He claimed that Yellow was unable fill their dispatch orders which proved (for him) that the city needs more cabs. In other words, he used Yellow's incompetence as a reason for the SFMTA to help him make more money. There is much to be said about this:

  1. Sources tell me that, for years, Yellow has deliberately been holding calls in order create the stats that Dwiri gave out at the meeting. In short, Yellow has been deliberately giving poor service so that the city will give them more medallions. Bizarre – but entirely possible under the gate system.
  2. Although I don't have definitive proof for the above assertion, the information gleamed from Yelp on Yellow shows that there are drastic problems with Yellow's dispatching service. Out of 91 Yelp reviews, 6 were positive. 80 of the reviews were negative, giving only one star (out of a possible 5). Many of these reviewers expressed regret that they couldn't give a negative rating. 
  3. Yellow can't come close to filling their shifts now. Where would Mr. Dwiri park additional cabs?
  4. Mr. Dwiri does not drive cabs anymore. If he did he would realize that that there already are far too many taxis on the street most of the time. 
  5. I spent a couple of hours with Taxi Services' inspectors last Saturday night (see future post) and we watched empty cabs following each other down Mission and Polk streets while Lyft and Sidecars were picking up right and left. Why? The customers had hailed the same TNC's that had picked them up at home and taken them there.
Charles Rathbone of Luxor Cab, on the other hand, argued that Luxor didn't want to provide the city with their data because their dispatching system gave them a leg up on their competitors.

I guess he means Desoto, Yellow, ect. More to the point might be Bay Cab.

Mr. Rathbone has expressed anger with me in the past for calling Luxor a dinosaur. But I don't know what other comparison to make: Neandrathal? Denisovan (early hominoids who had sex with Neandrathals)? Or, for a non-extinct species, the Ostrich?

Cab companies competing with each other is as relevant to the problems facing the taxi industry today as the Warring States Period of Ancient China is to modern geopolitics.

The real game today is taxi companies vs Uber & the TNC's. It's how to win back the hearts and minds of the riding public. The only way to succeed is to take back our turf in the outer districts and the only way to do that is a universal dispatching system. The only brand that's important for us now is Taxicabs.

Although many companies are against ETA, most drivers are for it, and I have yet to meet a customer who didn't find the idea "awesome."

We win those customers back and they'll be plenty of business for everybody.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Finally! A Universal Dispatch

At their Tuesday 11\19\2013 meeting, the SFMTA Board unanimously approved a contract with Frias Transportation Infrastructure (FTI) to build the Electronic Taxi Access (ETA) System proposed by Taxi Services Director Christiane Hayashi.  The contract was approved over the vehement opposition of the Desoto, Luxor and Yellow cab companies.

The system is intended to provide the ability to electronically hail any licensed San Francisco taxi.  Another way to put it is that all available taxis will show up on the map of any connected smartphone app or website.

The result will effectively be the "citywide dispatch" that cab drivers have been wanting for over 30 years.

The ETA System requires data to locate available taxis when they are hailed from a smartphone app.  The contract provided for that data to be collected using FTI's On Board Device (OBD), which the companies opposed.  As a compromise to the companies, the MTA Board agreed that Taxi Services would not be authorized to install FTI's On Board Device to automatically collect such data from San Francisco taxicabs if the companies provided the data themsleves by February 1, 2014.

Details will follow.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Fat City! Verifone Says We Have $30,000 Cab Shifts!

for Ed Healy’s Blog
By Christopher Fulkerson, Ph.D.

Head’s up, cab drivers.  You had better get a hand’s-on knowledge of what your dispatch service is saying about you.   The worst-case-scenario we previously imagined has been exceeded, by far.   Those nightmare inaccurate 1099s we feared might already be in the print queue.    Verifone is going to get us cab drivers into big trouble with the IRS.    Believe it or not, Verifone is recording that we have $20,000 and $30,000 shifts.   If the IRS believes Verifone, we’re sunk.

I recently discovered that Verifone’s Taxitronic site thinks that on July 20 I drove a $1776.05 shift.   How patriotic of me.    And on September 12, Taxitronic reports I drove a $30,032.14 shift.    That waybill is 101 pages long!   A 70-page waybill beginning September 27 states I drove a $20,727.14 shift.    I supposedly earned $1498 last Friday.    I am writing this to anticipate the possibility of a correspondingly inaccurate 1099 form being issued about me, or you, or anyone.    The waybill situation at Taxitronic is utterly, hopelessly messed up.   The site is worse than useless, it’s mendacious.   I know the blue light of that Verifone unit is burning my right to the tune of $30,000 inaccuracies.   At least two other medallion holders have had the same experience.   

For more detail you may consult my latest Report On the San Francisco Cab Industry, at my website:

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Random Act of Kindness

Jane, who I'd never seen before and might never see again, bought me a cup of coffee this morning just because we walked into the coffee house at the same time and she wanted to do something nice to celebrate her birthday.

Thanks Jane. I'll pass it on.

This reminds me of the recently retired driver, Brad Newsham, who used to give a customer a fee ride every day and then write about it in Brad Newsham's 2010 Free Ride Journal.

Brad told me one of the all-time great cab stories:

Brad once wrote a book about traveling around the world named All The Right Places.

He was driving around a couple who had done a bit of traveling themselves and and they were swapping stories and sources. Suddenly, the woman told him that he just had to read the greatest travel book she'd ever come across. It was called, All the right Places.

So, I guess that makes Brad the second extraordinary cab driver I'll write about.

Thanks again Jane for the connection.

And ... oh yes – Brad was into politics but he cut himself loose first.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Murai, Taxi Driver Extraordinaire

The media keeps talking about this rude cab driver who  races around like a lunatic, turns down credit cards, won't take anybody beyond Divisidero, has the personality of an orc and the I.Q. of an ox. I've personally never met the dud and think he's had enough press.

The truth is that most taxi drivers are just ordinary people working hard to feed themselves and their families by doing a very difficult job and getting little or no appreciation for their efforts.

I'm winding this blog down and I do intend to write a piece honoring the average cab driver before I leave the scene, but first I want to celebrate a few of the exceptional people I've met in this business.

I don't think I can do better than start with Murai (photos) who grew up in the Kansas dust bowl; lived the high life in Libya, Rome and London; ran her own fashion business; raised a family as a single mom: has travelled almost everywhere; drove cab for over two decades while earning a bachelor's and a master's degree; holds wonderful salons; and constantly experiments with an art that she creates daily and sends out to us lucky few.

I met Murai ...

... shortly after she started driving for Desoto in 1989. What caught my attention (aside from her being a feminine woman in a macho trade) was that she told me she liked cab driving because it was relaxing.

I'd heard cab driving described in many ways – from "a rolling party" to "the moral equivalent of war" – but Murai is the first driver I'd ever met who found the experience soothing and restful. I knew immediately that I was dealing with a unique character.

An example of this is her name. There is no first or last – "only Murai." She started calling herself this as a nome de art when she was living in London. She later found out that the name was Japanese which she considered an act of synchronicity because she loves Asian art. She once told me her birth name but I've forgotten it. I've never heard her called anything but Murai.

If you only looked at her name and her multicolored hair you might think her a hippie or an artsy flake but nothing could be further from the truth. Murai is as shrewd as they come and has a firmly grounded sense of reality.

Although she started driving a taxi five years after I did she earned a medallion six years before me. Being a typical cab driver, I thought that I wouldn't be in the business long enough to get a medallion. Murai, on the other hand, sized up the situation quickly and tried to put her name on the Waiting List almost immediately. She read that she needed to work for one year before she would be eligible so took the application form home with her and filed it with the Taxi Detail on the first day that she legally could.

She got the medallion when Willie Brown put out 500 medallions in 2000.


Murai was born and raised in Elkhart Kansas, which was the center of the Dust Bowl, and had a population of around 1,000. Her family ran the Elkhart Hotel.

As a teenager Murai longed to move to a city like New York or Paris. She later married an oil man from Kansas and eventually moved with him and her growing family to Libya in 1968.

You can find out more about Murai's early life from her book Heirs and Forebears which contains a series of water color sketches and what she calls "vaguely autobiographical" poems and essays.


After Libya she moved to Rome (which she liked but didn't speak the language) and finally to London which is close to her idea of paradise. She and her husband rented an apartment in a part of the city which she says is now the most expensive property in the world. Living there gave her a chance to pursue her love of art, fashion and artists.

Contrary to stereotype, Murai found the English to be "very creative and a bit avant-garde both with the theatre and with the clothing ... it was just a very creative place to live so I just loved everything about it."

Her little film, Rhythms of the Heart, will show you more of what her life was like at the time than I can possibly do. It's also a great introduction to the collage artist Bulgar Finn.


Murai and her family moved back to Houston, Texas in 1978. She and her husband soon realized that they had nothing in common except Europe and broke up. She received a small settlement and moved to San Francisco to raise her children alone.

She found herself "unemployable" and didn't know what else to do so she started designing coats and accidentally became part of a movement later called "Art to Wear." "I was just making things," she said.

"I started out at I. Magnin's – the most exclusive store – and they did private shows of my clothes in three of their stores including their Beverly hills store where they did four windows of that store with my coats and I didn't know that was a big deal ... I'd been living in Europe ... I had no idea people would kill to get four windows with their stuff."

 Later she went into business for herself selling directly to customers through her connections in New York and Europe. This lasted from the late 70's to the late 80's.

When I asked her if she was making good money, she said:

"It's hard to know because I was freaked out all the time... I had three teenagers to support who were used to living very well with little support from my Ex ... So I was just frantic with employees and supplies and kids but we always lived in great looking places that we rented. We used them as showrooms so we could write them off ... I had a space in New York and London where people represented me ... I'm creative and versatile so I could come up with a whole lot of designs in a hurry... I could make very expensive things out of not very expensive fabric ... I did amazingly well but I was frightened all the time."

Cab Driving

How did you get into the cab business?

"At the end of the coat business I was just freaked out by the stress of it ... when the kids were out of college or married, I felt free do do what I wanted ... so I wanted to go back and get a Master's in psychology ... that's why I did the cab. I was going to do the cab until I became a counselor."

During her studies she discovered,  "I was a classic ADD character ..." and "the cab is a classic ADD vehicle because it's always unplanned, it's always spontaneous ... it's a lot of fun–I love the customers ... I have the most interesting customers and the greatest conversations ... I've loved it from day one."

"So I did finish and I did get my Master's. At that point I thought I liked the cab better and didn't want to work outside of it so I stayed in the cab business."

Murai was one of handful of medallion holders (along with Victoria Lansdown, Barry Korengold and a couple of others) to push for the Pilot Plan instead of open auctions in order to keep the medallions affordable for more drivers.


It's no secret that Murai has had cancer for the last 16 months but she hasn't given in to depression or despair. Instead she's continued making art and recently held a Salon that attracted her many friends from her many walks of life. These included: fellow artists, business and fashion people, friends from Europe, cab drivers, administrators and a young Polish woman who told me that she'd met Murai sitting next to her on a flight from London and that it was the greatest trip of her life.

But it's time to let Murai speak in her own words.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Bay Cab Going Out of Business on December 1, 2013

Bay Cab is going out of business on December 1, 2013.

The company, which is owned by Roger Cardenas, has been hit with over $50,000 worth of fines by the SFMTA.

According to Taxi Services staff:

"The fines were for continuous violations of company reporting requirements and vehicle equipment problems (disconnected Paratransit equipment)."

Mr. Cardenas has agreed to go out of business as a settlement for the fines.

Bay's 109 medallion holders will have until November 1, 2013 to tell Taxi Services to which color schemes they choose to move their medallions. Because it won't be a voluntary transfer, the standard color scheme transfer fee of $611.50 will be waved. The transfers should be completed by November 29, 2013.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Correction: The SFMTA Board Tabled a GATE INCREASE Not a Meter Increase

The original title of my last post stated that the Board had tabled a Meter Increase when in fact what they tabled was a GATE INCREASE.

Those of you who have been reading me for awhile are no doubt aware that I am extremely challenged as a proof reader but this faux pas has to rank with my top screw-ups. My only excuse is that I was working late the night before publishing the post.

Director Chris Hayashi was wise enough to not propose a meter increase at this point in time. What I was critical of was her idea of proposing a Gate increase without a meter increase  – actions that should be considered a long way down the road.

I would like to add that I in no way intended to criticize Director Hayashi as a person or as Director of the MTA's Taxi Services. Even while occasionally disagreeing with this idea or that, I think her work has been stupendous and a benefit, not only to everyone in the taxi business, but to everyone in the city of San Francisco and the state of California as well.

My apologies to both my readers and Director Hayashi.

The Phantom

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

MTA Board Tables Gate Increase, OK's Cancellation Fee

The SFMTA Board under the direction of President Tom Nolan (photo) put off a proposed meter increase of $9.75 per shift but authorized dispatching services to charge a cancellation fee of up to $10 for no-goes and allowed cab drivers to charge a flat fee of up to $11 per person for shared rides. The Board also amended several sections of the transportation code with the aim of putting an end to illegal brokering.

The Gate Increase ...

... was the most hotly debated item on the agenda. Its presence there was also a little weird.

Director of Taxi Services Chris Hayashi, Dr. Dan Hara, Luxor Cab's Charles Rathbone and (maybe) Hansu Kim of Desoto spoke in favor of the item but they all stated that nobody would be raising the gates now. The reason? Taxi companies are losing drivers.

Then, why raise gates? Director Hayashi said that it was part of the process that Dr. Hara and Taxi Services had been working through and that its time was now. She said that it would give owners the flexibility to make future changes – an idea concurred with by Dr. Hara and Mr. Rathbone. Hayashi and Hara pointed out that the gates had not been raised when the meter was raised in 2011 and an increase thus was long overdue.

The Director apparently has a short memory. The reason that the gates were not increased along with the meter was hardly an oversight. It was a quid pro quo to the drivers for charging credit card fees to them instead of the the taxi companies as it had been done before. And, this deal was brokered by Director Hayashi herself.

In my opinion she deserved kudos for this. It was a job well done. The drivers were charged 5% for the credit cards. The companies ate the gate increase. My math showed that the drivers were much better off under this arrangement than they would have been if the companies had continued to pay the credit card fees and upped the gates. Many drivers didn't agree and stopped taking credits cards in protest.

Tuesday's attempt at legislation started out as another quid pro quo thought up by Director Hayashi. This time she intended to balance things up by finally giving the companies their meter increase at the same time as she removed credit card fees from the drivers by passing a fee onto the riding public.

Fine – except for the ancient wisdom that "you don't raise the price of gas during a gas war."

In the end, Hayashi understood that and nixed the idea of out of raising the drop on the meter but she somehow missed out on a few other cliques.

Raising the gates would be like throwing gasoline on the fire of the drivers' frustration and adding insult to injury from a city whose mayor has slapped cab drivers in the face by embracing illegal taxis.

I don't how the Director failed to see the despairing effect that the mere mention of a gate increase would have on the drivers at this time. Maybe she needs to broaden her circle of advisors.

In any case, several drivers, including myself, expressed our frustrations at the meeting. The general opinion was that raising the gates would chase cab drivers out of the business at an even faster rate then they are leaving now.

The SFMTA Board – especially Director Cristina Rubke and President Nolan – discussed the subject at length with Director Hayash and Dr. Hara before finally deciding to go ahead with the rest of the agenda and putting off a possible gate increase for another six months.

Wise choice.

In my humble (Ha ha – have you ever met a humble cab driver?) opinion, any gate increase should be another quid pro quo. When passengers are ready to pay an electronics fee to cover credit card charges, the companies can get their gate increase ... assuming of course that the arcane and antiquated gate system is still around.

How can this come about? How can we compete? Complicated questions? The cancellation fee is a step in the right direction. The universal app will be another. With 2,000 taxis on the same system we can start taking back the business we've lost.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The CPUC's Proposed Decision: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly – Insurance ???

Since the CPUC continues to allow Lyft, Sidecar & Uber to hide their insurance polices where the sun don't shine, the best description we have of these mystical pacts is the CPUC's own.

According to the CPUC, Lyft, Sidecar & Uber (TNC'S) currently carry $1,000,000 (one million dollars) commercial excess liability insurance policies providing per-incident coverage for incidents involving vehicles and drivers in transit or during a TNC trip.

What does this mean?

What it was supposed to mean was that the excess liability policy kicked in from the moment a TNC driver had a accepted an electronic hail until the moment they dropped their passenger or passengers off at a destination. It was assumed that the driver's personal insurance would cover the vehicle and the driver before and after the trip.

But how does it really work? I received these e–mails as a comments to my blog:

"I was was in an accident as a Lyft driver while on the clock. This is how it works. My insurance agency was informed by the other party (a taxi, ironically enough) that I was driving for Lyft. They denied all coverage - including Liability. I am now responsible for my car. Lyft is currently handling the liability (the repair of the other car). So, basically, don;t count on your personal insurance. They won't cover you. I haven't driven since."

"I was signing up to be a driver. I had my car checked and everything. For the heck of it I did some additional research which then led me to think to check with my insurance. I have State Farm and they said that my coverage wouldn't cover any incidents that occurred when I was working as a Lyft driver. They also don't offer any type of insurance to cover me in this situation. I told my contact at Lyft that I won't be covered by my insurance and that it is too risky for me. He simply said, "Okay". Needless to say, I decided not to be a driver with Lyft."


  1. Personal insurance polices do not cover the vehicles while they are working as TNC's, meaning the cars are not covered for collision and the drivers are not covered for medical.
  2. The ten insurance companies I talked to would not insure vehicles for personal insurance if they drive for Lyft et al. 
  3. This mean that the thousands of Lyft, Sidecar and Uberx vehicles on the road are basically not insured at all.
  4. Or, the customers are insured while they are riding but the driver is not.
This the is the situation as it exists now. The CPUC's "Proposed Decision" is exactly that. It is "proposed." It is not law.

In its Proposed Decision, the CPUC attempted to correct some of above problems. But did they?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Touch of Taxi History

For a change of pace this was sent to me by former driver and medallion holder Brad Newsham. Hope you find it as interesting as I did.

June 17, 2007
First Chapter
The Creation of the Taxi Man, 1907-1920

Modern cab driving stems from a grudge. In early 1907, a thirty-year-old New York businessman named Harry N. Allen became incensed when a hansom cab driver charged Allen and his lady friend five dollars for a three-quarter-mile trip from a Manhattan restaurant to his home. Angered by this vehicular extortion, Allen vowed to create a new cab service. He recalled later: "I got to brooding over this nighthawk. I made up my mind to start a service in New York and charge so-much per mile." Word of Allen's plan circulated for months in advance. First reports appeared on March 27, 1907. Interviewed forty years later, Allen recalled how he went to France to scout out reliable, improved automobiles that were superior to the American versions derided as "smoke-wagons." In Europe, he secured over eight million dollars in underwriting funds from Lazarre Weiller, a French industrialist, and Davison Lulziell, an English railroad operator. Armed with foreign capital, he obtained a full financial package from his father, Charles C. Allen, a stockbroker, and his father's friends. Additional powerful backers included publisher William Randolph Hearst and political fixer Big Tim Sullivan. The police commissioner promised "moral" support. Hearst told Allen to ignore his critics because "they'll all be riding in your cabs sooner or later."

Monday, September 30, 2013

The CPUC's Proposed Decision: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

When the hearings on ride sharing ended last spring, I discussed various possible scenarios with an ally and we thought the most probable outcome for our comments was that they would be filed away and only read if archaeologists stumbled across them a couple hundred years in the future.

This admittedly cynical view was born from the CPUC's act of ceasing the cease and desist orders against Lyft and Uber before the hearing even began. It was fostered by a perceived prejudice on the part of the CPUC  that their staff often did their best to live up to.

However, this notion turned out to be too skeptical, too world weary, too paranoid. While the CPUC clearly had made up its collective mind to legalize the fake ride sharing services before the hearings began, our comments were read and even had some positive effects on the subjects of regulation and insurance.

The CPUC's proposal was therefore much less one sided than some of us had anticipated.


The CPUC ruled/proposed that Lyft, Sidecar, Uber and other Transportation Network Companies (TNC) are for hire transportation companies. In the process they gave a thumbs down to various TNC arguments including Uber's contention that they were merely a software company and the claims by Sidecar and Willie Brown that the companies were non-profits. The CPUC wrote in its decison,

"We reject Uber’s assertion that TNCs are nothing more than an application on smart phones, rather than part of the transportation industry. Uber is the means by which the transportation service is arranged, and performs essentially the same function as a limousine or shuttle company dispatch office. Accordingly, Uber is not exempt from the Commission's Jurisdiction over charter-party carriers."

The CPUC went on to say,

"We find this argument to be factually and legally flawed and, therefore, do not accept that the method by which information is communicated, or the transportation service arranged, changes the underlying nature of the transportation service being offered...."  and "... the Commission is not attempting to enact rules that would impose regulations on the smart phone applicationapplications used to connect passengers with drivers. Instead, the Commission is attempting to promulgate  promulgating rules that wouldwill govern the transportation service itself.

The CPUC also dealt aces and eights to Lyft & Sidecar's absurd rationalization that because they called their fees "voluntary donations," they were operating as non-profits.

"We reject the arguments made by Lyft and SideCar that any payment for rides arranged through their apps is voluntary and find that current TNCs are engaged in the transportation of persons for compensation. ... Clearly each TNC is receiving either an economic benefit or a business benefit. At a minimum, they are receiving increased patronage with the growth of their businesses."

I don't know if the CPUC exactly deserves kudos for not letting the TNC lawyers pull the wool over their eyes but the fact is that they didn't. And, the CPUC arguments for not letting this happen are well thought out and well reasoned. This opens up the possibility that reason, in the end, could carry the day.

Their decision on insurance is a little more problematic. I'll deal with it in the next post.

I've had few inquiries from people wondering where to send photos of Lyft and Sidecars. You can send them to my e-mail at: Please include the license plate # if you can and there is no point in sending a pic of a Sidecar unless it is identifiable.

In this post, I'm also including a lengthy e-mail from a Lyft driver that takes up the first three comments in my comments section.