Monday, April 29, 2013

The Hara Study: Hotels & ATT

"The correct perception of a matter and the total misunderstanding of the same matter do not necessarily preclude each other."    Franz Kafka

I find myself using the above quote far too often lately - usually in reference to brain-dead "investigative reporters." It gives me no pleasure to find Kafka's satirical wisdom also appropriate to parts of the Hara report.

I was one of the drivers that Dr. Hara interviewed. I found him to be personable, likable, intelligent, serious and apparently open-minded. He asked good questions. However, it's the questions that he didn't ask that now bother me. Dr. Hara didn't ask me (or I believe any other cab driver) one single thing about how hotels or cab stands operate. That is to say, he constructed a major part of his study without asking the experts in the field (us) how the phenomena he was studying actually worked.

Take the W Hotel (above photo) for instance. Dr. Hara found that at certain times of the day it was easier for a taxi driver to find a customer than for a customer to find a cab. Fine. I'm sure it's sometimes true. What Dr. Hara didn't understand is that the "shortage" of cabs at this location was due largely to policies of the people running the W hotel. That's the polite way of putting it. Another way, would be to say that the problem is primarily caused by the corruption and cluelessness of the hotel management and their doormen.

Deconstructing the W 

The hotel is at the corner of 3rd & Howard streets. The door where people come out to get cabs is on Howard about one hundred feet from the corner just behind the limo in the photograph. The taxi line is in front near the corner but away from the door.

What we are looking at here is an example of the aforementioned corruption. The women in the photo came out of the door and originally started walking toward the taxis. The limo driver quickly climbed out of his vehicle and engaged her in a conversation. A few moments later, she got in the limo and drove off. This was not an accidental occurrence. In order to be the woman's first option, the limo driver pays off the doorman who most likely splits the payola with management.

It doesn't have to be this way. At the Las Vegas Bally Hotel, for instance, taxis are the first option. But in most San Francisco hotels (the Fairmont, the Mark Hopkins, the Ritz, the Intercontinental, the Stanford Court, the Mandarin, all the Hiltons, all the Hyatts, etc) the doormen try to put customers into limos first - especially for airports runs and other long rides.

"So," the gentle reader might ask, "the cab driver gets the shaft. So what?

So, two things. Corruption breeds hostility and inefficiency. 1. Cab driver are not likely to go out of their way to help out these hotels when they do get busy. 2. Customers also are often kept waiting by the doorman for a driver who "really knows how to get to the airport" when of course what they are really waiting for is a dude carrying a bribe.

The "clueless" part of the equation should be obvious but apparently is not.

The "W" is on 3rd & Howard. Both are one way streets. 3rd is one of the main corridors heading downtown. The taxi shifts change from 3 pm to 7 pm. During that time, 3rd is usually flush with empty taxis that pass right by the W. But, as noted before, the entrance to the hotel is a hundred feet away on Howard. If a taxi driver wants to pick up the fare at the W, he or she has to spend 5 or 10 minutes circling the block through heavy traffic to get to a customer who almost certainly will not be going to SFO and might not be there at all.

The best cure for the "cab shortage" at the W then would simply be for the SFMTA to put one or two passenger zones on the 3rd street side of the hotel and move the doorman along with his customers to the corner. Viola! Problem solved!

This kind of artificial "taxi shortage" that is actually caused by management polices is hardly unique to the W. Numerous other hotels such The Intercontinental are set up in the same way - with similar results.

Doormen at other hotels such as the Fairmont, the Ritz and the Stanford Court insist that cab drivers only pick up in driveways that are frequently gridlocked and slow down the process of getting a customer into a cab 5 or 10 minutes every ride. Putting out more taxis won't speed up these door twits one wit.

And, this doesn't begin to mention the "Transportation First" polices of the SFMTA that have created gridlock on every street south of Market and drastically slowed down both the pick up times and the transportation of the public by taxicabs in the process. In addition, a seemingly small thing like making it illegal to turn left from Powell onto Sutter has had a profound negative effect on cab service at twelve small hotels on Sutter and Bush near union square. Once again, more taxis won't improve this situation as long cab can't make that left turn.

Dr. Hara could have found out about such things by talking to a few cab drivers. But perhaps the subject wouldn't have interested him anyway given that it didn't fit in with his theme.

 On the other hand, talking to us would've saved him from making a totally useless study of the pick up times at the cab stand on 2nd Street at ATT Park.

 Yes - the pick up times can be slow at this location. But with hundreds of cab customers coming out of a game at the same time that is more or less inevitable but the major reason for the shortage of taxis at that cab stand is PCO Badge No 309 (photo) and his colleagues. You can read more about the absurd details here but the important fact is that this twit (Sorry for the repetition but what better word is there?) gave me a ticket for picking up customers when I was legally parked because ... well I'm not too sure. Except that he clearly believed that ticketing cab drivers was far more important than helping baseball fans get home after a game.

I later learned that almost every cab driver has been ticketed by these clowns while trying to do their jobs. The result is that almost no experienced driver will head to the stand on 2nd. While many drivers won't go near the area when the ball games get out at all, I find that it's usually safe to pick the fans up at Cal Trans. I mean, like, I'm a fan too.

But this is minor stuff.  More important is the fact that the way that Dr. Hara went about collecting much of his data was fundamentally flawed.

More on this in a future post.


  1. I don't believe the report really addressed the problem of ineffciency in dispatch as Hayashi said to the board.

  2. I was ticketed by a plain cloth cop with unmarked car on Turk and Gough on Tuesday at 4:20 pm for blocking traffic even there was the only car at the time was the cops. He flashed his badge and said" you are blocking the traffic and get out of the fucking road".
    Then altercation goes on as he used profanity towards me. Seems like cabbies are the target for everyone to mess around.

  3. Nothing is perfect, but unless there's an error, it seems awfully damning that answering driver Bill Mounsey, Dr. Dan Hara admitted he had never ridden in a San Francisco taxicab.
    At this point that's hearsay, but unless refuted, it's damning hearsay. Can you believe this crap??? Mounsey gave so far uncontradicted testimony at a recent SFMTA meeting April 16 2013 at 03.01.24 into the SFGTV video of the SFMTA meeting then.
    Hara writes a possibly earth-shaking and life changing report on SF taxis and has not riden in a SF taxi?!!!

  4. Hi Ed,

    Though I agree with your criticism of Hara, and certainly agree that no one is realistic about where the door to the W was put, and that it seems an eternity before anyone can circle, I don't agree about your solution to the problem at the W. Instead, disallowing sedans and limos from occupying the W cab stand would free up about four spaces for the W, and that would have the advantage of not causing the doormen or their customers from having to cart luggage around the corner, or not be there at the front door when someone drives up to it.

    However, TWO cab stands, one on each side of the corner, would be possible, for those who want to be able to approach the W from 3rd Street. If the signs were well-posted the situation would be clear to customers.

    Now, about the real problem with the limosines and their clientele, which is, vice. My customers have taught me that the XYZ Bar is one of those places where industrial-type pickups are made, by "generous" men who happen to have a hotel room nearby, and I cannot refute what my customers say about this. The limosine drivers seem to know about all this, that's why they drive their whoremobiles around to the W. What you don't know is whether there was anybody in the limo you saw the girls get into. Wherever there are limos, there is a good chance there is drugs and prostitution. It is a fact that sex clubs meet in the limos; I have driven people to bars where the limos are waiting for sex clubs to rendezvous. So I assume that is not a secret. Of course, in that industry, the drivers have the chance to claim they don't know about that, since they can close the window between their cab and the passenger's space.

  5. i've been driving for 16 years,i never ever go to pick fares at the ball park,even when i'm taking fans there i rarely drop them south of brannan st.
    and now with the cops targeting cabs that are making u turns at caltrain,i stopped going there too.its simple economics getting a $300-$400 ticket to pick a $7 dollar fare aint worth it.
    also i never stop at the hotels who service limos,unless i'm using the bathroom.
    just my two cents,

  6. What would be the consequence if taxis refused to service the W? It is a fantasy, of course. Because, there will always be some, probably quite a few, who will cross the line.

    Once W guests who really wanted a cab but could not get one asked why the answer could prove to be a way toward solution.

    But, that is a fantasy.

  7. carlos castanedaMay 11, 2013 at 9:22 PM

    First of all, I would like to congratulate & thank you, for your work on this blog. I want you to know that a lot people read it and talk about it at their respective cashier's line. Hope to meet you on the road someday. I know it is not easy after a 10-12 hour shift to sit down and read/write/research stuff. blessings to you bro.

    Biz is going down. Willie Brown ( is notoriously famous for his bit "a monkey can drive a cab" and will make sure that the new regulations fall on the side of these "ride sharing" pirate startups. including tickengo that is. for he is the lawyer of same.

    since money dominates politics, cab drivers are on the downside of advantage. we have zero representation. went to three sfmta meetings to speak up. run out of time...too many issues on the agenda ? lip service to show that they "had public meetings"...right.

    the writing is on the wall. here is a good one, the sfmta does not care anymore about making money from medallions. opening the gates to these startups is the "mother lode" of new fees to private cars.

    keep hope alive.

  8. HI Carlos,

    Been flying around Mexican deserts lately? Things may not be as dark as they seem. The SFMTA is not the one who opened the floodgates. Talk to your Mayor. (See today's post.)