Thursday, May 30, 2013

Corrections to Yesterday's Post and an Apology

I was proud of myself yesterday for getting a post out in less than three hours. 

Unfortunately, much of the information in it was not correct. I later had a conversation with Director Chris Hayashi who noted the changes below.

          1.  Dan Hara will not have his report finished by the end of the week so the MTA Board won’t discuss it until the July 16th.

2.    The most important proposal for the June 18, 2013 Board meeting will concern the legalities for the sale of medallions to drivers on the Waiting List.

Electronic Taxi Access

The anonymous commenter to yesterday’s post was partially right but Director Hayashi actually had a couple of meeting on Friday and Monday that included not only managers from Desoto, Luxor and Yellow but reps from Flywheel and Taxi Magic as well. Changes in how ETA will function will result from these meetings but these revisions will not necessarily be as nefarious as anonymous thinks.

The final formulation is still a long way off but here are some of the features or principles that ETA will include or follow:
  • ·      The orders will be offered through the PIM monitors instead of separate smart phones.
  •     Only apps like Flywheel or Taxi Magic with at least a 1,000 customers will be accepted by the system. 
  •     Yellow Cab will probably sign up with Taxi Magic.
  •      Dispatching services like City Wide Dispatch with a large number of customers will be included in the system.
  •     Dispatching services with less than 100 customers will probably be dropped.
  •     The orders from the individual apps will be integrated so that two different taxis won’t be sent to the same address.
  •     The same app company cannot dispatch both limos and taxis so the Uber’s taxi app will probably bite the dust. I’m adding the bold assumption that companies dispatching bogus “ridesharing services” will likewise not be allowed to dispatch taxis in SF. Goodbye Instant Cab. May you take your Georgia Tech degrees and do something useful (not to mention legal) with them in the future.

  A guiding principle for Flywheel and Taxi Magic is that they want “quality” drivers rather than a sheer numbers. In short, they want people who will pick up orders instead of taking a dispatched hail and then blowing it off to grab the first flag they see.

I’m also in favor of this principle. The execution, however, leaves something to be desired – at least with Flywheel. They are much too draconian. I’m being held off their service right now because their app didn’t work properly and I was forced to take cash. I was held off earlier because their GPS gave me the wrong location and I cancelled the order after I took it. When I call them up, I usually get some twenty-two year old techie who cheerfully tells me something like, “Yea – lots of you guys complain about that.”
I would hope that Director Hayashi would use the June 11th Town Hall Meeting (since it won’t covering Hara et al) for a face to face between Flywheel and Taxi Magic and their drivers. I think it’s time they re-design their software with the end users in mind.

 Finally, I'd like to apologize to President and General Manager of Luxor Cab, John Lazar, for calling him a dinosaur yesterday. He's clearly more in tune with the future than I gave him credit for. Indeed, he's making it. Sorry Mr. Lazar.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Meter Increase??? Gate Increase??? No-Go Fee. Technology Fee. ETA.

All the above and more were discussed at a recent Town Hall meeting.

On May 31, 2013 Dan Hara will be handing in his final recommendations, which will include whether or not there should be gate and/or meter increases. There will be Town Hall meetings to discuss the issues on June 11th and the MTA Board will look at and possibly vote on the proposals on June 18, 2013.

Not to editorialize but:

 1. No businesspeople in their right minds would raise their rates when they are being successfully underpriced by their competition.

2. It's time to get rid of gate fees and replace them with a split of the meter. I've been saying this ever since I was first hired by Yellow Cab and saw the corruption and incompetence that the gates & gas system caused. And I repeated my ideas to the MTA the moment they took over. The bottom line is that a gate system makes leasing to drivers the business of cab companies - not picking up customers.

There are companies like Desoto, Luxor and Green who consciously try to give good service but they are in the minority. I won't rant about the details. I've already done this enough. The primary problem is simply that the profits and losses of the companies are not directly linked to the amount of business that they do. If the meter were split, the MTA wouldn't have to conduct arcane studies to find out which companies were good and which were bad. All that would take care of itself - and service to the public would drastically improve.

I've said this so often that I sound like a crank but the future lies with me. (See Uber. It might also be a good idea to take a Business 101 course along with a double dose of common sense.)

Electronic Taxi Access (ETA) et al.

I didn’t catch the entire meeting and Director Chris Hayashi (photo, hand) was still presenting the proposals when I left so I can’t give definitive summary. The final plan won’t be presented until May 31st but the following covers what little I do understand of the system.

1. All available taxis will appear on the map of a customer’s smartphone.
2. The MTA itself will create no app but rather will co-ordinate hails from Flywheel, Uber's taxi app and other legal apps.
3. All the information from the individual apps will be routed through a central system in order to appear on the smartphone.
3. The exception will be calls to dispatch services and e-hails from single company apps like Luxor or Desoto’s.
     A. However, these calls and e-hails will be integrated with the ETA system so that only one cab will be sent to each order.

In other words, this will be the centralized dispatch system that drivers have spent thirty years lobbying for.

In addition:

1. The App Fees will be paid by the customer.
2. There will be a Technology Fee to be paid by the customer instead of credit card processing fees paid by the drivers.
3. A $10 No Go fee also will be automatically deducted from customers’ credit card if they aren’t there.
4. The “Response Time Fee” listed on the white board above is being renamed a “Premier Service Fee.” It will be paid to a driver if his or her taxi gets to a customer within a promised time like under ten or fifteen minutes. Yes this does mean that a driver will get a bonus picking up a ride in time.

Needless to say there are criticisms:

1. ETA won’t improve service because taxi drivers will take a flag before they will take a dispatched call. As the saying goes, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Well, that depends upon the birds in question doesn't it? Seriously, if you think about it, you are often closer to dispatched calls - unless you spend all your time in Union Square.

Take my situation for instance. I start driving from the inner Bayview at 4 pm. It takes me five minutes to get to the area around Zynga and Adobe where I can pick up flags, and another three to five minutes to get to either Market Street or the cabstand at Cal Trans. All that time I'm within five minute or less of dozens of businesses where people might want taxis.

The unwritten rule is that a driver shouldn't take dispatched calls during rush hour because most of them will be No Go's. The reasons for this are that you don't how old the orders are and the people have probably called three or four companies.

With ETA both these problems disappear. Your cab will be the only one sent to the order and you'll get the No Go fee if the party isn't there. In addition, with all hails going through one dispatch system, you'll have at a minimum of three times more orders to choose from.

2. This will discriminate against people without smart phones or with Paratransit cards.

The orders will be dispatched in such a way that a driver can’t tell what type of order it is.

3. If so, drivers won't take the hails because they might not get a No Go fee.

This comes from the meeting. Cab drivers, man. So many of us look only at the empty side of the hourglass. Eighty per cent of the people in S.F. have smart phones and people who don't have them don't take as many taxis as people who do. Furthermore, No Go's on Paratransit rides are rare. 

The percentage of No Go's will be extremely rare on with ETA and the odds of getting the fee if the customer isn't there are better than 90%.

The Age of the Dinosaurs...

... reputedly passed over 65 million years ago but a few survivors are hanging on in the taxicab business in the personas of John Lazar and the management of Yellow Cab.

Mr. Lazar reputedly killed Open Taxi Access a few years back and is out to waste ETA as well. The problem for him is that it's not as easy to buy politicians as it was back in the day. With Lyft and Uber on the scene the price of corruption has sky rocketed.

On the other hand, maybe Lazar is getting a kickback from Uber and Lyft. The balkanization of the dispatching services in this town is what opened the floodgates for the illegal apps in the first place. The adoption of an ETA system would be the best weapon we could possibly use against them.

But the President and General Manager of Luxor Cab is still living back in the Jurassic Age when the companies with the most medallions necessarily made the biggest profit. If he succeeds, all he's likely to win today is a large cut of a dying industry.

Sunday, May 26, 2013


A taxi Workshop was held last week as part of the Waterfront Transportation Assessment Project. The meeting was aimed at improving taxicab access and service at AT&T Park before, during and after ball games as well as other events.

The SFMTA was represented by Peter Albert (standing to my right in the last photo) who is heading the project, Project Manager Erin Miller (standing along with PCO Supervisor Gregory Sedlock in the lead photo), Taxi Services Director Chris Hayashi and Project Manager Carli Paine.

Taxicab drivers were represented by the usual suspects plus a few others.

Erin Miller suggested that we break up into three groups and that each team come up with five ideas to improve drop-offs and pick-ups.

We were encouraged to write or draw our recommended changes on maps of the area around AT&T.

Then a spokesperson for each group presented their proposals.

There appeared to be general agreement on the following ideas:

1. There should be better signage directing customers to cab stands. Colim Marcoux (third photo – white hair) suggested that flashing signs inside (or outside?) the ball park could be used for this purpose.

2. There should be a Taxi Only lane on 2nd street from Bryant to King streets.
  • The cab stand on 2nd & King should be extended from Townsend to Brannan.
  • U-turns should be allowed for taxis on 2nd and, in order the make the turns safer, there should be no parking on the East side of 2nd up to Townsend or, possibly, Brannan.
  • Taxis should be allowed to make left turns onto the Embarcadero from 2nd after the games.
3. The cab stand on 3rd & King should be moved to the East side of the street and extended from King up to Brannan (expect for the bus stop).

4. Since the Cal Tran station at 4th & Townsend functions as a cab stand, taxis should be allowed to make legal U-turns there.
  • Let me add that it would be a good idea to put a PCO at Cal Tans to help taxis safely make U-turns, not only after AT&T events, but during rush hour.
5. Traffic (except for taxis) should be turned from the Embarcadero onto Brannen after the games.

Mark Gruberg of the UTW said that a cab strand should be placed on the south side of King directly in front of the ball park.

Other drivers thought that limos should have a separate staging area. Trevor Johnson of the SFCDA suggested that the 3rd street side of the park would make a good place for limos so they could form a line "all the way out to the Bayview."

Most drivers where also in favor of having a non-enforcement rule for taxis dropping off and picking up for an hour after the game. This idea appeared to meet with something less than enthusiasm by PCO Sedlock and the project managers. I think the concept needs clarification.

None of us are suggesting that we make a cinéma-vérité version of The Purge with PCO's desperately fleeing avenging cab drivers. By all means ticket red-light running or any other dangerous moves.

However, the reality at these events is that there is going to be a great deal of chaos. Traffic is usually heavy and regularly gridlocked before the games, making it difficult or impossible to drop-off in a cab stand. And, after a game,  people run and flag the first taxi they see whether it's in a cab stand or not. It's not reasonable or efficient to expect them to walk a block when there is a cab right in front of them. Double-parking (typically for less than half a minute) is often the only realistic option.

Drivers should be allowed to drop-off or pick-up customers wherever it can be done safely without fear of being ticketed for minor, frequently imaginary infractions. So many drivers have been hit with bogus tickets after games that many of them won't go near the ball park. If the city really wants taxi drivers to do a better job at AT&T, the PCO's are going to have to change their mind-sets from one of "busting violators" to one of helping customers get to and from ballgames.

Fortunately, it sounded as if Peter Albert, Erin Miller and the other city representatives in the room enthusiastically embraced this point of view. Director Hayashi also promised that taxi drivers would no longer be harassed and that the eight newly hired investigators of Taxi Services would help out at the ball park.

Ever the skeptic, I said to Hayashi after the meeting,

"Well, they really listened. Do you think they'll actually make the changes?

"Of course," she replied. "Everybody knows things aren't working now."

Photos by Chris Hayashi

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Chris Hayashi at the CPUC

Director of Taxi Services Christiane Hayashi (photo) gave two powerful speeches at the recent CPUC hearing on Order Instituting Rulemaking on Regulations Relating to Passenger Carriers, Ridesharing, and New Online-Enabled Transportation Services.

Hayashi illuminated issues obscured by the rhetoric of both the so-called NOETS and the CPUC spokespersons. She also explained the negative consequences for the public of legalizing these bogus taxicab services.

The first talk begins with a comment on sharing the podium with Uber. The joke is that Uber had held court for over forty minutes before Director Hayashi was given the opportunity to speak. And, of course, Uber and Hayashi don't like each other very much.

The second talk is brilliant and impassioned. It's ending also points out the varying levels of respect given by the CPUC to the spokenperson for the City of San Francisco and the one for Uber.

A CPUC "facilitator" rudely shut down Director Hayashi before she had a chance to finish by claiming that Illya Abyzov, a manager for Uber, had only been given two minutes to talk before his Q & A. Actually Uber attorney Ed O'Neil's introduction of Mr. Abyzov took two minutes by itself and, as I mentioned before, the entire performance took up over forty minutes with Illya neither saying much nor answering any question he didn't like. The kicker is that Illya Abyzov is not listed as a "Party" to the Rulemaking. That is to say - he should not have been allowed to speak at all.

You might also have noticed that Hayashi was cut off precisely when she was about to give the "specific" ideas for change that the "facilitator" claimed to be asking for.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The SFMTA'S Comments on the CPUC's Rulemaking on Ridesharing

No, I 'm not on the MTA payroll. I've earned my gold star for SFMTA bashing by writing twenty some posts criticizing them for trying to cure San Francisco's shortfall by taxing cab drivers and killing the waiting list.

But that fight is now in the past and possibly in the future. At the moment we're both lined up against the same adversary - illegal app mongers out to destroy the taxi business.

That's right! Contrary to urban myth, the SFMTA is as strongly against the illegal encroachments of Uber, Lyft and Sidecar as anybody. 

The government officials actually responsible for keeping attack dogs off the techie, snake-oil, sales-persons are the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), Mayor Ed Lee and pro-corporate, anti-environment Supervisor Scott Weiner.

The SFMTA has actually gone beyond mere opposition to help organize and lead the fight. Director Christiane Hayashi, for example, has been instrumental in showing Barry Korengold of the San Francisco Cab Drivers Association and myself how to jump thorough the CPUC's hoops so that we could become part of their rulemaking process.

The below comments were put together by the Taxi Services staff with the final version being written by City Attorney Mariam Morely. The paper was okayed and signed by Director of Transportation Edward D. Reiskin. 

It's an excellent, well-thought out and thorough presentation that I thought I'd share with you. 

I. Introduction

As the SFMTA stated in its Initial Comments, the use of electronic hailing applications to deliver transportation for hire services does not change the underlying nature of the services.   Electronic hailing can and is being widely used to support delivery of both state-regulated charter-party service and locally-regulated taxi service.  It is also being used to support completely unregulated service.  With or without electronic hailing, transportation for hire services like those offered by Uber, Lyft and Sidecar must be regulated to protect the public health and safety and to meet many other critical public policy goals served by local taxi regulation. 

Services like Uber, Lyft and SideCar meet the statutory definition of charter-party service; however, as we review the record, we note that electronic hailing applications have effectively dissolved the previously coherent regulatory distinction between charter-party service and taxi service.  While meeting the statutory definition of charter-party service, Uber, Lyft and Sidecar offer services that can equally  be characterized as taxi service.  The solution to this regulatory problem is not double regulation; nor can it be the solution suggested by the CPUC's recent interim settlements with Uber and Zimride -- a weakened halfway form of charter-party regulation.  Existing California law provides two distinct frameworks for regulating transportation for hire.  The regulatory problem triggered by electronic hailing will not be solved by  "charter-party lite" or "local taxi lite" regulation.    Because transportation for hire services are critical to maintaining environmentally sustainable and economically vibrant urban areas, we urge the CPUC to work closely with local taxi regulators to develop a regulatory scheme that that ensures the availability of safe, reliable, affordable, environmentally-sustainable and nondiscriminatory transportation options for all segments of the market.  

The transportation for hire market in California cities can sustain two classes of service -- both of which can be supported and improved by the magnificent opportunity reflected in electronic hailing innovations.  As public servants, we must deliver a solution to the regulatory problem we face that does not abandon the critical goals that have historically been served by regulation of transportation for hire.  Our solution must ensure that unregulated services do not drive regulated providers out of business and, in so doing, undermine our state and local goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and ensuring access to safe and reliable transportation for all California residents -- including seniors and people with disabilities.  While born of innovation and opportunity, this challenge is formidable.   We can meet it effectively only by working together.
(To read further Click below.)