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.