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.



  1. What's the point of creating all this trouble for fellow drivers? If you're so confident the TNCs won't last, why not leave them to their fate? And, while we're at it, when did Ed Healy, voice of the little guy, become a talking head for the SFMTA?

    1. 1.Trouble for what fellow drivers? The ones who are raising my insurance rates and endangering the public by cheating on their own insurance?

      2. Politics make strange bedfellows: the little guy and the SFMTA are on the same side on this issue.

  2. Ed,
    Great reporting. It really helps to know what is going on out there since the regular news never covers this subject in a fair manner. You really feel optimistic that UberX, Lyft and Sidecar are going to slowly decline? That is heartening. With taxi companies lowering gates to attract drivers and cab shifts being unfilled on week ends it feels desperate. Even if the TNC's started paying commercial insurance and workers comp, they are still free of the expense of a gate fee and medallion cost. Doesn't this give them a unfair advantage even with the costs of maintaining their own cars. How can taxi's compete in the long run?
    Thanks again.

    1. Hi Erik,

      I suggest (as I have for the last several years) that cab companies phase out the gate system. They can start with a split of the meter that is limited by a gate. For instance, say the gate is $100. And, say the split if 50/50. As soon as the gross hits $200 the gate system would take over and the drivers could keep the rest.

      This would be a win/win for companies and drivers - especially on slow shifts.

      And please no whining about high flagging. In the age of electronic waybills and cameras in the taxis, it would extremely difficult to cheat.


    2. Can taxi services or parking control ticket for using the transit lanes or illegal left turns, or is that up to the police?

      Taxis have the advantages of picking up at the airport, taxi stands, using transit lanes, making some of the muni only left turns, paratransit and picking up street flags. Because of the transit lanes and left turns, a taxi can be a significantly quicker option through congested parts of the city.

  3. Hi Ed,
    At the company I'm associated with, we have lowered our gates to $80 a shift and we still lost 6 experienced drivers to UberX in less than a month. We now cannot fill many of our shifts and the cabs sit empty. I hope that your ideas or some new ones can stem the blood letting.
    When are these TNC's supposed to get their commercial insurance? Is it on hold while the CPUC's ruling is being appealed by Uber? And what about worker's comp? Is anybody pushing the TNC's to get it?
    This whole mess is a race to the bottom for all drivers, including TNC and Limo's. How can an unlimited, unregulated business model help anybody? It has already created a free for all on the streets and this endangers the public. Wasn't that the whole point of the CPUC's hearings? To look into safety. How could they be so blind not to see what would happen? I don't expect you to have all the answers. Powerful forces beyond our control are obviously pulling the strings. So horrible.

  4. What would the people who make the lenders and or lessors have to say if they found out a vehicle with an outstanding loan or lease designated for personal use is being used for commercial purposes? In both instances the vehicles are required to have collision coverage. When purchasing the vehicle often a personal policy is used to protect the lender/lessor. When the TNC driver works that coverage is voided. The CPUC approved secret policies do not cover the vehicles. Thus loan/lease fraud is taking place. Last time I checked loan fraud carries federal criminal liability.

  5. erik, $80 a shift ? what is the name of the cab company ? i quit yellow right now which is $107.50.

  6. There are many companies who have lowered their gate fees. Some are offering as low $150 for an all day double shift. Just call around. Bleak times with hopes that when new regulations kick in next year for the TNC's the tide will shift. There are also signs that drivers are migrating back to taxi driving from Uber because they are finding out they do not make as much money as promised and all the money is credit card with no chance to make any cash.

  7. As a former SF cab driver and a current UberX driver, I find your trolling practice a bit troubling. Targeting/ticketing specific types of drivers for standard violations strikes me as unethical and politically motivated, a type of profiling, if you will. Out of town cabs and soliciting town car drivers have always been a problem - and yes, they are operating illegally. Go out and get 'em - no problem there. But right now, Uber, Lyft and Sidecar are legal, even if you don't like them.
    I'm out there every night and while I drive ethically and safely, I see plenty of cabs double parked on busy streets, blocking traffic (Union Square, Mission, anywhere...), loading in mid-intersection, speeding and driving recklessly. While the NYE fatality could have happened to ANY ONE OF US DRIVERS, that it was an UberX driver is fodder for the press and for cab companies that are justifiably threatened by the competition. It will be interesting to see how Uber deals with this (they're already distancing the company from the driver and have "deactivated" him.)
    The issue of commercial insurance is a real one (I have it, however -- no fool here) but it is the TNC companies you should be targeting for their evasive, misleading policies and not the drivers doing the dirty work to make them their millions, and who assume all the risk. In my experience, taxis drive more recklessly than TNCs or TCPs - perhaps because they have a sense of impunity by driving a company car. When I drove a cab, drivers were still treated like pawns as they continue to be. It was hard to make money over "gas, gates & graft", get a clean, safe car to drive, make a short out of the Hyatt Regency, know that the flag on the street wasn't going to rob/kill you, etc. I suggest we all band together to protect each other -- all drivers -- and stop falling for the company line.
    FWIW, my passengers must wear their seatbelts. (Do yours? I didn't think so.) I have commercial insurance, am a skilled, safe and courteous driver who uses turn signals and flashers and always watches out for the crazies running red lights or cutting over 3 lanes for a pick-up. All of my passengers complain about SF taxis - grumpy, unfriendly drivers, long wait times/no-shows, insane driving. I am sympathetic to cab drivers: try to give them the right of way, never honk or swear at them when they block my way and only wish they would extend the same courtesy to me. We're all out here trying to make a living. Should I be writing down and reporting the cab #s and TCP/license plates of every vehicle who's driver does something stupid or illegal? I don't have enough paper.
    Lastly, don't think Hansu Kim really has your best interests at heart. Just as when I was driving cab, the companies care only for themselves and not the drivers. Nothing has changed -- except drivers are more gullible.

  8. People think that the "rideshares" are here to stay. The cabs will adapt by improving service and lowering fees. Even the new companies are too expensive for me. What will be funny is when super low fare services start running uber lyft and sideshare out of business. That could happen now if drivers take street hail for half price paid in cash. I am curious to see when or if car insurance companies will cover "rideshares" under regular non commercial policies.


  10. A lot has been said about lack of TNC insurance but from what I can find there is very little insurance
    on cabs in SF. Only 25,000 property damage is covered and 100,000 per person according to the police
    code. I was thinking of driving Taxi but the TNC's might actually be carrying a lot more insurance

    1. See about TNC insurance.

  11. Your information is incorrect. Taxicabs are required to carry one million dollar insurance policies that are top down and cover everyone in the car including the driver of the vehicle. Furthermore, the driver has Workers Compensation Coverage in case injury and a TNC driver has nothing. Beyond that the TNC coverage is, to say the least, iffy. An example of the this is the Uber driver who killed the girl. Despite the fact that he was working for Uber at the time, Uber not only denied coverage but fired him.

    1. This is interesting that the one million dollar number is thrown around so much. Where is it required in any city or sfmta code. Notice how the section is left blank in Sfmta taxi code.
      Why are there twenty pages about changing taxi scheme colors and nothing about insurance.

    2. The insurance requirements are under the current San Francisco Paratransit Taxi contracts (don't ask me why).

      Before showing the coverage, I would like to point out once again that taxi drivers are covered by Worker's Compensation while TNC drivers are not covered for any injuries (except possibly their own medical insurance). Nor are their vehicles covered for comprehensive or collision coverage. Anyway the insurance requirements for S.F. taxis is as follows:

      6. Auto Liability Insurance

      Contractor shall purchase and maintain auto liability insurance on all vehicles used to provide services under this Agreement regardless of whether said vehicles are owned by the Contractor or supplied to Contractor by Veolia, the Funding entity or some other party. Auto liability insurance shall provide minimum limits of one million dollars ($1,000,000) per occurrence combined single limit for bodily injury liability and property damage liability including liability to passengers. Said insurance shall provide coverage for “all vehicles” or “all hired, owned and non-owned vehicles.” For vehicles not owned by Contractor, insurance coverage shall also be maintained for physical damage to the vehicles including comprehensive and collision coverage equal to the cash value of the vehicles with maximum deductible of $500. Contractor shall be responsible for the payment of any deductible amount. Contractor shall provide to Veolia, prior to beginning service under this agreement a certificate of insurance, specifying coverages as required in this paragraph, underwritten by a carrier acceptable to Veolia (and having a most recent published rating by A. M. Best Company of "A" or better) that includes an endorsement indicating that Veolia and the Funding Entity, the officers, agents, employees, and volunteers of Veolia and the Funding Entity, individually and collectively and any subcontractor or agent of Contractor engaged in any work under this agreement are included as additional insureds on the policy. The certificate of insurance shall contain an endorsement providing that Veolia shall be given thirty (30) days' notice before cancellation of the policy and an endorsement that such insurance is primary and no insurance of Veolia, the Funding entity, or subcontractor will be looked upon to contribute to any loss.

      Director of Taxi Services Chris Hayashi writes, "We are working on updating these and putting them into the Transportation Code."

  12. Blah,blah,blah meanwhile cabbies are getting the boner,