Thursday, November 20, 2014

SF Taxi Drivers Stage SFO Protest

Monday night from 9 to 11 pm, Taxi drivers protested the San Francisco Airport's decision to allow Uber, Lyft and Sidecar to pick up and drop off at SFO.

Hundred of taxis bypassed the taxi lot, rolled horn-honking around the staging areas and, eventually, picked up customers without paying the $4 SFO fee.

The drivers were and are angry because the Airport is slamming them with the wrong end of a double standard that is economically disadvantageous to them and dangerous for the public.

San Francisco taxicabs are:

  1. Required to carry $1 million commercial livery liability insurance policies that are in effect 24/7.
  2. Inspected by by SFO's Ground Transportation Unit – under the supervision of the San Francisco Police Department.
  3. Required to have drivers who have have passed a week-long training course and a DOJ background check where they are fingerprinted.
Uber, Lyft and Sidecar:
  1. Vehicles are insured for $1 million some of the time, as little as $50,000 other times, and totally uninsured the rest of the time.
  2. Passengers in these vehicles are never completely covered for liability because they sign away their rights to collect compensation in case of negligence on the part of the drivers or the companies.
  3. Vehicles are NOT INSPECTED by SFO or any outside agency. The TNC's offer no proof of inspecting their vehicles at all – except their word (of honor?).
  4. Unlike taxi drivers, TNC drivers are not required to have a special permit or license to operate.
  5. TNC drivers are not given given a fingerprinted background check. The TNC's give no proof of vetting their drivers at all – except their word (of honor?). 
  6. In fact, the SFO police themselves have run several stings showing TNC drivers who did not have drivers licenses, drivers other than the person who was supposed to be driving the TNC vehicle, and several with bad driving or criminal records including one with a sexual assault conviction who had been scheduled to pick up a 22 year old woman traveling alone.
The higher standards of public safety that taxis rightly live up to are much more expensive than the deregulating regulations of the TNC's. This allows Uber, Lyft and Sidecar to temporarily undercut prices. Temporarily – because if they reach their goal of destroying the taxicab business Uber and Lyft and sidecar will, no doubt, price gauge all the time.

Cabs not picking up?

For a period of about 45 minutes passenger were indeed not getting rides. But this was not because the drivers were boycotting customers.

This problem was that the SFO police wouldn't let the taxis pick the customers up. Squad cars with flashing lights and motorcycle cops kept the cabs from stopping at the passenger pick up areas. And the SFO starters would not let customers get into the cabs that did try to pick up.

Then, the cops stopped harassing the protesting cabs, but the drivers still didn't pick up for awhile – probably because they were uncertain as to whether they should try to put the customers in their taxis or not.

After all, there is a $5,000 fine for picking up without paying the fee – a fine that has never been imposed against a TNC despite the fact they've been picking up illegally for two years.

Many customers became frustrated and went in search of other forms of transportation including the white haired businessman below who said that he was taking an Uber for the first time.

When the leaders of the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance SFTWA (who staged the protest) realized what was going at the terminals they talked the protesting drivers into picking customers up again and the cops into letting them do it.

The metadata on my photographs shows that the customers were still being picked up at 9:10 pm and were being picked up again by 9:53 pm

SWTWA board member Barry Korengold said that they had intended for the drivers to pick up from the start. In fact, one point of the protest was to have the taxi drivers get rides without paying the fees like the TNC's have been doing for the last two years.

This YouTube link shows taxi drivers picking up customers at 9:59 pm followed by Jeffrey Rosen of the SWTWA giving a succinct explanation of the reasons behind the protest.

Friday, November 14, 2014

En Farce: Part One

Acting, as usual, more like a spokesperson for Uber, Lyft & Sidecar than a director of Policy and Planning for the CPUC, Marzia Zafar, who was supposed to be a neutral moderator, came to the defence of the TNC conglomerates when a spokesman for the taxi & limo businesses pointed out that the TNCs did not do Department of Justice (DOJ) background checks using fingerprints.

Ms. Zafar (photo left) argued that the venture capitalized transportation corporations (VCTCs) did do background checks but did them online. She spoke as if she had scored the final point (online background checks = the DOJ's background checks) for their side and that the subject was closed.

This was – at the same time – one of the most typical and most bizarre moments of the CPUC hearings on so-called "ridesharing" that started in March of 2013.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Open Letter to Mark Gruberg, Dave Schneider and All The People at Green Cab

Hi Mark, Dave (photo) and the rest of you guys,

I just heard the news that you are probably going out of business and I wanted to express my sympathy along with my gratitude for having spent two years working for a company that was an actual co-op, a place where both professionalism and fair treatment of drivers was of paramount importance.

I'm a story teller and I think a few little tales will explain the difference between the attitude at Green and the way drivers are treated at many other companies.

Shorty before I went to Green, I had my medallion at Luxor Cab. I came to work one day only to find 30 drivers lined up at the cashier's window tying to pick up their cabs. There was no movement for a few minutes so I walked up to the window to find out what was going on. The female cashier, who was supposed to be putting out the taxis, was running numbers on an adding machine.

I watched her for a few minutes then got her attention. She gave me a big smile, apologized for keeping me waiting, stamped my waybill, gave me the medallion and went back to her adding machine.

I called her over and asked what she was doing. She said that she had to add up credit card totals. I told her that she should do it later because the drivers were losing money while they were waiting.

"Don't worry," she said with a suck-ass smile, "just come to the front of the line and I'll put you out."

It was a major reason I left Luxor. I didn't like being forced to act like an asshole just because I held a medallion.

After my first shift at Green, my night driver left me a long letter pointing out that: I had not washed the cab when I turned it in, that I had not vacuumed the inside and that I'd left pistachio shells all over the floor. He ended his note by saying, "We don't act this way at Green."

My first thought was, "Hey – I'm an owner!" My second thought was, "Hypocrite!"

Of course he was right. I should've cleaned he taxi and he should have the right to call me on it if I didn't go my job. A driver's a driver whether he or she owns a medallion or not. Green is one of the few companies where this principle was a daily truth instead of empty verbiage.

Perhaps, the thing I liked best about Green was the fairness with which everyone was treated. As result you had the most professional drivers in the fleet. If I'm not mistaken Green had the highest percentage of radio players and Flywheel users. I also have little doubt that Green set the industry standard for fewest complaints. If Green had any drivers who turned down credit cards or refused to take people to the Sunset they sure didn't talk about it.

Mark – Green set the standard for everyone else to follow. If all the drivers in San Francisco acted like you guys did at Green, the taxi industry would be in much better shape than it is now.

Here's a shot from your 2010 Christmas party. I never stopped enjoying my time there.

Good luck! I hope the rumors of your demise turn out to be false.