Cabs v. Lyft et. al. isn't just about tech

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Of course the Chron portrays it as "The latest battle pitting disruptive high-tech innovators against old-school industries and regulators," because that makes for good copy. It also puts the taxicab industry and the people who oversee it in the position of being dinosaurs fighting against an inevitable new world.

But seriously: This has so little to do with smart phones and apps and GPS systems. Those are tools that anyone can use, and the local cab companies ought to and will soon anyway.

What it's about is the notion that there are such things as public utilities that ought to be regulated in a way that protects the public.

San Francisco decided as a city many, many years ago that you can't just stick a sign on your car, call yourself a taxi and start charging people for rides. That's fairly standard practice in American cities, where cabs are considered part of the transportation system -- and are a service that, without regulation, is ripe for consumer fraud and safety problems.

Not to make too broad a case, but in California, you can't just hang out a sign and call yourself a contractor and start applying for building permits. You need a license. You can't just open a bank and start making loans, at any interest rate you want. You can't call yourself a dentist and start pulling teeth, either. There are good reasons for these rules. (I suppose some day someone will suggest that surgeons should be chosen not by the AMA or by state licensing boards but by Yelp; some guy cuts off the wrong part of the body or kills someone on the operating table? Hey, he won't get a good rep on social media and his prices will have to come down. But I don't think that's such an excellent idea.)

Even conservatives agree that there needs to be some form of business regulation -- and when it comes to cabs in a major urban center, those regulations need to include safety tests and standards on the vehicles, safety checks for drivers (a DUI in the past three years will make you ineligible to drive a cab in SF), a system to regulate fares (so tourists who don't speak English or understand US currency don't get cheated) and, perhaps most important, an oversight system that allows people to complain about incompetent or dangerous drivers -- and have those complaints investigated and addressed by a government agency.

The battle between the new high(er)-tech faux cabs and the existing industry is also being portrayed as selfish, entitled drivers not wanting to give up their piece of the game:

SideCar's Paul, a onetime congressional policy analyst, said the issue might eventually work its way up to the governor's office, which oversees the commission. "The PUC has an existing set of rules that were written for an era when communication technology was literally just a landline telephone, and they're trying to shoehorn them into this new world," he said. SideCar is also using social media to drive support of an online petition to the PUC. Within 24 hours, the petition at Change.org had more than 5,000 signatures. "Change always threatens incumbents," wrote Tim O'Reilly, a Sebastopol business owner. "But some incumbents find ways to get government on their side and try to restrict competition."

But let's have a little perspective here. We're not talking about (unregulated) musicians complaining about MP3 downloads and song-sharing or old-school (unregulated) newspaper publishers complaining that Craigslist took all the classified ads. We're talking about an industry that is part of a public infrastructure and needs to fall under direct government supervision.

There are good reasons why San Francisco limits the number of cabs on the streets -- and it's not just industry corruption and influence. Too many cabs chasing too little money leads to bad behavior -- and to bad drivers. You can't get someone to drive a cab for so little money that they can't pay the rent, and the lower the pay, the lower the quality of the drivers. There are excellent cab drivers in this town who have been doing the job for 20 years or more and know every address, every shortcut, every trick to get you there ... but there won't be many more of them if it becomes a business only for the young and the desperate.

Now: The city ought to have a centralized computerized dispatch system, with GPS on all the cars and an app to get the one that's clsoes to you (and even more important, give you honest, real-time information about when the ride will arrive). These are technological changes that are coming, and that the city can mandate.

But you can't just let anyone with a smart phone be a cab driver. That's not innovation against old-school; that's just good common sense.

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

I think there should be a distinction between Uber and the other two companies that were cited. Uber only uses professional limo/town car drivers or cab drivers. It is not about car sharing etc. I seem them in a different classification that either of the other companies which focus on ride-sharing using private vehicles. To ban Uber is to essential ban the entire town car industry from SF.

Posted by D. Native on Nov. 19, 2012 @ 2:22 pm

than in NYC? Having moved from NYC to SF a few years ago, I cannot believe how hard it is get a cab outside of downtown, and everyone I know from back east says the same thing.

Something is rotten here if that's the case and it's hard to believe it doesn't have to do with over-regulation. I know you cannot resist regulating and restricting everything that moves but, really, could we not have a few more cabs? Let cab drivers decide if their business is viable, not some well-meaning bureaucrat in a bad suit.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 19, 2012 @ 2:31 pm

errr... or something like that. That's what Tim said anyway.

If SF taxi service were better and more reliable (for example, when I call for a cab at my house one shows up around 10% of the time, meaning 90% of the time one doesn't) there would be much less of a demand for these ride-sharing services. Tim doesn't care about that - he's defending the power of the government, staffed by untouchable bureaucrats, to force people to use a government-regulated service which most people detest because he considers that "better" for society. His attitude about this matches his attitude about neighborhood schools - he wants children to be pawns in service to a greater societal good.

It's all about Tim's vision of what he thinks is good for everyone else - and he wants that enforced.

Posted by Troll II on Nov. 19, 2012 @ 2:39 pm

It's not that fewer drivers are better drivers -- it's that to have good, skilled drivers you need people who commit to spending years at the job to learn the city and do it right. So they need to be able to make a living. If the amount of taxicabs is not controlled somehow, drivers go out of business or barely squeek by at best, which leads to rapid turnover (as well as speeding, stress, etc.).

Posted by Guest on Nov. 21, 2012 @ 1:03 pm

but how easy is it to get one in Queens, Staten Island or the other outer boroughs? SF is not NY. We are not LA but we are certainly more car based than NY is.

Posted by D. Native on Nov. 19, 2012 @ 3:28 pm

Especially as JFK and La Guardia are in Queens. Cabs are really quite ubiquitous in NYC - not just in parts of Manhattan. That is not at all the case in San Francisco. Popular, crowded areas like Valenica Street or Clement rarely have cabs available without a 10-15 minute wait. Even getting a cab in the Castro after 2:30 AM means a 20-30 minute wait. I have NEVER seen a cab meandering down West Portal.

Plain fact - we do not have enough taxi service in San Francisco to meet demand and that is why these ancillary services are thriving.

Posted by Troll II on Nov. 19, 2012 @ 3:50 pm

so even if it's hard to get a cab in Queens (it isn't) the analogy there would be with, say, Oakland.

The purpose of any central management of cabs is surely first and foremost to ensure cabs are available to most people most of the time.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 19, 2012 @ 4:34 pm

The sunset is not comparable to Manhattan.

Posted by D. native on Nov. 19, 2012 @ 6:19 pm

...Being a former Brooklyn/Queens resident with a car I would have to disagree with this statement. There are just as many cars on the road, if not more, in the outer boroughs. More people take the subway in nyc but, exactly, in general nyc metro has more people. It is infinitely easier to get a cab anywhere in nyc BUT the quality of cab drivers is horrendous and the majority of them are rude and inconsiderate. I don't know if the same is true about sf, however I think it is great to have something like Lyft, which encourages not just social interaction with your driver, but also allows you to meet new people and network. Sure, they don't regulate your license like a Taxi Service, but are we that paranoid that we can't be willing to try progressive alternatives to simple problems like cab hailing? They do extensive background testing, making sure all your documents are in order and that you are a safe driver before letting you participate.

Posted by A. Friend on Nov. 19, 2012 @ 8:17 pm

In San Francisco the geography of the city does not make it easy to flag a taxi everywhere in the city. When you are downtown or essentially east of Divisadero or Castro St you can flag a cab down on most streets within 10 minutes depending on city wide demand. West of that demarcation line there are very few streets you can flag a cab that easily. Essentially the vast swaths of western San Francisco that are 90% residential there is 90% less demand than everywhere else in the city. So cab drivers (rightly so) focus on the areas where they will make money and dispatch services handle the booking connection for the areas where there is less demand. The major problems (as a driver and dispatcher) with this system are twofold, impatient customers that call for cabs from multiple companies and leave one hanging when they get picked up by the other; and drivers that get stuck in a mental block about where to get business. I have found that when ever i am headed out to an area with low demand a simple call to the dispatcher will get me a ride back to where the bulk of the business is or get me a nice well paying crosstown or airport run. Another issue is the Airport having too large a lot and not managing supply properly. When SF cabs get stuck in the lot for hours its taking cabs off the city streets where they are needed.

Most importantly though, the demand citywide has such deep valleys and soaring peaks that its very though to always have the exact right number of cabs on the streets for the drivers to make money and the public to get cabs. Throw in the hills and lazy people that dont want to walk 3 blocks up hill and that takes away much needed supply for people who generally need cabs.

Reform is needed sorely, mostly that reform is education of drivers and passengers alike.

Posted by SF Taxi Driver on Feb. 06, 2013 @ 5:01 pm

The cab companies in SF are as corrupt as the MUNI unions and even more lazy.

We need a prop g for the cab companies. I think this every time a taxi driver asks me where I am going before they accept my fair.

Posted by Dedicated_local on Nov. 19, 2012 @ 3:53 pm

Ask for a right to Bayview at 2am and, chance are, they won't take you. I don't blame them.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 19, 2012 @ 4:34 pm

A cab driver cannot refuse to take you anywhere in any of the five boroughs. And I think that's a good thing. I don't understand why someone who lives in East New York should be deprived of cab service simply because it's a rough area. Taxi service is a public service. It doesn't work if cab drivers get to discriminate against users.

Posted by Troll II on Nov. 19, 2012 @ 5:34 pm

because they don't want to drive you to the outer sunset.

Posted by matlock on Nov. 19, 2012 @ 7:11 pm

Cab drivers in SF can't refuse to provide service either. If they do, complain to 311.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 12:34 pm

male trying to hail a can at 2am in a bad part of town, chances are they'll wait longer. Good luck complaining.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 12:45 pm

Seems to me you'd have trouble being picked up by any service in that circumstance.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 3:01 pm

I'm a young white person, and I take 5-6 cabs a week. I would say that four out of ten times I get asked where I am going before they let me in the cab. I live in north beach.
There are frequently reasons why they wont take me - oh im going the other direction, its the end of my shift etc.

8 out of every ten times I get in the cab, I hear some excuse about how they dont take credit cards.

Like I said, we need comprehensive reform with the way SF deals with these cab companies. As things are now, we get too little service for too much money, with far too much BS

Posted by Dedicated_local on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 5:06 pm

you are going. The incidents of cab drivers being robbed, attacked and worse varies hugely by area. Ask to be taken to Bayview at 2am and cabbies will refuse. And I don't really give a damn whether that's against the rules or not, and nor do they. It's their life on the line and, relative to that, your inconvenice comes second.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 5:32 pm

Tim thinks that Cab drivers take the quickest route to get you to your destination...please. The fact that fares are metered directly puts the cab driver's interests at odds with their customer. Sure, they are "prohibited" from taking a route that is purposely longer but there is no guarantee it is the fastest or least expensive route...

Posted by Guest on Nov. 19, 2012 @ 4:29 pm

For most trips, you're wrong. The best thing for the cabdriver is to drop you as soon as possible to get a new fare. Every ride starts with a "flag drop" charge so it is more profitable to pick up more passengers, than to take fewer passengers farther.

If you're worried about being taken out of the way call a company with a busy radio or computer dispatch (Luxor, DeSoto). They have business all over town so they'll have not motivation to keep you longer...

Posted by Guest on Nov. 21, 2012 @ 1:11 pm

I have ridden in many cabs where I thought (1) this car is not safe (engine sputtering, brakes screeching, etc.) or (2) this driver is not safe (flying through red lights, etc.)

I don't think the regulations are working.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 19, 2012 @ 4:31 pm

they are employed by the city. Proof enough that you cannot micro-manage and over-regulate things so they are perfect.

I'd settle for just being able to get a cab on the street.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 19, 2012 @ 4:53 pm

Did you report these situations, or just suffer in silence? If you do nothing, you're part of the problem.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 12:36 pm

Did you report these situations, or just suffer in silence? If you do nothing, you're part of the problem.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 12:39 pm

Deregulation would cause both of these things to get worse. It has happened several times, in Seattle, Washington DC... they went back to regulation after a while.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 21, 2012 @ 1:12 pm

I agree it's a big problem. New Yorkers are trained and seasoned not to have private cars, so there are lots of cabs to take them around. SF people tend to stick to the notion that everyone should have a car and drive themselves. If the percentage of people with private cars in SF was the same as manhattan, you would see a lot more cabs.

The dispatch system in the city is stupid. Everyone with any sense knows that. And what I really want is a system that lets me know where my cab is and when it will arrive (like Nextbus).

 

Posted by tim on Nov. 19, 2012 @ 5:27 pm

Never. What I did was walk out on the street when I wanted one and one was there. That's what I'd like for San Francisco too. Availability - all the time.

Posted by Troll II on Nov. 19, 2012 @ 5:55 pm

"SF people tend to stick to the notion that everyone should have a car and drive themselves."

Yes, I've noticed that too while the City pretends to be "green" and "transit-first."

Posted by Guest on Nov. 19, 2012 @ 6:33 pm

I think it's a damn waste of money to be taking taxis. A damn waste of money. I believe in the therapeutic use of a bicycle to get me where I'm going.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 19, 2012 @ 6:36 pm
Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 19, 2012 @ 7:05 pm

You have it backwards, as usual: It's the sanctimonious elitists and holier-than-thou's who feel they are entitled to taxis. They are too good to ride a bicycle or take public transportation. They wouldn't dream of that! Only a taxi or limousine seat is sufficient for their ass to be placed on.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 19, 2012 @ 7:34 pm

Regarding New York City:

February 24, 2011, 5:00 pm
Taxi Panel Focuses on Destination Discrimination

Can’t find a cab to take you to Brooklyn? Join the club.

The city is seeing a big rise in complaints about scofflaw cabdrivers who refuse rides based on the passenger’s requested destination, officials said on Thursday.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission said it received 2,341 reports of refusals in the last half of 2010, a 38 percent increase from the same period a year prior, when 1,693 complaints were received.

It is illegal for a yellow cab driver to reject a passenger wishing to travel within the city or certain surrounding areas, but refusals remain a perennial problem. Particularly late at night, when taxis are scarce, many cabbies prefer to stay in Manhattan, where they are more likely to pick up another fare.

David S. Yassky, chairman of the taxi commission and a Brooklyn Heights resident, said he was alarmed by the trend. “A core component of taxi service is that the passenger chooses where to go in the five boroughs,” he said in a statement. “Unfortunately, it is getting to be like the bad old days when taxis wouldn’t go to Brooklyn.”

Mr. Yassky and the Bloomberg administration now want to raise the penalties on cabbies who are found to have refused a ride. A proposal floated on Thursday would levy a fine of $500 for first offenders, up from the current $200 penalty. Cabbies could have their licenses revoked if they commit three such infractions in a three-year period.

(read the rest by googling it).

Posted by Guest on Nov. 19, 2012 @ 7:29 pm

Is the government being effective in San Francisco by regulating cabs? When I started to drive a cab about 7 years ago I was told that we were covered by auto insurance. In 2010 I was in an accident with an uninsured motorist that was not my fault and was not covered by insurance of the taxi company (National Cab Company) I reached out for understanding about the issue to Chris Hyashi, and Scot Leon at the SFMTA and am still waiting for a response over two years later. I even reached out to Ed Reiskin thinking I could get some help mandating uninsured motorist for all cab companies to make it safe for the taxi drivers and the public. Instead I get black listed and am unable to drive a cab, I have applied at Desoto, and Luxor. Luxor had me come in and go through a training and minutes after I finished Martin told me there were no cabs available to drive for them. The taxi system is corrupt and by having the government to involved it makes it that much more corrupt. All I was trying to do is bring awareness about public safety, including the taxi drivers as part of the public. I have been told by some cab drivers that I am a trouble maker, for what? Because I care about my fellow cab drivers and myself. I now am injured with a few disks in my spine, along with other injuries. Not even one cab driver has come up to me and asked how I am doing. Thats what the taxi industry is like in San Francisco.

Posted by Dean Clark on Nov. 19, 2012 @ 11:28 pm

Is the government being effective in San Francisco by regulating cabs? When I started to drive a cab about 7 years ago I was told that we were covered by auto insurance. In 2010 I was in an accident with an uninsured motorist that was not my fault and was not covered by insurance of the taxi company (National Cab Company) I reached out for understanding about the issue to Chris Hyashi, and Scot Leon at the SFMTA and am still waiting for a response over two years later. I even reached out to Ed Reiskin thinking I could get some help mandating uninsured motorist for all cab companies to make it safe for the taxi drivers and the public. Instead I get black listed and am unable to drive a cab, I have applied at Desoto, and Luxor. Luxor had me come in and go through a training and minutes after I finished Martin told me there were no cabs available to drive for them. The taxi system is corrupt and by having the government to involved it makes it that much more corrupt. All I was trying to do is bring awareness about public safety, including the taxi drivers as part of the public. I have been told by some cab drivers that I am a trouble maker, for what? Because I care about my fellow cab drivers and myself. I now am injured with a few disks in my spine, along with other injuries. Not even one cab driver has come up to me and asked how I am doing. Thats what the taxi industry is like in San Francisco.

Posted by Dean Clark on Nov. 19, 2012 @ 11:30 pm

"Now: The city ought to have a centralized computerized dispatch system, with GPS on all the cars and an app to get the one that's clsoes to you."

Amazing! That actually sounds EXACTLY like Uber! What's wrong with Uber as it stands now? The fact that it's run by a private company and not by the government? Conservatives may be knee-jerk anti-government, but the SFBG's knee-jerk anti-private sector is just as inane. An innovative company came out and solved a public problem with a solution that almost everyone loves; so of course, the answer is to kill it, right?

Posted by Matt on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 10:09 am

Back in the bad old days before government regulation, school children were given "milk" which consisted of water mixed with chalk. That's the kind of world your sort of facile thinking would have us return to.

Posted by lillipublicans on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 11:23 am

Cab Companies are not private in SF, they only want you to think they are private!

Posted by Dean Clark on Dec. 06, 2012 @ 12:46 am

The difference: Uber "Black" are much more expensive, and also use "dynamic pricing" to limit demand. At such prices they could only ever serve a much smaller demographic than a taxi system.

For Uber to actually replace taxis, their prices would have to come way down. Then driver income would also come down, and their vehicles would start being in worse repair, the drivers crankier -- you would see all the complaints you currently see about taxis.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 21, 2012 @ 1:18 pm

I fully support the notion that the activities of these not-really-so-new-fangled rideshare companies should be regulated. Fair is fair. If we agree that cabs should be regulated, then everyone who offers rides for money as a business should be regulated... Which gets me to a word of caution about this line of regulatory pursuit: local government tacitly/actively encourages casual carpooling (generally between east bay and SF). This is also a very important part of the transportation system. The City has been very careful to steer clear of guaranteeing all the things that we require of taxi drivers -- that drivers are safe, have cars in working order, etc etc. Of course if we did that, casual carpool would cease to exist because the whole system works on its informality and ability of average joe with a car commuting across the bridge to offer rides and therefore use the carpool lane. The key distinction here is that these rides are not being offered for money. There is (a very small) financial incentive to drivers vis-a-vis tolls, but the main incentive is being able to use the carpool lanes. I think this model of ridesharing (which is essentially loosely formalized hitch-hiking) should be radically expanded.

Posted by anonymous on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 11:45 am

any more than you can regulate who lets whom sleep overnight in their home. We'd need a Big Brother society to achieve that and most of it would deem that very much worse.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 12:00 pm

Guest here?

Guest, you comment has a bit of verisimilitude and no validity.

You use of the term "Big Brother" would apparently describe currently employed methods of enforcement against a variety of illegal or illegally-run businesses, so I deem you use of the term incompetent.

The callow will wear off in time, but you might be better off on a different forum in the meantime.

Posted by lillipublicans on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 1:34 pm

your usual tactic when your errors are exposed.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 1:53 pm

ever shut the fuck up?
it is so tiresome to try to read through these comments, where one can sometimes hear an interesting, different viewpoint, and just come across post after post of your bullshit.

get a life already. go out for a walk. see a movie. read a book. just shut the fuck up for once in your life.

Posted by guest on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 3:25 pm

He clearly has no job, no meaningful purpose in life and, evidently, no brain of any consequence.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 5:29 pm

Having lived in NYC and SF, I can tell you that the main problem in SF is that if you call for a cab, you may or may not get a cab to come pick you up even if they take your call.

It would seem to me that if a cab company takes your call, they should give you an answer (yes, no, 30 minutes, whatever -- but an answer). It also seems to me that most cabs here serve tourists and not real city residents and that the city needs to deny medallions (or licensing to the cab companies) to anyone who will not say that taking a call is an implied contract that the company is sending someone to pick you up.

I understand NYC outlawed companies like UBER, etc., because they are not available to people without smart phones. Even in techy San Francisco, that should also apply. But there IS a problem. Reliable taxi service is the missing transportation link. Not everyone is young or fit enough to ride a bike and if you need to get to a hospital in time for an early-morning operation, as I've had, you need reliable cab service.

Posted by Guest Pontifikate on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 11:59 am

It is still operating, though it discontinued using cabs and now only uses the towncar service.

I do not get your logic, according to your post, since not everyone has a smartphone,private services such as this should exist? Where is the logic in that?

Posted by D. native on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 7:00 pm

most tourist don't take cab, they wait for cable car or walk around, you people can wait in line to club and bars but if you to wait for a cab you start crying and complaining. the only busy day for cab driver are Friday and Saturday when everyone goes out and want a cab at the same time that why you have to wait, the rest of the week there is no business after 10pm, and most cab driver having hard time to make a living.

Posted by Guest jon on Dec. 24, 2012 @ 2:55 am

most tourist don't take cab, they wait for cable car or walk around, you people can wait in line to club and bars but if you to wait for a cab you start crying and complaining. the only busy day for cab driver are Friday and Saturday when everyone goes out and want a cab at the same time that why you have to wait, the rest of the week there is no business after 10pm, and most cab driver having hard time to make a living.

Posted by Guest jon on Dec. 24, 2012 @ 2:58 am

most tourist don't take cab, they wait for cable car or walk around, you people can wait in line to club and bars but if you to wait for a cab you start crying and complaining. the only busy day for cab driver are Friday and Saturday when everyone goes out and want a cab at the same time that why you have to wait, the rest of the week there is no business after 10pm, and most cab driver having hard time to make a living.

Posted by Guest jon on Dec. 24, 2012 @ 3:00 am