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


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 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.







I was once in labor and still could not get a cab (my bad luck - it was on a Friday night). I do agree with Tim - I think we need the oversight. I just wish there were more cabs on the street - I give up and take the bus most of the time (or use City Carshare).

Posted by Guest on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 3:56 pm

You either have an inadequate number of safe, reliable cabs or an adequate number of unregulated cabs. Since I routinely get in the car of friends etc. who are not regulated at all, I'd settle for more cabs and hang the oversight.

As soon as the government gets involved in anything, it's a mess.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 5:58 pm

Cab policy is so fucked up that any change will further fuck up another vested cab interest without any indication that the reform will deliver better service.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 5:50 pm

The MTA should develop a smartphone hailing app (e.g. “Open Taxi Access”) and make it freely available to every taxi driver, on an optional basis. If half the fleet used one app, Uber and the rest would never be able to compete for reliability and speed of service.

They should then create a new class of part-time permit, a “flex taxi” service akin to the current rideshare services. These would be directly linked to the MTA-controlled hailing app and could not take streethails. The MTA could control the number on the streets by issuing “invites” only when the OTA system indicates that demand exceeds the supply of cabs. They could be cabs or private cars distinguished by a detachable sign or decal reading “SFMTA Flex Taxi”.

This solves the main problem in the cab industry, which is meeting variable demand with a fixed supply. And it improves on the new innovative technologies by bringing them under regulatory control.

One more thing, the app should not be a concession to a commercial service. It should be open source, so that it could be freely adopted by other cities, and improvements to the app could be made faster and easier than with a proprietary model of development.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 21, 2012 @ 1:24 pm

Mr Redmond:

You are entirely wrong that "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."

San Francisco has a barely-functional cab system. The comments to your article, and our own personal experience, show the taxis in this town just don't work. I've occasionally had a good taxi ride, but usually, taxis take upwards of 20 minutes. Dispatchers won't take private calls. Cabs don't show up. There's no way to see where taxis are. I don't know how long it'll take (maybe I should just walk). Apps like this have come and gone every year, with no adoption.

Why should cab companies adopt them? There's no reason, they haven't, and they won't. Without regulation.

Your article claims we can't live without regulation. I agree. We need solid, professional taxi drivers. And we need a dispatch system that works. Right now, poor regulation shields poorly functioning incumbents.

Regulators should fix this. There are a multitude of knobs for the regulators to shift, and some of those are technological. Requiring every taxi to have a smart phone, or a smart phone app, or an "open hailing" app, isn't hard, certainly not for a regulated system like taxis. Regulators won't do the homework and put sensible regulations on dispatching and cab arrival rates.

These regulators are not doing their job, because the local paper who should take them to task is asleep at the switch.

Put a picture of the Tom Nolan on the cover of the Guardian and say "call this man if you can't get a cab".

PS to taxi drivers waiting for medallions: TOUGH. We have the choice of a city with a working taxi system, or your retirement fund. We'll choose what is best for the city. No one guaranteed you a medallion. It might even be good for you, in the long run, but we don't have horse drawn carriages, and maybe we'll even outlaw cars before you get your medallion --- anything could happen. Don't expect the government teat.

Posted by bbulkow on Nov. 24, 2012 @ 10:22 pm

Weekdays, or rainy days, the cab apps are actually more reliable. Instantcab, cabulous, Uber Taxi, all show the cars on the map and you can pick the one with cabs closest. Sidecar and Lyft often showed "sold out" when cabs were still available, and Uber's limo drivers sit downtown and don't know the city west of Van Ness.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 26, 2012 @ 11:48 am

Get to know a dispatcher. Send him a tip with a driver now and then. Thank him profusely when you speak to him. I love my cab companies, Arrow and DeSoto. Luxor is another good one.

Be considerate of the cabbies. Sometimes it actually is the end of their shift and they have to get the cab back or otherwise they are booked a fine.

I agree that Über is a different business model than the other two services. These need to be regulated and taxed or shut down.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 25, 2012 @ 8:41 am

Wow, a bunch of whiney New Yorkers bitching why SF isn't more like NY. I bet you all live in the Marina and wonder why we avoid your drunken self-entitled asses at 2:00 am on Friday night. Its because we have free will.

I notice this "e-article" is missing the first half of the sentence of the print media's version. Shall I quote it for you? "As San Francisco issues fines against Uber, SideCar, and Lyft for using, peer-to-peer connections to bypass city regulations on taxicabs, the San Francisco Chronicle etc. etc.

The fact that one Tim Redmond, a mighty personage of liberal editorials, can't even write a pro-driver, pro-industry essay without getting the very FIRST sentence of what should be an IMPORTANT article of our industries present plight, factually correct and has actually edited it for the internet, fills me with a deep and despairing anger.

The STATE has issued fines, which are presently being appealed, and SF has done nothing to deserve Redmonds' accreditation of purpose. How can one apparently predisposed towards our position and be so benefit of a profound knowledge of local government issues be so fucking ignorant? He writes a fine "common-sense" article but his singular fact in his very first sentence is a fantasy and a harmful one. SF SHOULD be issuing fines but where did he read or hear about such a circumstance? Why would he expect SF to do what should be done rather than the State?

Because we all do. SF is supposed to be about Labour and progressive politics. Its supposed to be socially responsible. Its supposed to be lot of things that it isn't. What it is is a playground for the rich and in the words of Willie B. (paraphrased) "if you can't afford it, move to Oakland".

The SFMTA is issuing medallions in a flood and offering them directly to companies in competition and under market value, resulting in a cash donation to the worst exploiters of the "drivers". It is cynically buying off a vocal minority of "non-list" drivers with 1/2 value "S" medallions. Meanwhile there is no enforcement of city ordinances for the cab-drivers as the police unit or "Taxi-detail" has long been disbanded (it was corrupt as hell too... see SGT. Makaveckis)

I personally hope you self-entitled children leave this city of my birth as soon as your daddies money runs out. This isn't NYC and I hear there is this place you might like... it's called NYC. Yankees and Mets suck! SF Giants WORLD CHAMPS!


Posted by Mike, the Cab Driver of 15 years experience. on Dec. 04, 2012 @ 6:08 am

Well, I'm in charge of hiring chauffeurs, and Dean Clark sounds like a good hire to me. Our small business is green, innovative, and we have a $5 million insurance policy. Our philosophy is about accountability, integrity, authenticity and truly being of service. Dean, search for "Uber revolution" in the jobs listings on Craigslist. Seriously.

Posted by Mary on Dec. 05, 2012 @ 2:03 am

There are problems with the current taxi situation. I also am a former taxi driver who worked for National Cab Company.

I was involved in an accident that was no fault of my own. The cab company did not carry uninsured motorist coverage and no air bags deployed in my cab. The accident has left me seriously injured. I looked for answers regarding how a taxi company could operate without full coverage insurance. I found out that cab companies are not required to have uninsured motorist nor are cabs required to have air bags because they are municipal vehicles. We really have some outdated laws and regulations within the taxi industry that need to be addressed for public and driver safety! I am not the only person where this type of unfortunate accident has occurred while as a driver or passenger.

As for your statement of accountability for the taxi industry. There really is no accountability in the taxi industry, if anything the taxi industry is a rogue system with cab company owners doing whatever they want including illegally collecting deposits and charging back gates to name a few.

John in addition cab drivers have abused many in the city by not taking credit cards to avoid having a paper trail to pay taxes, not taking passengers where they need to go in the city, treating passengers with disrespect especially women and people in the LGBT community ( in other words acting in a discriminatory manner not acceptable to the public ) If a driver companies about a car having an issue with brakes or odors, they may get fired by the cab companies.

I would also like to comment on your thought of taxi drivers being held to a high level of performance. I have read and with you working at Luxor must have heard the same thing where a driver in an accident at Eddie and Larkin caused an accident by running a red light and killing a pedestrian had a criminal background. Safety does not seem to be of interest in the taxi industry but only politics.

John from my perspective companies like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar exist because there is no safety in the taxi industry and a person gets blacklisted from the industry when they speak out about issues to make it better for the cab drivers. In my case I am unable to get a job as a taxi driver again because I spoke out about the issues of not having air bags nor uninsured motorist. I have applied at Luxor on two occasions and am told I can start in a couple days, but then never hear back from anyone. John the taxi industry is old and outdated system that needs a change, the industry is so filled with corruption and contempt that the taxi industry in San Francisco will not change on its own. Maybe with companies like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar people can get into an insured and safe vehicle for once and not have to listen to a cab driver complain about credit cards or how bad their night was all night. Cab drivers have done this to themselves and need to stop blaming everyone else for their problems! John you can reach out to me through Facebook if you would like to discuss this further.

Posted by Dean Clark on Dec. 05, 2012 @ 6:01 pm

Who the hell is John you keep referring to in your comment? The article was written by Tim Redmond.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 05, 2012 @ 11:08 pm

John Horn did a commentary and this piece was written for him. It also applies to this article. If you can overlook the John, it is the context and the message that is important.

Posted by Dean Clark on Dec. 06, 2012 @ 12:41 am

So cabs are safer than these services? Tell that to Julie Day. The cab industry is run by gangsters and the medallion holders are parasites. And John Lindh is such a piece of work he drove his kid to become a Taliban. Cutthroats all around, preserving sinecures at the expense of everyone else.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 05, 2012 @ 6:15 pm

Not sure if this was mentioned but I use Lyft because cab companies in San Francisco refuse pickups and drop offs in the Sunset, I even live close to the park and can't get a ride. They also refuse credit cards. I also don't think cab companies really screen drivers, I have never been afraid of a Lyft driver....I have feared for my life in yellow cab many times do to strange behavior and dangerous driving. I am thankful for Lyft!

Posted by sfprgirl on Dec. 09, 2012 @ 10:13 am

Jon C.
30/10/2013 09:00:42
Horrible Uber experience in Santa Monica last evening. Here is our experience:
We requested a pick up as usual. We received the text that our Uber had arrived.
We walked outside and the car was directly in front of our restaurant. As usual we got into the car and gave the driver our destination. We were almost half way home when the driver turned to us and said he had to take us back to the restaurant because he picked us up by mistake and we were not his ride. Of course we were shocked and told him - no he could not just take us back, he waiting for us. He continued to tell us very rudely that someone else was waiting for him and we could either get out of his car or he would take us back. He ended up dropping us off on the side of the road.

This is unacceptable- and then he has the nerve to a) charge us and b) say that he took us round trip somewhere when in fact he dropped us off on a busy street and drove off.

Alen k
30/10/2013 17:55:28
Tired of over charges!!! Same ride once is $30 then it's $42 them it's $55, waste $1500 for their BS over charges!!

30/10/2013 19:21:54
Uber drivers are so incompetent that sometimes you start to think how they can even work as driver's. Some uber drivers are uncoordinated and some don't know how to drive.

30/10/2013 21:49:31
Alen K. Yep. The same with me. Milleage charges vary based on unknown parameters. Not serious.

30/10/2013 21:50:30
This used to be a good service but now it's messed up

30/10/2013 22:17:34
same problem with me over charges!!!!

Uberx driver
30/10/2013 22:20:14
Why initial $2.59 became $2. They lied to drivers and reduced the mile price telling that the promotion was the reason.

30/10/2013 23:21:09
Worst experience ever I had
The UBER company taking advantage of us.
They charging as much as they want.
Which is totally not fare.
My advice to everybody just use a TAXI
Never UBER again...!!!

31/10/2013 00:11:52
Hello everybody
My name is the Hrach
I am ex UBER driver
Before that I used to be in transportation business for 15 years I know my job from A to Z.
But it's working with UBER
Was a nightmare for me because the company management what is the worst management what I see I feel sorry for all of the drivers

31/10/2013 03:27:51
What a horrible company! Rates terrible, drivers horrible, service sucks - don't have one good thing to say about this organization! This is what happens when they are all about making money only and have no concideration for public service. Uber you are not going to survive! You are a greedy company and going to taste your own medicine (very soon)!

Eva Rivas
01/11/2013 21:45:13
I agree some of this coments. One sposific got my attention
Its all as good it gets but they turn it around

Sour Grapes
02/11/2013 02:10:41
Pretty hilarious that all of these comments have the same broken English and all posted on the same day.. someone got a taste of those sour grapes huh.

Kelly F.
03/11/2013 08:33:09
Love using uber! Very sweet drivers )*********

03/11/2013 18:04:38
I agree on some of the comments,
Service is not in da best shape.
03/11/2013 18:18:52
very bad experience with service.

03/11/2013 19:07:48
love uber :)

03/11/2013 19:39:35
I'm a UberX driver. Once a day a client make a cancel in the middle of trip. WTF!!!! I'm not supposed to work for free!!! Next time I'll drop off them on freeway.

04/11/2013 16:56:02
i dont know why anyone would ever use a cab again when uberX is faster, better, cleaner, cheaper, and no tip or cash needed. its game changing!!

uberx driver
04/11/2013 16:58:20
i drive for uber 2 weeks now, and make much more money than i did as taxi driver.

05/11/2013 12:16:36
Horrible service! Drivers don't know how to drive. Never use this company you will regret

09/11/2013 14:19:09
Extremely poor, unprofessional service. Recently, we have made a reservation for a car to drive us to dinner and then back home. First of all, he arrived 25 MINUTES late in a filthy, old towncar that smelled of fast-food. Then he proceeded to lecture us in a very rude manner that we should be grateful for this service at all, considering traffic, time of the day, and get this, THE FACT THAT UBER IS NOT A LIMOUSINE COMPANY BUT A DISCOUNT REFERRAL SERVICE. The next day we have conducted some research and it turns out that the driver was correct. Uber is not a 'real' transportation company, but a referral service that uses unprofessional, unproven and unsupervised personnel. It was, absolutely, the last time I have entrusted the safety and time of my family to these so called drivers. They are simply hacks.

Posted by Anti UBER on Nov. 15, 2013 @ 9:16 pm