It’s Saturday night. I’m cruising through Hayes Valley, keeping a watchful eye for street hails outside the Jazz Center. On Franklin, a hand goes up, though somewhat feebly. I pull over anyway. A young guy approaches my window.
“Can you take me to Safeway?”
I look in my rearview at traffic approaching. “Of course! Get in!” I take off right before a wave of cars pile up behind me. “Which Safeway you want?”
“The one in the Marina. Do you need the address?”
I head up and over the hills, fighting to catch the timed lights. As I descend into the Marina, I get in the right lane to bypass Lombard traffic. Take a left at Bay. Past Fort Mason to Laguna. Pull into the Safeway parking lot and deposit the guy at the front door like a rock star. He thanks me and gets out of the cab.
“Hey! Don’t forget to pay me!” I shout.
“Oh, sorry.” He chuckles. “I’m just so used to Uber and Lyft…”
I laugh along good-naturedly. This happens all the time. Even though I’m driving a bright yellow cab with green checkers on the side. Even though there is a top light that boldly states “TAXI.” Even though numbers and insignias are painted on the doors. Even though the windows have credit card stickers and permits. Even though “SAN FRANCISCO TAXICAB” is written on the side and trunk. And even though there is a taximeter on the dash, a tablet on the headrest of the passenger seat and plaques on the inside of the doors, I go through this farce multiple times a night.
I make an off-handed comment to the latest case in point that money still needs to exchange hands sometimes…
“That’s why these apps are so great,” the guy tells me earnestly. “They store my payment information. I request a car through my phone and—”
“I know all about them,” I cut him off. Thinking, If Uber and Lyft are so great, why the fuck are you in a taxi? Then it hits me… Uber must be surging and Lyft is no doubt in prime time. When multipliers hit 1.9 or 200 percent, all these loyal rideshare users are suddenly clamoring to get in cabs, where the price is always the same, regardless of demand. (Although during rush hour when everybody wants in my cab, sometimes I think about auctioning off the seats to the highest bidder. But that would be illegal, right?)
“Fare-weather” passengers are a crapshoot. There are those who seem unsure how to behave in a taxi. Like this guy. While others tell me straight up Uber is surging 4.6x and that’s the only reason they’re slumming it in a cab. Some just act like they’re in a rideshare and I have PTSD flashbacks to the ten months I drove for Uber and Lyft before switching to taxi.
As I run the guy’s card through the Square on my iPhone and hand it back, he apologizes again.
“Don’t worry about it,” I tell him. “Happens all the time.”
“Maybe you should consider driving for Uber then.” He laughs.
I’m not sure how to respond. I consider mentioning that cabs have apps too. Flywheel works just like Uber, expect you get a real taxi driver who’s fully insured and licensed. But instead, I mumble something about not wanting to be part of the problem anymore…
Whatever. It’s getting late. I’m on my fourth 12-hour shift in a row. And now I’m in the Marina. During surge. Unless I bug out, I’ll end up on Union, getting flagged by seven bros who want to ride in my cab all at once (“we’ll tip you”) or a pack of girls heading to the Mission, commandeering my stereo and screaming at each other the whole way down Gough.
On occasions like these, I remember what Late-Night Larry once told me: “You’re a night cabbie! It’s your job to make sure people have fun.”
As I pull out of the parking lot and head down Laguna to Chestnut, I groan and join the party.