Tag Archives: Cab Driving

Driving San Francisco, Again


It’s all about the radio…

Back in the day, Veterans Cab was the premier radio company in San Francisco. Veterans drivers would pass up hundreds of street flags on their way to pick up one radio call. They had accounts throughout the Financial as well as most top-rated restaurants and bars across The City. If you wanted a cab to actually show up, you didn’t call Yellow. You called Veterans.

That’s all history now, though, of course. Over time, Veterans became Arrow Checker when National bought Veterans, then Arrow went under and the last of the Veterans accounts were either squandered or lost to Uber.

What little radio business National was able to hold onto had all but dissipated by the time the new owner decided to implement a Flywheel branded, app-based dispatch system.

When the two-way radios disappeared from all the National/Veterans cabs one day, hardly anyone noticed.

Ever since the idea of transitioning to soft meters was first suggested, I vehemently opposed it. I just want to drive a cab, I repeatedly told the manager at National, equipped with a traditional taximeter. Why fix what isn’t broken? Besides, the countless problems I’d had with the Flywheel phone vastly outnumbered my one incident with the taximeter.

Technology is wonderful, sure. When it works.

Without a radio, you end up just working hotel lines and prowling the streets for random fares, hoping for the occasional Flywheel request. As long as there aren’t any server issues, that is. This strategy can lead to some very boring, unprofitable shifts.

Even though I rarely play the airport, the SFMTA’s new policy determining which cabs get preferential treatment at SFO eliminates another source of fares.

So what’s a cab driver who just wants to serve the people of San Francisco supposed to do?

Read the rest here.

The Thin Checkered Line


For some stupid reason, I still start my shifts at Caltrain these days, even though the construction on 4th Street guarantees I’ll end up snarled in traffic. I guess I’m a creature of habit, but I also know there’ll always be a few people getting off the train who haven’t summoned one of the Uber-Lyfts that make up most of the vehicles in this quagmire on Townsend. 

I inch forward slowly with steadfast determination toward the sanctuary of the taxi stand. After waiting only two minutes, I’m loaded and heading back into the maelstrom. 

I try to squeeze in front of a Lexus, but the driver isn’t giving me any leeway, riding the bumper of a Honda ahead of him. When the light finally turns green, he lays on his horn as I try to get in between him and the Honda. 

“Do you not understand how a taxi works?” I yell out my window and then mutter under my breath. “I hope the next time you’re in a taxi, some asshole prevents your driver from getting you where you need to go.”

I see an opening to the right and, like a running back fighting my way across the line of scrimmage, I seize the opportunity. The PCO directing traffic motions me through the intersection just as the light turns red. 

So long, suckas! 

Read the rest of the column here.


A San Francisco National Cab taxi at the intersection of Geary and Powell



A Cog in the Wheel of Corruption


This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner seemed to draw the ire of many cab drivers who think I’m revealing “trade secrets” by discussing our role in, and how we sometimes benefit from, illicit activities in the city, from paying bribes to hotel doormen for airport rides, taking kickbacks from strip clubs and massage parlors, transporting hookers, directing passengers to their desired transgressions and the complicity of the police and, most likely city hall, in it all. There’s also a Tony Soprano for good measure. What these critics miss is that corruption takes many forms, including tipping, which is a form of bribery. Tell a server you’re not going to tip at the beginning of a meal and see how great your service is. That we are cogs in this wheel of corruption is part of what makes the job of a cab driver interesting. Well, I think so anyway. See for yourself, if you haven’t already read the column and made up your mind…

As ambassadors of The City, cab drivers are both purveyors of myth and concierges of vice. From the tourist attractions to the ripped backsides, we navigate the orthodox and the underbelly to take you where you want to go.

Or at least point you toward the right transgression.

Naturally, most services come with the expectation of a gratuity. And once cash starts exchanging hands, everyone wants a piece of the action …

Read the rest here.

A Fool and His Money… A St Patty’s Day Story


The up-and-coming neighborhood Upton Heights

This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about driving a drunk leprechaun to a strip club… Well, sort of.

It’s only 10 p.m., but when the guy wearing a green suit covered in four leaf clovers with a matching bowtie stumbles into the passenger seat of my cab and exhales a miasma of booze directly into my face, it suddenly feels like 2 a.m.

“Uhm, where to?” I ask.

“Just head that way,” he mumbles, pointing down the street.

I hit the meter and drive.

Read it here.

The Ebb and Flow of City Life


In my rickety National taxicab, I own the streets of San Francisco. I take my turns with a vengeance. I converge on Union Square at full tilt. Like all cab drivers, I follow the rules of the road that were lain down by the cab drivers who preceded us.

After six months, I can usually predict what another taxi driver will do, because we are all part of the same hive mind. We run the streets. Everybody else is just in our way.

I watch other cabs constantly. Even in my Uber-Lyft days, if I was on a street and there were no taxicabs, I knew I was on the wrong street. Still, to this day, I try to learn from the maneuvers of other cabs. I pay particular attention to top lights in relation to mine. So if I’m driving northwest on Columbus and most of the cabs going southeast have their lights off, I figure I might be heading in the right direction.

Who drives the streets of San Francisco more than cab drivers? Who else knows the shortcuts and the fastest way to get from any point A to any point B? We’ve been trained and licensed by The City to transport its citizens and visitors across the entire Bay Area. That’s our job. We move people around.

For better or worse, the map of San Francisco is permanently tattooed into my brain. Even in the haze of my post break-up blues, I know where I’m going. Sure, there were a few times last week that I froze up. Like when I was idling in front of the Intercontinental on Howard, pondering the bleak prospects of living alone on a cab driver’s earnings, and two women opened my doors abruptly.

“Where going to Mighty. Do you know where that is?”

Under normal circumstances, I would have driven straight down Howard, taken a left at 10th, crossed Division to Potrero, hung a left on 15th and another left onto Utah to drop them off proper, but with my head in a fog of despair, I momentarily forgot where I even was.

Sensing my confusion, one of the women fired up her GPS. By the time I crossed 5th, I’d regained my sense of direction. But I still had to listen to Siri guide me the rest of the way, her robotic voice like a ruler across my knuckles at each turn.

It’s hard not to get lost in your thoughts while moving through the ebb and flow of city life. I have a 4:45 cab. I hit the streets at the peak of afternoon rush hour and fight the gridlock in SoMa and the Financial until traffic lightens up a bit for the evening crowd. Once it’s dark, there aren’t as many buses and tech shuttles, very few bicyclists and fewer jaywalkers—I mean, pedestrians—jumping in front of my cab even though I have a green light (AKA, Vision Zero). But as people head to restaurants, concert venues and bars, there are still pockets of congestion. It’s not until after midnight that the streets are deserted enough to drive without restraint.

Amid the belly to the bar slump, though, things get quiet and my mind invariably drifts to my impending divorce. I feel the desperation of the indigents crawled up in doorways and against the sides of buildings. I’m not sure yet whether I can afford my Oakland apartment or if I’ll end up living in a wrecked cab in Upton Alley with two cats. I keep thinking about that Bukowksi line: “Many a good man has been put under the bridge by a woman.”

During my third week back from “vacation”—you know, that tropical resort in the second circle of Dante’s Inferno where you don’t send “Wish you were here” postcards to friends—I have my head screwed on tighter. And while I’m not firing on all cylinders yet, I run the streets like I’ve been trained and I actually made some money. Not enough to pay rent. But enough to remind myself there’s still money to be made driving a cab in San Francisco.

Maybe even enough to keep a roof over my head.

Originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner on August 6, 2015.

The Risks and the Rewards of Working Outside Lands


It’s Monday morning. While the rest of the world is waking up and getting ready to go to work, I’m drinking vodka and eating leftover red beans and rice, thanks to Ben, who took it upon himself to feed me before I started my shift yesterday.

I don’t usually drive on Sundays. But at the barbeque the night before, Ben and several other drivers assured me that the third day of Outsides Lands would be the most profitable night of the festival.

Even though I really need the money, I waffled a bit. I was still exhausted from the previous two days of Outside Lands. I wasn’t even sure I’d have the wherewithal to drive a fourth shift that week. But Late Night Larry made it official.

“You’re working Sunday!” he snarled. “And that’s final!”

Ben picked me up at 4pm. On the way to the yard, we stopped at Hard Knox for lunch. I had a few bites of my vegetable plate and saved the rest for later. I was ready to hit the streets.

After doing the tourist trade for a couple hours, I head to the park. Since I did Outside Lands last year with Uber and Lyft, I know it’s a strategic nightmare to match drivers with riders and all the major thoroughfares get clogged with lost and confused drivers from out of town. A perfect scenario for street hails.

Each night, as the headliners take the stage, people begin to leave the park and wander through the avenues and the streets in a frenzy, desperate for a way out. There are so many exiting festivalgoers clamoring to get in my cab, I could institute my own twist on surge pricing and auction off seats to the highest bidders. But that would be unethical, right?

After I drop off a fare, I deadhead, i.e., drive empty, back to the park. The demand for cars is insatiable. Strangers share rides and get to know each other in the backseat. One fare has three stops, the last one in Ingleside Heights. When I stop the meter, it reads $45. With a $10 tip, that’s an inside the park homerun.

It’s obvious most of my fares are regular Lyft and Uber users. They approach my window and ask permission to get into my cab.

Like this young couple at 25th and Cabrillo.

“C-c-c-an you take us to the Caltrain?” the girl asks timidly from the curb.

“I drive a taxi,” I say, feigning joviality. “That’s what I do.”

They need to catch the last train to San Jose that leaves at 9:15.

It’s 8:50.

“I don’t know if we’ll make it in this traffic,” I warn them, thinking about their options if they miss the train. A cab ride to San Jose is around $200, and that’s still cheaper than a hotel room.

“You’d be our hero if we do.”

Always up for a challenge, I take off down Cabrillo, head up to Turk and race over the hill and down to Golden Gate. I start hitting lights in Civic Center so I make a right on Polk and cross Market onto 10th. I head down Folsom to 8th. I take a left on Brannan, a right on 5th, through the sign onto Townsend, and come to a dramatic stop in front of Caltrain with five minutes to spare.

“I may have just broken a record,” I gasp.

The meter reads $22. The guy gives me $25. I’m so shocked I forget to say thanks as they get out. A $3 tip on a run like that? Is that how you reward a hero? I even yelled at this poor pizza delivery guy for making me miss the light at Masonic.

Feeling less like a hero and more like a chump, I get on the Central Freeway and work the park for the rest of the evening. It’s early. There’s still a long road ahead of me before I get back to my red beans and rice.

Originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner on August 14, 2015…

Stand Up for Taxi Drivers: Philip Liborio Gangi on the fate of the S-Medallions


This is a Personal Statement From Philip Liborio Gangi: A San Francisco Taxi Driver since 1978

San Francisco will be losing 135 experienced and long-time taxi drivers this year. Some drivers who have been serving the public for over 40 years. This does not have to happen.

In 2012 the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (MTA) issued a new type of taxi medallion known as the S-Medallion. These medallions were issued to drivers in part as a reward for long-term service. The drivers who got the S-Medallions had typically driven more than 25 years and had never received a medallion under the old system. When I received my S-Medallion my name had been on the regular medallion waiting list for 16 years and I had been driving a taxi in San Francisco for 35 years. At the time I received my S-Medallion Michael Harris was the Director of Taxi Services at MTA. I remember him specifically saying to me that MTA was looking to reward long-time drivers and that I should not have to wait for my name to come up on the regular medallion list.

Well 3 years later Michael Harris is working in a different division of MTA and the new Director of Taxi Services at SFMTA, Kate Toran, says that the S-Medallions were only a pilot program and that she is discontinuing the program and will start putting the S-Medallions out of service at the end of July 2016.This will empty the streets of long time and experienced taxi drivers. Paratransit Coordinating Council last week came out in support of the S-Medallion and said they would be sending a letter to MTA.

With car services on the streets of San Francisco like Uber and Lyft I am making only about one-third of what I used to make driving a taxi in San Francisco. A few recent nights I only went home with $80 after a ten hour shift. That comes to eight dollars an hour, less than a
minimum wage worker. My S-Medallion is currently giving me a $30 discount each night I drive for CityWide Cab, my taxi company. Without my medallion and that discount I do not believe it would be worth driving any more. After driving for 38 years here in San Francisco I find it very sad that the city will be losing me, an experienced driver who knows the streets among all the other S-Medallion holders who also would not only find it unprofitable to continue to drive, but feel betrayed by the city after all these years. Most S-Medallion holders I speak with will also not be sticking around if the city takes back their medallion.

I do not want to be pushed out of my job. It’s not what it used to be, but it’s part of my life. After 38 years, I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen the Moscone Center and AT&T Park being built. I’ve seen happy 49ers fans celebrating in the 1980s on Broadway when the city’s team won the Super Bowl. I helped get people around the city during the 1989 earthquake. Over the years I have seen San Francisco change from a big town to a major U.S. city.

Please help Save the S Medallion, help MTA make the right decision and keep these long-time drivers on the streets. Keep the S-Medallion part of San Francisco. Write to MTA and the Board of Supervisors and request that the S-Medallion stay part of the San Francisco taxi fleet.

Philip Liborio Gangi
S-Medallion Holder #S-17


Top photo by Trevor Johnson. Bottom photo courtesy of author.

Maxie the Taxi on The Green Pea in Winter


Maxie the Taxi was a comic strip in The New Deep City Press, a magazine published by San Francisco cab drivers in the 70s.


I knew when I started driving a cab I was stepping into deep waters…


The Road to Legitimacy Begins in Taxi School


Originally printed in the S.F. Examiner

I talked about driving a cab long before I went to taxi school. In zines, blogposts and Facebook comments detailing my experiences as an Uber-Lyft driver, I wrote about a quest for legitimacy. On Twitter, I lambasted the predatory business models of the “sharing” economy and constantly tweeted my ambition to drive a real cab. After a while, it was too late to back down.

I’d read the list of requirements on the SFMTA website several times but going through the intensive process was a daunting task. It’s not easy becoming a cab driver in San Francisco.

Fortunately, Thomas Canne, a DeSoto driver, approached me on Twitter and answered all my stupid questions. Then Mansurel, a former cab driver I’d met at a protest outside Uber headquarters, introduced me to Jacob Black, who guided me the rest of the way to National/Veterans. Since the first step to becoming a cab driver is taxi school, he gave me the number for the Taxi Driver Institute.

I called right away. When I told Ruach Graffis, the director of the Institute, that I had been driving for Uber and Lyft and wanted to go legit, she said, “Don’t worry, I’ll make an honest cab driver out of you.”

I bragged about knowing my way around The City. She gave me a pop quiz on the streets of Noe Valley. I failed miserably.

The following Tuesday, I took BART to the 16th Street Station. The Taxi Driver Institute is on the 3rd floor of the Redstone Building, a historic landmark also known as the Labor Temple. It was in the auditorium of the Labor Temple that San Francisco workers organized the General Strike of 1934.

In the lobby, I marveled at the murals depicting the accomplishments of the labor movement. As I walked through the hallways, I passed offices for local unions, social outreach organizations and publishers.

I couldn’t believe a place like this still exists in San Francisco, where the on-demand economy first took hold. And where companies like Uber, Postmates and TaskRabbit practice free-market capitalism under the guise of “disruption” and push workers’ rights back to the 19th century.

In the Labor Temple, I found the legitimacy I had been looking for.

The Taxi Driver Institute is in a small room filled with thousands of books and what might possibly be an exhaustive collection of taxi memorabilia. The feng shui is organized chaos.

Ruach sat at her cluttered desk in front of a conference table. The first thing she taught us was that “cabbie” is not an appropriate term for a taxi driver. Since the word is gender specific, a female taxi driver would be a “cabette,” which is insulting.

Over the next four days, Omar, the only other student that week, and I huddled together furiously taking notes while Ruach browbeat cab driving into our brains as if we were going into battle and our lives depended on what we learned in the next 28 hours of course work. Her lesson plan included numerous handouts, worksheets, checklists, multicolored hi-lighters, videos, maps and more than one tongue-lashing.

Besides SFMTA taxi regulations and traffic laws, we covered ADA requirements and studied how to navigate the streets efficiently. There was even sensitivity training and instructions on safety and protecting ourselves as workers. In the afternoons, she quizzed us on that day’s material. And each night, we left with homework.

On Friday, we had our final exam. As I walked out of the Labor Temple with my certificate, I felt like I’d accomplished something way more significant than just filling out a form through an app. I passed Ruach’s class! But this was only one step in the process of becoming a cab driver.

The next week, I got fingerprinted, waited in line at the DMV for a copy of my driving record and, finally, attended a daylong class at the SFMTA that included lectures and Powerpoint presentations from San Francisco Paratransit, the SF Bike Coalition and Lighthouse for the Blind.

That afternoon, I left the SFMTA building a bona fide San Francisco taxi driver. Before I got on BART to head home to Oakland, I tweeted a picture of my temporary A-Card. Of course.

I was a Lyft Driver for Halloween


My column for the S.F. Examiner this week is about impersonating a Lyft in a cab…


I was a Lyft driver for Halloween.

The idea came to me at last week’s barbeque. For some reason, driving around San Francisco, picking up fares with Lyft’s iconic trade dress on my cab, seemed like an absolutely hilarious prank. Even if I just caused confusion, at the very least it would be a noteworthy social experiment.

So that Saturday, once it got dark, I fastened the fluffy pink Carstache Lyft sent me when I first signed up to the grill of National 182 and attached the Glowstache I’d received as a top-rated driver to the dash.

I created a Pandora station around The Cramps, Misfits and Ramones.

To augment my trickery, I planned to tell my passengers I didn’t know where I was going and that it was 200 percent Prime Time all night.

I figured everyone would laugh and throw piles of money at me for having such a clever costume.

On 16th Street, a girl dressed as a spider flagged me down.

“Can you take me to Geary and Fillmore, please?”

“Sorry, I’m a Lyft driver,” I said merrily. “I don’t know where that is.”

“It’s easy,” she responded in all seriousness. “I’ll direct you.”


From Japantown, I crawled down Polk Street behind a beat-up white limo. A few cab drivers looked at me like I was committing the greatest sin by “rocking the ’stache,” as they say in Lyft parlance.

Trevor, the Street Ninja, impersonating Travis Bickle, cruised past me at one point cracking up.

“I’m a Lyft driver!” I yelled out the window. “Where am I? What street is this? Are we in SoMa?”

I stuck to the more congested parts of The City, where I knew my caricature would get the most exposure. Some Lyft drivers scowled at me. Others blew their horns or flashed their high beams.

The majority of my passengers, though, didn’t seem to notice or care. They just told me where they were going, and off I drove with my mouth shut.

So much for being a friend with a cab.

After dropping off a group of revelers at Bar None, I was heading deeper into the congestion of Union Street with The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” at full blast when a guy darted out of the crowd.

“You!” He pointed at my cab, laughed and jumped in the backseat.

Barreling down Gough, we talked about irony and thrash metal. When I dropped him off on Valencia, he almost took off without paying.

“Hey, I’m only pretending to be a Lyft,” I reminded him.

On my way to the Haight from the Mission with a fare, Other Larry pulled up next to me on Guerrero in Veterans 233.

“Nice fucking mustache!” he shouted.

“Look at me!” I jeered. “I’m a Lyft driver and I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing!”

“Does it ever get old?” the guy in the backseat asked.


“Making fun of Lyft.”


On a ride through the back roads of the Western Addition, I tried to explain to another guy the tension between the Smartphone Hailed Internet Transportation Services and cab drivers and why the Lyft mustaches on my taxi were so hilarious.

“You mean you can’t do Lyft in a cab?” he asked. “I always assumed you guys were all the same.”

The same?

Sure, the lines are blurry these days: Flywheel is an app and a taxi company; most Uber drivers are Lyft drivers and vice versa; decommissioned Yellow cabs are used as Uber-Lyft cars; Towncar drivers slap fake TCP numbers on their bumpers to access commercial lanes; out-of-town cabs come into The City all the time and pick up street hails; and now Uber-Lyft drivers are putting toplights on their Priuses.

According to a recent study from Northeastern University, the streets of San Francisco are congested with more than 10,000 vehicles for hire on average. During a holiday like Halloween, that number is considerably higher. But only taxicabs are required to follow rules and regulations. Everyone else is free to play make-believe all they want.

It doesn’t even matter if the portrayal is convincing. The general population just wants the cheapest and most convenient ride available. Who provides the actual service, whether they’re knockoffs or the real McCoy, is completely irrelevant.

Especially on Halloween.