Tag Archives: drug testing cab drivers

My Birthday Present from the SFMTA

Every year I have to get drug tested to renew my A-Card, and every year I bitch about it in the newspaper. The above image is from the first column I wrote about dragging my weary ass to the clinic to get tested.

My column for the S.F. Examiner this week is about getting older, pissing in a cup and Prop 22. In that order…

This time of the year always fills me with dread. Not just because I’m one year older, but as a taxi driver, I get a special birthday present from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency: the onerous task of renewing my A-Card, the permit that allows me to operate a taxicab on the streets of San Francisco. The process includes, among other indignities, pissing in a cup.

Each year, I dutifully go down to the Concentra Medical Center in Potrero Hill and sit in their crowded lobby, squirming on a chair with a throbbing bladder, waiting for my turn to donate a specimen. The ordeal usually takes over an hour.

It’s humiliating. Demeaning. A violation of my privacy.

And for what?

According to the SFMTA, the Drug and Alcohol Testing Program for taxicab drivers was implemented in 2015 to comply with state law. I guess mandatory drug testing is supposed to convince the public that taxis are safe, and drivers – at least for three days out of the year – are drug free. But hardly anyone cares. It’s just another hurdle you have to jump through for the privilege of being a taxi driver.

Read the rest here.

Other columns about the SFMTA drug tests:

Between a Jackhammer and a Piss Cup

The SFMTA Makes Me Wanna Smoke Crack

The SFMTA Makes Me Want to Smoke Crack

itch-tenderloin-san-francisco-christian-lewis

“Well, there’s no point is crying over spilt cocaine,” I say with a nervous chuckle, even though no one else in the taxi seems to share my humor at the situation.

The guy up front looks at me aghast while the two in back unleash a salvo of invectives as they make a futile attempt to scrape up the loose powder.

This is obviously not the time for jokes.

Apologizing, I hit the dome light and look in the back. There’s white powder all over their pants, the seat around them, their shoes and the floorboard.

Uhhh… “That’s not good.”

Just moments before the three guys got into my taxi in a celebratory mood. They even asked permission before snorting their drugs, which was thoughtful, since most passengers never inquire if I have a policy on consuming illegal substances before doing blow in my backseat. At least once or twice a night I have to brush cocaine residue off the leather interior…

A few rides later, I comment on the previous coke explosion to another set of happy passengers.

“I really hope this isn’t going to influence the drug test I have to take next week,” I add, jokingly. “It would just be my luck that some of the airborne molecules permeated my mucus membranes.”

“Even if you did a Tony Montana pile of cocaine, it would be out of your system completely within 72 hours,” the girl behind me says with authority. “Sooner, depending on your metabolism.”

That’s right. The only drug that stays in your urine for any significant period of time is marijuana, which the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency allows an exemption for, as long as you have a medical recommendation.

The whole drug test thing is completely absurd, another example of how The City holds taxi drivers to a higher standard than our ride-hail counterparts. Not to mention the cost of getting the marijuana recommendation and the $120.50 for the A-Card, as well as the time and energy running around taking care of these errands. And for what? To prove that we’re more professional than Uber and Lyft drivers?

That would be great if it actually mattered to the general public. But it doesn’t. Most people just want to tap a button in their phones and have a car show up. They could care less whether the driver was a drug fiend on PCP, a former or prospective terrorist or a law-abiding citizen.

The whole process is so infuriating, I feel like getting high just to deal …

As the night progresses, I fantasize about sabotaging my UA and testing positive for every drug on the list by going on a drug-collecting crusade that would impress Hunter S. Thompson.

Coke and ecstasy are easy to acquire at most bars in the Mission or on Polk Street … I could stop by Pill Hill and pick up some heroin … Swing by the Plaza for a little crack … I must know a meth head or two … PCP though … Since it gained peak popularity with criminals in ’70s cop shows like “Kojak” and “Baretta,” is angel dust even readily available?

“I’m sure we could do some online research and cook some up,” Mr. Judy suggests, when I broach the subject with him.

As he starts listing the kitchen utensils he’ll probably need to concoct some homemade PCP in his friend’s kitchen, I quickly change the subject …

Three days after peeing in a cup, I’m pulled over in front of Beck’s Motor Lodge answering a phone call from Wisconsin.

A grim voice on the line tells me, “I need to speak with you about the results of your recent urine analysis …”

As if my thoughts were enough to pollute my sample, I get a little nervous. “OK,” I mumble after an audible gulp.

“You tested positive for marijuana,” the doctor says. “Can you tell me why there was marijuana in your system?”

Uhhh … “Because I smoked it.”

“When was the last time you consumed marijuana?”

I did study really hard for the test … “A few days before. I don’t do it all the time or anything,” I lie.

“It seems the SFMTA has a unique policy that treats a positive result for marijuana if you have a doctor’s permission. Do you have that documentation?”

Of course.

After emailing a scan of my recommendation from the 420 Doc in Berkeley, my only obstacle to driving a taxi for another year is heading down to One South Van Ness and forking over the $120.50 fee to the SFMTA.

I feel so special.


Originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner on Nov. 3, 2017.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

Between a Jackhammer and a Piss Cup

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Not to brag, but I totally failed my piss test… 

In this week’s column for the S.F. Examiner, I detail the indignities the SFMTA subjects cab drivers to while Uber and Left drivers ride roughshod all over The City.

One of the many perks of driving a taxi in San Francisco is the recently enforced mandatory drug test we must pass in order to renew our A-Cards. 

The last time I had to urinate for employment was in 1993, when I applied for a porter position at Martin’s department store in Gadsden, Alabama. Just like then, I’m sure to fail. But this time, I don’t have to drink copious amounts of water for a week and jog around the block three times a day to exorcise the traces of marijuana in my system.

Fortunately for potheads like myself, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is kind enough to allow a medical marijuana exception. So with a recommendation from the reputable Oakland 420 Doctor, I won’t lose my job. 

I chase my coffee with a bunch of water and head out to the MacArthur BART station.

On the train, I get the chatty conductor: “Sit back and relax as we make the smooth move through the groove tube.”

I try to take his advice, but I’m too annoyed about the disruption of my free time. As a taxi driver, I’m an independent contractor.

How can the SFMTA make me submit to a drug test? Moreover, what does it prove? That I have enough self-control to go a few days without smoking crack or PCP?

Since cannabis is the only drug that stays in your system longer than that, and with Proposition 64 on the ballot in November, this drug test is purely a violation of my privacy, another regulatory hurdle to make life harder for taxi drivers while Uber drivers are free to shoot dope in their jugulars in between rides and snort blow off the breasts of their unconscious passengers.

If The City actually informed the public about all the obstacles taxi drivers are subjected to in order to keep them safe, perhaps the hassle wouldn’t be so aggravating. But in the new hypernormal reality, it’s more proof the SFMTA doesn’t give a damn about taxi drivers — except when it comes to selling us worthless medallions for $250,000.

“Live! In San Francisco!” the conductor announces when we hit the Embarcadero station.

I empty my water bottle. I still don’t have to pee, but I’m hopeful I’ll be able to provide an adequate sample. When it comes to releasing bodily fluids, I tend to choke under pressure.

At 16th Street, I take the 55 down to Missouri Street and walk the rest of the way to the clinic on Connecticut.

After filling out some forms, I grab a New Yorker and make periodic trips to the water fountain in the lobby.

Twenty minutes later, I follow a technician into the back. She has me put my possessions in a locker and wash my hands before entering the bathroom. Then she sprays blue solution on the inside of the commode and gives me a beaker, instructing me not to flush.

I stare into the empty container …

A few minutes later, I emerge with half a cup of warm amber.

“Is this enough?” I ask.

The technician seems pleased with my sample.

That makes two of us.


Originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner on Oct. 21, 2016.