Tag Archives: national cab

The Last of the Late Night Cab Drivers

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I Drive SF column published in the S.F. Examiner on May 9, 2019.

There for a while I seriously questioned my decision to leave National to drive for Yellow, even though the defection was far from spontaneous. Prior to walking down Upton Alley to try my luck at another cab company, I mulled over the prospect for several months. Like Gregory Hines in the movie White Nights, as he planned an escape from the Soviet Union, I wasdetermined and reluctant at the same time.

Unlike most Refuseniks, though, I was riddled with regret and consternation shortly after making the switch, convinced it was a huge mistake. The transition to Yellow has been anything but smooth. Besides the flat tire and broken window detailed in last week’s column, I had a blowout on the Bay Bridge during my first shift in a Yellow cab. Three weeks later, I got into a minor no-fault accident on Mission Street.

Then there were the Yellow policies, which took some getting used to. Unlike National, everything at Yellow is by the book. Taped to the cashier windows are signs with statements like “No exemptions!” That’s how I ended up over-drafting my bank account in February: paying up front for 24- hour shifts and not getting reimbursed for credit card/Paratransit transactions until a week later.

Once my finances were completely out of whack, the despair and economic hardships overwhelmed me and I had to take a break to regroup. At first the anonymity of driving a Yellow cab was appealing. But I quickly began to feel isolated. Whenever I ran into a National/Veterans driver on the streets, I eagerly inquired about the company. Who’s still in the office? What’s going on with the meters? Have they fully transitioned to Flywheel yet?

The Flywheel deal was always a dealbreaker for me. When rumors first to began circulate that National was going to replace their hard-wired taximeters and two-way radios with the Flywheel app, I railed against the idea of an app-based dispatch system and letting a third party take over the mechanics of running a cab.

Nowadays, if you don’t want to run the Flywheel app, you need to be in a Yellow cab.

Still, I don’t handle change well. I’m a very habitual person. Part of growing up a welfare case: after bouncing around foster homes, group homes and relatives’ homes as a teenager, I craved stability as an adult, always seeking a temple of the familiar.

Read the rest here.

The Man Behind the Madness

 

This week’s column is about one of the unsung heroes, and soon to be casualties, of the taxi industry: the window man.

On Saturday morning, I turn in my cab around 7 a.m. Before making the long trek to the 24th Street BART station, I hang around the National office, chatting with Jesse about the corner market he recently bought on Silver and Cambridge. While it wasn’t in the greatest shape when he took over, with the help of his sons, they’ve cleaned the place up, started carrying fresh produce, stocking craft beer and reopened the deli. Business is booming.

“So … how much longer are you gonna stick around this dump?”

Read the rest here.

Pimp my Taximeter

TaxiOS-Meter-by-Christian-Lewis-web

As the prime movers behind the Uberization of San Francisco’s taxi industry, Flywheel, the taxi-hailing app, and Flywheel, the taxi company, seem so intent on emulating Uber that they’re even taking a page out of deposed CEO Travis Kalanick’s “Guide to Being a Complete Dirtbag.”

Last Wednesday, Flywheel sent out a message informing drivers not affiliated with one of their color scheme partners that we’ll no longer be receiving orders through the app. Unless, that is, we switch to one of the six color scheme partners.

Drivers were understandably outraged that Hansu Kim, the owner of Flywheel, the app, and Flywheel, the taxi company, would actually kneecap 1,000s of drivers who rely on the app for part of their income, as well as stymie users who expect Flywheel to provide prompt service and, through this divisive act, traduce the industry in the public eye.

As one driver put it: “Just when you think it can’t get any worse …”

But wait. It gets worse.

Since the color scheme partners listed in their first message all use Flywheel’s TaxiOS, instead of the traditional taximeter, most drivers assumed that was the proviso: Adopt their backend, app-based metering system and shoulder the massive costs associated with acquiring hundreds of smartphones to run the app, removing the old taximeter equipment and then paying them monthly service and network charges and a percentage of Flywheel orders, credit card-processing fees and dispatch orders routed through the app.

Displaying Uber-like greed, Flywheel seems to want a piece of all our action, on top of what we’re already giving the cab companies for leasing vehicles.

In return, we get the Flywheel orders back, for which we’d been paying them a cut of appropriately 13 percent.

Now that’s what you call a hornswoggling.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

A Taxi Driver and His Cab

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This week’s column is about the Taxi Commandment: thou shalt not covet another taxi driver’s cab.

From my earliest days at National, I fought tooth and nail to get a regular cab that was clean and ran well. I cajoled and begged the cashiers, happily paying extra for National 182, a Ford Fusion that met the above criteria and didn’t have a regular driver. For almost two years, 182 was my trusted ride, until the medallion owner took it out of circulation on a long-term lease.

After that, I ended up with 1462, the only National cab with an ad topper, one of numerous cabs recently acquired from Yellow. I hated driving around with a glowing advertisement above me. Plus, the speakers were broken. So when Vic, the medallion owner/day driver, switched to a 24-hour lease, I was almost relieved to be back at the mercy of the window and the varying conditions and quality of the gate and gas fleet.

Veterans 215 was the best of the worst. Even though I’m not keen on Camrys, this was Juneaux’s former cab, and due to his persnickety nature, the inside had remained mostly clean. But as long as it stayed in general circulation, it’s condition rapidly deteriorated.

Months later, Alex finally told me I would be on Veterans 233, a Fusion with low mileage, leather seats and a sunroof. For weeks, I watched the vehicle transform from a regular car into a taxi. First the paint job, then the taximeter and tablet attached to the dashboard and a top light fastened to the roof. Eventually, SFO permit stickers were affixed to the side and, after several more inspections, the day arrived when I was handed the keys and medallion.

Now that I had a regular cab, my next battle was to make sure other drivers didn’t trash it. Because no matter how cherry a taxi is, most cab drivers seem intent on running a good taxi into the ground.

Read the rest here.

The Night We Drove Old Yellow Around

no-show-dispatch-radio-Christian-Lewis-web

It was just like the old days. Before the taxi industry went to shit. Back when people still called cab companies when they needed a ride. Especially on Friday nights, which is when the following aberration occurred.

Of course, as a driver in the post-Uber/Lyft world, the notion of taxis being in high demand is mostly abstract, based entirely on stories form drivers who were around then and still around now.

On this particular night, though, I got a taste of that bygone era…

It happened just after last call. During the transition period between 1:45 a.m. and 2:15 a.m., when most cabs are prowling the bars in the Mission, the Castro, Polk Street, SoMa and Union Square, while others begin forming ad hoc taxi stands outside DJ clubs like Public Works, the Great Northern, Audio, the EndUp and the Cat Club.

As I’m cruising down Valencia on my way to check out the line at Public Works, the dispatch radio comes alive.

Sometimes, I forget the two-way is even there, occasionally restarting the device to make sure it’s still functioning. There are nights when the only activity is drivers asking for radio checks. So I’m surprised to hear Jesse’s voice break the silence.

“Guys, there seem to be orders on the board,” he says. “I don’t know where they’re coming from, but I have phone numbers. If anyone wants to check them out …”

He starts listing off cross streets.

Since I’m only a few blocks away, I check in for Duboce and Valencia. I pull up outside Zeitgeist and ask for a callout.

“Hold on, 182.” After a short pause, Jesse responds, “On the way out.”

“Copy that.”

A few minutes later, a guy gets in the back of my cab, and I take him to Bernal Heights. I want to ask questions, figure out what’s going on with the sudden demand for taxis, but he isn’t chatty.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

Random Views from a San Francisco Taxi

Scenes of San Francisco and the Bay Area from behind the wheel:

Just Another Night in a Sanctuary City

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I’m inbound on Market. At Guerrero, a Luxor, a Citywide and a Vina are already waiting at the signal. Toplights blazing. When I roll up, two girls charge across the street from the Orbit Room and jump into my cab.

“We’ll be right there,” one screams into her phone. “We just got in an Uber.”

Uhhh …

Later, outside the W hotel, I pull up next to a Citywide. Out of nowhere, a guy makes a beeline for my cab.

“I’m not going far,” he says. “Do you know the Mint Plaza?”

I might feel bad about sideloading if the fares weren’t all crap.

After a futile loop through the Financial, I’m outbound on Sutter. There’s a Flywheel cab in front of me. Toplight on. Which doesn’t mean shit anymore. Even though their fancy new TaxiOS meters are supposed to revolutionize the taxi industry, they still haven’t figured out how to make the toplight go out automatically when they have a fare.

As we approach Stockton, the Flywheel moves to the center lane. I pull up next to him at the light. When the doorman at the Grand Hyatt blows his whistle, my Pavlovian response is to inch forward. I look over at the Flywheel driver. He’s actually empty, glaring at me. I can tell he’s salivating, too.

He may have been in pole position, but he changed lanes. That fare is mine. He’d have to do something cra—. What? He’s got his left turn indicator on? Oh, hell no! I inch forward. He inches forward. I inch forward a little more.

When the light turns green, I gun it and pull up to the hotel with the Flywheel hot on my tail. Sorry, Charlie. I avoid eye contact as he drives away.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]