Originally published on September 25, 2015 in the S.F. Examiner
Taxis Come to the Rescue when Technology Fails
Dreamforce, Dreamforce, Dreamforce… That’s all everyone talked about on Thursday, the last day of the Salesforce conference that consumed SoMa and most of The City with a reported 160,000 attendees.
Earlier that week, I was walking up 3rd Street to BART from my friend’s vintage shop in the Bayview when I stumbled into a throng of business-casual rank-and-file with laminated badges hanging from lanyards.
The entire area around Moscone Convention Center was a madhouse. Howard was closed off and the archway they’d constructed over the street was heavily guarded to prevent anyone without a badge from entering.
Traffic was, of course, gridlocked. Sidewalks were jammed. From every angle, advertisements begged to be noticed. Booths were set up on the periphery promoting various tech companies, some with food trucks offering free chipotle burritos and pulled pork sandwiches—for those with a badge, obviously.
I’d heard reports from cab drivers that some conventioneers were even taking taxis. So when I started my shift Thursday afternoon, in a sparkling clean Prius, I had high hopes.
That night, Salesforce was throwing a huge blowout at Pier 70 with performances by the Killers and the Foo Fighters.
The two guys I dropped off at the event around 7pm—or tried to drop off, rather, since 3rd Street was a parking lot and they ultimately had to get out at Mariposa Street and walk the rest of the way—told me 70,000 badge-wearers were expected to show up.
After that first foray into the Dogpatch, it was apparent getting people out of the area when the concert ended was going to be a strategic nightmare. I envisioned a scenario similar to Outside Lands, but in an even smaller, much more difficult to navigate space.
Unlike most tech conferences, the event planners anticipated the need for taxis and arranged with SFMTA for a cabstand at 23rd and Illinois. But there was no way to get that close to the venue. The congestion was impenetrable.
Hey, it’s the thought that counts…
Like the electronic traffic sign on 3rd directing both taxis and Ubers to 23rd… Nice try, guys, but taxis and Ubers are not the same.
Since Uber and Lyft rely on GPS to connect drivers with riders, and since these GPS systems tell drivers to all go the same exact route, from the beginning to the end of the concert, Uber and Lyft drivers were stuck on 3rd and Mariposa like bumper cars piled up on the track.
The SF Hackers, on the other hand, had the game plan all worked out.
Instead of taking the Mariposa exit off of Highway 280, as GPS would recommend, we used the Army/25th Street exit, went down Pennsylvania to 23rd and turned right.
Worked like a charm.
Once I hit Indiana Street, a frenzied crowd greeted me with their arms in the air.
“We’re so glad to see you!” the first group told me effusively. “We’ve been trying to get a ride for fifteen minutes.”
Apparently, even with a 3.1 surge, the Uber and Lyft users were struggling to get rides.
“That’s too bad,” I said, as I flipped around, leaving the trapped Ubers and Lyfts to the clusterfuck of their own making.
I spent the next couple hours rescuing stranded concertgoers, utilizing the dark, secluded streets along the industrial side of Potrero Hill and overriding the “logic” of GPS with basic common sense: always follow the path of least resistance.
At one point, I was racing down Pennsylvania with a full load when I came upon the part of the road that went around a blind curve to 17th. I barely slowed down.
“Are you sure this road is going somewhere?” the guy up front asked, holding up his iPhone. “It says we should have taken a right back there…”
As I made a hard right onto Mississippi and crossed 16th to 7th, the lights of downtown getting closer with each block, I replied, “Where we’re going, we don’t need apps.”
Like having a candle during a power outage, experienced cab driving comes in handy when you just need a ride to your hotel in an unfamiliar city. Even if it is based on such atavistic technology as a taximeter. And a brain.