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A fool’s errand

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Since removing a large number of drivers off the Flywheel platform, there have been reports of longer-than-usual wait times. (Courtesy Christian Lewis)

http://sfexaminer.com/category/the-city/sf-news-columns/i-drive-sf/

Since last week’s column, I’ve responded to numerous emails and comments from readers worried that continuing to use the Flywheel app was a problem because of the resent unsavory business decisions by the owner, Hansu Kim.

Despite my criticism, let me be perfectly clear:

Keep using Flywheel! Please!

As previously mentioned, Flywheel, or an app like it, is vital for the survival of the San Francisco taxi industry. That is what makes Hansu’s actions so deplorable. Not only is he threatening the livelihoods of taxi drivers, who are already struggling to survive in a market skewed to favor the competition, but he’s also jeopardizing the patronage of the small percentage of San Franciscans who still use cabs by limiting their access to prompt service.

Since removing a large number of drivers off the platform, there have been reports of longer-than-usual wait times. Of course, one benefit of having fewer taxis online is that many drivers are seeing a marked increase in ride requests.

Despite my decision to abandon the app out of solidarity with the drivers who have been unfairly targeted, when Artur offered to reconfigure my Flywheel phone so I can accept orders again, it seemed foolish to resist. And not just because he threatened to smack me around for being an idiot.

Even though I’m still reluctant to go online, boycotting Flywheel only benefits the competition.

Losing Flywheel would potentially force people who rely on the app for taxi service, especially in those parts of The City that have been notoriously underserved, to start using Uber and Lyft.

It’s not like anybody is going to start calling taxi companies again, since most people are still convinced that’s a futile venture. Even though this is actually the best time to call for a cab. At National/Veterans, the radio is absolutely silent in the evenings. Even on Friday and Saturday nights, which used to be the hardest time to request a cab.

The absurdity of this industry is boundless.

On a positive note, during last week’s Taxi Task Force at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, Hansu and Citywide CEO Chris Sweis agreed to enter mediation in an attempt to resolve their conflict. I really hope they are successful. For the benefit of myself, my fellow taxi drivers and the people of San Francisco.

Unfortunately, there is still uncertainty over the conditions of being a Flywheel “partner” and whether or not National will be required to replace our traditional taximeters with their TaxiOS system. That’s still a major point of contention for me. That a third party would have much control over the entire operation of all the taxis in San Francisco is beyond comprehension. There is absolutely no justification for it. I’ve heard all the arguments, and not one makes sense.

Only once in more than three years of driving taxi have I had an issue with the taximeter. And I realized the problem during my first ride when the amount didn’t jive with what the passenger and I both knew the fare should be. So I immediately went back to the yard and got it resolved.

Another argument I’ve been making constantly over the past week: Taxi drivers are never going to be able to compete with Uber and Lyft through technology. Our strength lies in our human element. No app can replicate decades of experience and knowledge. Look at how GPS only makes traffic worse. If taxis are going to survive, we have to focus on what makes us superior to Uber and Lyft, not by trying to emulate them.

In the meantime, regardless of how we feel about the owner’s behavior, we have to continue supporting Flywheel. Don’t let this legacy of Byzantine infighting that’s eternally plagued the taxi industry get in the way of your transportation needs.

If you are so inclined, email, call, tweet, post your comments to Hansu Kim at Flywheel and remind him that he has a responsibility to the taxi drivers who keep Flywheel online and the good people of San Francisco who support his company.

These days, taxi patrons aren’t blind consumers. They have principles and respect for what’s left of the industry. We need to act like we’re worthy of that respect.

OK, I’m getting off my soapbox now. Next week, I promise, we’ll return to the regularly scheduled misadventures of your hapless narrator from the streets of San Francisco.

Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. His zine, “Behind the Wheel,” is available at bookstores throughout The City. Write to Kelly at piltdownlad@gmail.com or visit his blog at www.idrivesf.com.

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