A bystander at a Muni bus station watched a taxi driver pull up to the stop, exit the vehicle, dispose of a beer can, saunter into a convenience store and walk out with another beer.
But instead of calling the police about the late July incident, the observer immediately called The City’s 311 call center. Shortly afterward, a Taxi Detail police officer tracked down the driver and administered a breath test. The cabbie blew a 0.05, above the legal limit of 0.01 blood-alcohol content for cabdrivers. The driver’s driving privileges were suspended.
While the 311 center is mostly used to find out when the Muni bus will arrive or to request information on city services, it has also become a taxicab complaint hot line, city officials said.
In a report acquired by The Examiner, rudeness, reckless driving and drinking while driving are among the slew of complaints about cabdrivers from callers dialing up the 311 center, where live operators field city-related, nonemergency calls throughout the night. About half of the taxi-related calls coming into the call center are about lost items, said Jordanna Thigpen, executive director of the Taxi Commission, while other calls “are very serious.”
She said the advent of 311 has made it easier for callers to complain about cabdrivers. Some residents said the service will encourage unruly cabbies to behave.
“Unless the complaints fall on deaf ears, I suppose  will help them be more accountable for their actions,” said Frances Piven, 62, a Sunset district resident.
“The driver said he had other things to do,” the complaint said.
Another called in to say a cabdriver yelled things “unsuitable for women,” while another person called in to report a cab speeding through a red light and almost hitting a pedestrian.
In September, the call center will install new software that will tabulate the data by type of complaint and by cab company to have more useful information to guide enforcement and policymaking, Thigpen said.
But taxi insiders say calling 311 may unnecessarily tie up that service.
Dee Hensley, a dispatcher with San Francisco-based City Wide Dispatch, said there are already complaint hot lines in place to report offenses.
He said that while the Taxicab Commission should be made aware of all serious offenders, he said the 311 service is another example of the commission’s ever-increasing scrutiny of the local taxi industry.
But not all the 311 reports are negative. One passenger who called 311 commended the cabdriver: “He never speeded, which is a major accomplishment among taxi drivers in my opinion.”
Examiner Staff Writer Mike Aldax contributed to this report.
“I think [the complaints] take away from those who are using the service for information on where they need to go.
“If you’re a good driver and you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, you shouldn’t be worried that people might complain about you.” — Mike Lewis, 19, Hunters Point