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Disrupt the disruptors

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Marketing isn’t rocket science, and the taxi industry has a lot to learn. (Courtesy Douglas O’Connor)


It’s hard not to feel like my taxi driving days are numbered. Hell, the entire industry seems doomed. As things continue to go from bad to worse, Green Cab started a GoFundMe campaign this week to crowdfund the $30,000 they need to stay in business, while the SFMTA plans to divvy up $4.7 million among 5,000 cab drivers to the tune of $400 to $900 each, based on seniority.

So what am I going to do with my “windfall?” Pay off my backbook at National? Buy a couple cartons of cigarettes? Wipe my ass with four crisp $100 bills?

Not to be rude, but using the Taxi Driver Fund as a retirement package is shortsighted and stupid. Even if I were to get the same share as a 30-year veteran, my rent is $1,700 a month. It’ll take more than a few hundred dollars to offset my financial problems.

When they mail the checks, they should write in the memo line, “Thanks for nothing, chump!”

Personally, I voted to spend the Driver Fund on advertising. Which may seem just as stupid, since taxis are repeatedly called a “legacy” industry, as if they’re already obsolete. But the only difference between an Uber/Lyft vehicle and a taxi is a color scheme and a phone number painted on the side. Oh, and centralized dispatch.

Uber and Lyft didn’t disrupt taxis, they disrupted the taxi companies that resisted centralized dispatch and made no effort to provide consistently good customer service. Brag about fingerprinting all you want, but if you can’t prevent a driver from kicking an old lady to the curb because she wants to use a credit card, you’re going to lose your customers once a better option is available.

Despite getting lumped into a whole, the interests of taxi companies and the interests of taxi drivers are antithetical. That’s what makes worker-owned Green Cab an outlier in the industry, and why, even though they wouldn’t hire me as a driver, I hope their crowdfunding campaign is successful.

No matter what happens in the future of transportation, taxis aren’t going anywhere. They just won’t look like taxis. And they’ll operate differently. With an app, like everything else these days.

Of course, had the option been on the ballot, I would’ve voted to spend the money on a taxi-hailing app. Kind of like, I don’t know, Flywheel, except, maybe, one that people actually used. With a name that makes you think of what it does. Like TaxiNow. Or GoCab. And — I’m just spitballing here — one that only hails San Francisco cabs. We’re not looking for world domination, just a ride home.

Ideally, you’d want this app to be run by the SFMTA. I know, it’s crazy talk. But wouldn’t the SFMTA get a good deal on buying ads for buses, kiosks, street furniture and other transit properties? I assume they own the stuff and could, conceivably, give themselves a break.

I’ve never seen a single episode of “Mad Men,” but I must have watched “Mr. Mom” a hundred times as a kid. And what I learned from that movie is that marketing is all about selling an idea.

So rather than trotting out the mundane facts that taxis are regulated and drivers are fingerprinted and have to piss in a cup once a year, a better strategy would be to focus on what really makes taxis a better option.

Here are some examples:

— When you need a ride, not a detour. TaxiNow.

— All you need is two streets that intersect and TaxiNow to connect.

TaxiNow. When the only surge you want to worry about is in your pants.

— TaxiNow … For professionals with professional expectations.

— Thank you for supporting YOUR San Francisco taxi industry.

— When you’re sick of the runaround, use TaxiNow. We know how to get around.

— You’re worth more than a cheap ride.

— Why pay a Safe Rides Fee? With TaxiNow, safety comes free.

— No gimmicks. No tricks. Just safe rides at consistent rates with professional drivers. Crazy, huh?

Hmm. That last one kind of sucks. These just popped out of my head one night when I was drunk and bored.

This isn’t rocket science.

Or maybe it is, and I’m just as stupid as almost everyone else in the taxi industry, but I’d rather walk away empty handed than buy into the blatant corporate doublespeak peddled by these hucksters who call themselves disruptors.

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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