It’s 2:35 a.m. and I’m looking for a cabstand showing signs of life now that everyone’s in motion, either trying to go home or get to an after-hours joint.
In front of 1015 Folsom, a large crowd is milling about in the street among several dozen unmarked sedans blocking the flow of traffic while a few taxis wait patiently outside the club.
As I slow down to suss out the situation, a young guy approaches my window. He wants to know the fare to Berkeley.
“Around $35-$40,” I tell him. “Plus the bridge toll.”
“But Lyft is only $20.” He holds up his phone as proof.
“Then take Lyft,” I say.
I start to roll up my window but he has another question.
“Why are cabs so expensive?” he asks. “Don’t you guys want to be competitive with Uber and Lyft?”
“The City determines taxi rates,” I tell him. “I don’t have any control over them. Neither does my cab company.”
“Really?” he asks, genuinely surprised.
“You think we just charge more because we’re bad at business?”
He’s about to respond when another guy approaches my cab and asks if I’ll take him to the Richmond District for $10.
“You gotta be kidding me?” I laugh. “Sorry, that’s a $20 ride.”
“But an UberPool is only $7.”
“Then take Uber!” I say abruptly.
“I would,” the guy tells me. “But my phone’s dead.”
“You know what, then,” I say with a smirk. “The fare’s now $30. My cab just went into surge pricing.”
The guy scoffs while the first one laughs.
“Come on,” Mr. Richmond pleads. “None of these taxis are going anywhere anytime soon.”
“That may be true, but I still have my dignity. Why don’t you ask another cab driver?”
“I asked them all. You’re the last in line.”
“Then the price to the Richmond is now $40. My surge multiplier just went up!”
“Tell me something,” I address the two of them. “Do you guys really think it’s acceptable for these companies to charge half the price of a taxi and justify it by calling it a disruptive business model? You know that’s bullshit, right? That’s not disruption. It’s predatory pricing, plain and simple. And who pays for all these cheap rides? Not you. Not Uber. Not Lyft. It’s their drivers who get screwed so you guys can get a good deal.”
“Nobody is forced to do anything,” Mr. Berkeley points out.
“Because jobs grow on job trees?” I ask. “I think most people who decide to use their own cars as taxicabs are doing so out of desperation.”
“Everyone has options,” adds Mr. Richmond.
I decide to change my approach. “Tell me, do you guys support Bernie Sanders?”
“Of course!” Mr. Berkeley declares. “Love him!”
“Bernie’s my man!” says Mr. Richmond.
“Then why are you participating in the exploitation of workers? Isn’t that something Bernie is fighting against?”
They both shrug, not seeing the connection.
“The people who drive for Uber and Lyft don’t make shit and assume all the risk involved with driving a car on the congested streets of San Francisco just to make four or five bucks off a $7 ride. You think that’s cool?”
“I’ve never heard a driver complain.”
“You hold a rating over their heads,” I say. “They’re afraid of losing their jobs.”
“Look, you guys are obviously confused about what being progressive means. This new gig economy is regressive. It pushes the most vulnerable members of our society into wage slavery, where they’re paid for piecework rather than given an opportunity to secure a stable income. And what’s worse, instead of seeing their profits increase by working more, due to the constant Uber-Lyft price wars, they actually make less in the process. How can you support a system like that?”
“But if people stopped using these services,” says Mr. Berkeley, “it’ll hurt the drivers more because they won’t have a job left.”
“Yeah, less of something is better than nothing!” Mr. Richmond pipes in.
I’m about to launch into another tirade when I notice the time. It’s 3:15. I’ve already wasted over half an hour arguing with these guys. I might as well be making some money along the way.
“Guess what? My cab just turned into a TaxiPool. I’ll do $10 to the Richmond and $25 to Berkeley. But, goddamn it, you better give me decent tips. Get in and let’s go.”
I don’t even bother hitting the meter as I speed away.
Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his blog at www.idrivesf.com.