Based on what I’ve been hearing while I linger outside the National office, things aren’t looking good for taxi drivers.
Over the past few months, several San Francisco taxi drivers have suffered heart attacks in public: one at the Hyatt Regency cabstand, a second at SFO (possibly fatal) and a third at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency offices. The last one occurred while the man was complaining about the high fees associated with his increasingly worthless medallion.
With an oversaturated market that pits unregulated drivers against highly regulated drivers for a limited number of rides, it’s only a matter of time before the situation becomes a public health issue.
Tales of personal difficulties run the gamut from exhaustion caused by drivers working longer hours to make up for the loss of income, to drivers breaking out in hives before going to work because they’re so anxious about making enough money to pay their bills. I hear incidents of domestic problems, wives and girlfriends “up to here” with all this taxi/Uber/Lyft shit … Even a cab driver threatening to kill himself.
Then there’s the story of the Moroccan driver who took out a $250,000 loan for a medallion, but he couldn’t afford to pay the premium and his bills without driving seven days a week. As a result, his family life started to unravel. It got so bad his wife took out a restraining order. One day, he left his cab in the lot at SFO and tried to board a plane to Morocco, but they wouldn’t let him on. After that, he took the cab back to the Luxor yard and just sat in the driveway blocking the entrance until they called 911. He hasn’t been heard from since. But the SFMTA, always diligent, went by to retrieve the medallion.
Around a month ago, I drove a woman who works in the taxi medallion loan department at the San Francisco Credit Union. She deals with the drivers who call seeking help on how to cover their premiums. They’re usually screaming invectives or breaking down in tears. It’s her job to tell them, regardless of how negatively Uber and Lyft are impacting their income, they took out the loan and they have to pay it.
“I feel really bad for them,” she told me. “But that’s just the cost of doing business.”
The cost of doing business.
This brings up the issue of public safety.
Last week, a Yellow driver jumped the curb on Market Street and crashed into a shoeshine stand, critically injuring the two men who worked there. This was big news. All the local newsites and TV stations picked up the story. According to initial reports, the taxi was recklessly speeding down Market, but it was later revealed the driver was suffering from a medical issue at the time. Which is why he never braked before colliding with a newsstand, the shoeshine stand and, finally, a light pole.
Based on what I’ve heard from people who knew the Yellow driver, he was a medallion holder with a perfect driving record. But like so many others, he’s been forced to drive longer hours to survive in this new climate, and at the time of the accident, he’d lost consciousness due to extreme dehydration, one cause of which is stress.
In recent news, there was the story of a driver who had his eye gouged out by a passenger who didn’t like the route. Last I heard, he’s still driving. It’s not like anyone can afford to miss a shift these days. Even if you lose an eye.
Or what about the driver who got Tasered and robbed by his passengers in Potrero Hill?
Most folks believe these attacks wouldn’t happen if drivers weren’t so desperate for fares.
Sure, you can’t perfectly gauge someone from a quick ocular patdown, but if a guy’s liable to gouge another person’s eye out for going the wrong way, there’s probably something sketchy about him to begin with.
Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. His new zine, “Behind the Wheel 3: From Uber/Lyft to Taxi,” is an unexpurgated collection of previous columns, expanded with additional ribald stories of life as a San Francisco night cabbie. Copies will be available on Sunday, Sept. 4, at the San Francisco Zine Fest, a free event in the Country Fair Building in Golden Gate Park. After that, they’ll be available at bookstores around The City. Write to Kelly at email@example.com or visit his blog at www.idrivesf.com.