You never know when you are going to need a taxi. (Courtesy photo)

Don’t blame today’s taxi drivers for the past

Back in the day, cab drivers were rude, refused to take people to the Avenues, and rarely showed up on time.

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

I know you shouldn’t do it, but I do it anyway…

I read the comments.

Sometimes, I skip the content entirely and go straight to the comments.

As is often the case with internet discussions, they’re usually nasty, prejudiced, ill informed and contribute nothing beneficial to society. In other words, they’re absolutely entertaining.

It’s all fun and games, though, until the commentary is directed at taxis. Like the recent article in The Chronicle about medallion holders struggling to survive in the age of Uber and Lyft. The comments were so vitriolic, my eyes practically burned from reading them.

Even though the piece was mostly sympathetic to the plight of cab drivers who purchased medallions that are now worthless, the readers compelled to leave comments overlooked the pathos and delighted in their misfortune.

“Good! Let them suffer!” “Taxis can’t die fast enough.” “Boo hoo. Cry me a river.”

The reason for all this hatred? Back in the day, cab drivers were rude, refused to take people to the Avenues, rarely showed up on time, if at all, claimed their credit card machines were broken and didn’t clean their vehicles well enough.

But, but, but, I wanted to reply. That was then. This is now. Most of the bad players have left the industry. So why continue to hold those of us who are more than willing to serve the public accountable for what happened in the past?

Well, if I’ve learned anything from driving a taxi it’s that San Franciscans love to complain about public transportation and they often hold grudges. Nothing I say will ever change that. And I’ve tried.

Still, this mentality of throwing the baby out with the bath water is very short sighted. No matter your feelings are on the matter, there will come a time when you’ll be grateful taxis still exist.

What happens when your phone dies? Or there’s heavy demand and servers are overwhelmed, like at the end of Outside Lands?

Or when a vehicle breaks down in the Uber/Lyft entrance at SFO and prevents vehicles from accessing the pickup zones? Which is what happened a few weeks ago on a Sunday night, the busiest night at the airport. While traffic was backed up onto the freeway in both directions, experienced taxi drivers were able to circumvent the logjam and access the holding lots through the international terminal and rescue hundreds of stranded travelers.

I picked up two girls who congratulated themselves on deciding to take a taxi after waiting 40 minutes for an Uber.

Despite coming to their aid in a time of desperation, it’s unlikely they will continue to patronize cabs. The narrative that taxis are relics of the past is too ingrained. Even people who’ve just moved to The City perpetuate the myth that taxis are no longer a viable form of transportation…

The other night I was waiting in the BOG cabstand for almost 30 minutes before finally reaching the throne. After a few more minutes, two guys climb into my backseat.

“We’re gonna make two stops,” the guy behind me says. “My place is on Collingwood and he’s going to his hotel downtown. Unless…”

They talk amongst themselves for a few seconds.

“Actually, we’re just going to my place.”

He asks how long I was waiting for a ride.

“About 15 minutes,” I lie, not wanting to seem desperate or overly disappointed by the short ride.

When we reach their destination, he hands me nine dollars on $6.25.

His friend scoffs. “That’s too much!”

“But it’s good to support the taxi drivers,” he tells him.

“Why, when there’s Uber?”

“I know everyone uses Uber now, but…”

His voice trails off as they exit the cab. I roll down my window and thank them before driving away.

Back in the cabstand on Castro Street, I pull out my phone and scroll through my Facebook feed. As my thumb hovers over the comments section for another story about Uber/Lyft drivers struggling to be designated employees and achieve more rights, I pause. Then decide to just keep scrolling.

Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. He is a guest opinion columnist and his point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner. His zine “Behind the Wheel” is available at bookstores throughout The City. Write to him at piltdownlad@gmail.com or visit www.idrivesf.com.

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