In San Francisco, it’s always open season on taxicabs. Sometimes it boggles my mind how driving a taxi can inspire so much scorn from the general public. But then, on any given day, Bay Area drivers seem to be in direct competition with each other, racing towards the next red light for the grand prize of absolutely nothing.
Except maybe new brakes.
So when a professional driver enters the equation, with access to transit-only lanes, plenty of road experience and a deep knowledge of how to maneuver the lights, it must frustrate all the speed demons to get owned by a taxi.
Last week, I’m heading south on Potrero in the red carpet lane. At 24th, where it ends, I merge into the flow of traffic. Since letting any car in front of you is akin to slander, a beat up Mazda almost causes a multiple car pileup changing lanes to cut me back off. Which I let him do when he finally speeds up. It’s not like I’m trying to drive like a jerk. There’s a paying customer in my backseat with a meter running. I’m just doing my job, getting passengers where they need to go as efficiently as possible.
And yeah, I know a taxi driver complaining about traffic is totally cliché, but when you spend as much time driving as we do, it transcends a mere occupational annoyance and rises to the level of an existential grievance.
Normally, I just accept my fate and deal with the constant abuse from other drivers. But last Thursday afternoon, after spending 20 minutes on Townsend, trying to reach the Caltrain cabstand, only to find it filled with unmarked sedans, it occurs to me that there’s an alternative to the hassle of working the streets.
When the train pulls in, I get a fare going to Glen Park, but instead of subjecting myself to congestion in the Mission on the way downtown, I get on the freeway… SFO bound.
Two hours later, I’m stuck in SoMa traffic, but there are suitcases in my trunk and the meter reads $38.15, with several more blocks to go until I reach the Marriott Marquis…
On Saturday, while renewing my 24-hour lease, I ask for a different cab. “Do you play the airport?” Robert asks me. “Want a P medallion for $10 more?”
I’ve never driven a P cab before. P stands for Purchased. In order to alleviate the financial hardships faced by drivers who bought medallions for $250,000, only to see their investment rendered worthless, the SFMTA developed a system that gives them expedited access in the holding lots at the airport. Since the starters at SFO let three to five P cabs into the donut lot for every K, the P might as well stand for Player.
On a normal day at the airport, wait time for K medallions rarely goes below two hours. Sometimes it’s even up to three hours. In a P, the wait is drastically reduced. At least 30 minutes or more. On Sunday, typically the busiest day at the airport, wait times for Ps are between 70 and 90 minutes.
With a P medallion, it only makes sense to focus on working the airport. But I don’t deadhead there after dropping off in The City. I meander through the neighborhoods, looking for flags and waiting for radio calls. Whenever a ride takes me close to 101 or 280, though, I jump on the freeway.
On Monday morning, when the flights start coming in rapid fire, I headstraight to the airport. My first run through only takes 40 minutes. After
dropping in Ingleside, I go right back to the airport. This time, I wait an hourbefore taking a fare to the Marriott Courtyard on Second Street.
Downtown, I prowl the hotel cabstands and look for flags. As I’m taking afamily of German tourists to the Wharf, an Uber runs the stop sign at Powell and Union. I slam on the brakes and brace for impact. Everyone in my cab screams. Somehow, the driver manages to avoid the collision and speeds off down Columbus.
With my chest still throbbing from the panic, I drop the family off and head to the freeway, hoping for a long wait at SFO.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.idrivesf.com.