How to become a taxi driver

One of the major “innovations” Uber and Lyft have unleashed upon the world is a low barrier of entry in recruiting drivers.

One of the major “innovations” Uber and Lyft have unleashed upon the world is a low barrier of entry in recruiting drivers. Since their inception, Uber/Lyft lobbyists have argued in City Hall and Sacramento that putting too much pressure on potential applicants would discourage them from signing up.

It worked. And to this day, there are still news stories about former criminals becoming Uber/Lyft drivers and perpetuating new crimes.

Remember when Uber claimed to provide the safest ride? Yeah. They were forced by a court of law to stop spreading that obvious lie.

As I’ve mentioned in my last two columns, regulations exist for a reason: to protect the public. Uber/Lyft boosters often overlook this fact when defending their transportation choices.

During 11 months that I did the Uber/Lyft thing, I seldom felt safe. The only thing more terrifying than all the potential scenarios one might face on the road was how little support Uber and Lyft offered their “partners.”

I always felt alone on the streets. While I couldn’t possibly rely on passengers to have my back, I didn’t trust other Uber/Lyft drivers either. Because I knew how easy it was to become one.

To drive for Lyft, all I had to do was download the app, sign up with Facebook, input my personal information, watch three videos and meet up with a “mentor” for 15 minutes.

Signing up for Uber equally as simple. The only snag in the process was not receiving the dedicated phone to run the Uber driver app, which necessitated a visit to an outreach center.

Anyone can be an Uber/Lyft driver. That was their huge selling point. And also why I put my faith in the taxi industry instead. Cab drivers actually have to make an effort, fork up cash and jump through a myriad of hoops to do their job.

Even before I began asking cab drivers at gas stations and car washes how to join their ranks, I’d perused the list of requirements on the SFMTA website.

The 35 or so items on the list were daunting, to say the least. One day, I finally bit the bullet and went to the SFMTA office. The woman behind the glass gave me a once over twice and asked in a Russian accent, “Why do you want to drive taxi?”

“Cuz I’m sick of driving for Uber and Lyft,” I blurted out.

She looked me up and down again.

“Okay. Fill these out.”

I grabbed the stack of forms, one of which included instructions to write a paragraph in English about why I wanted to drive a taxi. I walked back tothe window for some extra scratch paper. I ended up at Ruach Graffis’ Taxi Driver Institute, where I spent four grueling days in the historic Redstone Building with Omar, the only otherstudent, as Ruach browbeat cab driving into our overwhelmed skulls, using handouts, worksheets, checklists, maps, videos and an assortment of multi-colored hi-liters. Every afternoon, there were quizzes. Each night, homework.

After passing Ruach’s class, I went back to the SFMTA to complete more forms. Get fingerprinted. Go to the DMV for a ten-year printout of my driving record. Then return to the SFMTA for another class and a final exam.

I passed with 87 percent and received my temporary permit. Fortunately, I didn’t have to pony up the $155.50 for an a-card that year because there was a shortage in new cab drivers.

While in taxi school, I obtained a letter of intent to hire from Green Cab, but Jacob Black, a driver I met online, took me to National/Veterans, where the manager trained me on the taximeter and in-cab equipment. Then I went to the DeSoto yard and learned how to use the Flywheel app.

Every work day after that, I stood around with a bunch of other cab drivers outside the dispatch window waiting for an available cab…

During this whole ordeal, I have been required to interact with so many people and expected to provide so much time, money and energy that it would not have been worth the trouble if I were only been interested in exploiting the system.

Especially not when there’s a perfectly viable option that doesn’t require any of these hassles.

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 or visit

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