Categories: News Columnists

I Drive SF: A loss in the taxi community

Over the years I’ve documented the numerous hardships cab drivers face on the job. The financial struggles. The unjust competition. The traffic. The requisite long hours. The corrupt government agencies. The indignities of this growing belief that robots will one day do our job better.

Well, all that jive is a walk in the park compared to the constant threat of physical harm. And not just the aches and pains of being confined to a small space for hours on end, but the perpetual fear that something could go terribly wrong…

Spending as much time as we do roving the streets of San Francisco, we see more than your average commuter. The high number of accidents that occur throughout The City on a daily basis is terrifying. Not to mention all the near collisions.

I’m often surprised there aren’t more wrecks, giving how most people operate their vehicles. Drivers going the wrong way on one-way streets have become such a regular occurrence it even happens on the freeway.

Two weeks ago, some yahoo in a Tesla drove the wrong way across the entire length of the Bay Bridge through the toll plaza and onto I-880. How nobody was injured or killed along the way is an absolute miracle.

Unlike last Thursday morning, when an intoxicated woman made the fateful decision to drive home to Hillsborough from The City and somehow ended up on the northbound side of 101.

Apparently, several motorists saw her and called CHP. Before they were able to catch up with her, though, she came around the curve at the 280 split, where there is an incline as the roadway curves, limiting visibility, and barely missed an 18-wheeler, colliding head on with a National taxicab driven by Berkant Ahmed, who was transporting a couple from Chicago he’d just picked up at the airport.

In the horrifying aftermath, nobody survived.

At the scene there were no visible skid marks. No charred asphalt. It was all blunt force. The images of the two mangled vehicles in the news that morning were absolutely devastating. Such a sad, stupid, unnecessary waste of life.

For Berkant, it was his last fare of the night. He had planned to go home after his previous ride out of SFO, but unfortunately got a short and had to go back to the airport.

In a bizarre series of events, the Chicago couple decided not to take the first cab in line, a Flywheel cab, opting instead, for whatever reason, to take the National cab. They were both SUVs.

It made no sense.

Over the following days, a pall has hung over the holding lot at SFO where drivers congregate between rides. The usual laughter and convivial bonding is muted.

Berkant Ahmed was well respected and loved. I didn’t know him personally but saw him around the airport. He had a kind and friendly face. Always smiling. The type of guy who would tap lightly on your window if you fell asleep in the Donut Lot, or help you out of a jam.

Berkant was only 42. He was Turkish, from a small village in Bulgaria, where he was building a house and planned to retire after another year of cab driving.

More tragically, though, he leaves behind a teenage daughter.

As a father of a girl myself, this hit me really hard. I was immediately compelled to seek out those who knew him at the airport and share in their grief.

Among his fellow Muslims, they talked about God’s Will and destiny. And even though I know that predetermination is one of the six articles of the Muslim Faith, it’s hard for me to accept this concept. I’m angry and want answers.

Of course, there’s no relief in outrage. The only consolation is the belief that this is what God wanted for him. It makes the pain bearable for the survivors. But the injustice still burns inside me. Because it could have been any of us out there. And in a way, it was. We all lost something that night.

We are all Berkant.

For now, though, we can only keep going, despite the hardships and the risks, always ensuring to maintain a sense of dignity.

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

Kelly Dessaint

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