The latest rumor among taxi drivers is that the 50 percent rate increase they are allowed to charge for long distances is about to disappear. (Courtesy photo)

I Drive SF: Revisiting long-distance taxi rates

Naturally, many taxi customers balk at the prospect of paying more than the normal rate.

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

Among cab drivers, there are always rumors making the rounds in taxi yards, cabstands and holding lots across The City. They’re rarely good. By now, all but the truly delusional have come to expect any change to include a kick in the crotch.

The latest scuttlebutt is about the SFMTA eliminating meter and a half, the policy that allows drivers to charge an additional 50 percent of the metered rate on rides that go 15 miles beyond the county line.

It’s always uncomfortable explaining meter and a half to customers. Naturally, many balk at the prospect of paying more than the normal rate.

Even though I’m not a stickler for meter and a half, there are times when it’s necessary.

Like that ride from UCSF Parnassus to San Jose two weeks ago. During peak rush hour, it took over three hours to complete. Fortunately, the guy had a voucher and I didn’t have to explain meter and a half.

Then last Friday, I drove a woman from SFO to Santa Clara. At 4:20 p.m. Before taking off, I quoted her $150, the amount listed on the rate sheet. She agreed to the fare. Forty-five minutes later, when we pulled up to the McAfee building, I only charged her $120, since traffic wasn’t that horrible. But it still took me an hour to get back to The City. All told, including my original wait time, I spent almost four hours on the ride. So it’s not like I made out like a bandit.

Of course, meter and a half only exists if you bring it up.

Two Saturdays ago, I took a couple to Atherton. When we got to their gated house, the man questioned the fare. Thought it should be more than $58.

“What about the surcharge?” he asked.

“The $4 for the airport? It’s in there,” I told him.

“No, the extra fee since we’re a certain distance from the airport.”

“Oh, this is meter and a half?” I wondered aloud.

He gave me a funny look and said, “Here’s $90. That’s usually how much it costs.”

It was late afternoon. We were cruising with the windows down under a canopy of trees as the sun flickered through the leaves. I happily took the money, but would have been just as content with the lesser amount…

That night, at terminal two, a guy asked for the price to Fremont. I showed him the rate sheet. $137. But offered to do it for straight meter. He said Uber was cheaper and walked away. Then a couple wanted to know the fare to Polk Street. I said around $45. They flinched and turned heel.

There will always be people who would rather go out of their way to save a few bucks. But as long as meter and a half is negotiable, it ensures that you’re adequately compensated for time-consuming rides.

Of course, some drivers are willing to let potential customers walk rather than compromise. And that’s the problem.

On Sunday night I took a woman to Portola Valley. She was returning from a family emergency and her poor husband accidentally went to the San Jose airport.

It was 11 p.m. and 280 was practically empty. We had a great conversation. And I was back at SFO in a flash. So there was no reason to charge more than the $89 on the meter. I didn’t even care that she only tipped me a few dollars.

A less scrupulous driver, though, could have charged $135. And expected a 20 percent tip. Which seems wrong, since you’re already making bank on the ride.

If anything, the meter and a half policy should be modified to only apply during certain times of the day, like HOV lanes on the freeway.

Although there was that night I drove a young couple to Milpitas at 2 a.m. They were in the midst of an argument. Along the way, the girl told the guy it was over. Then we hit traffic. A major accident had the freeway backed up for miles. Sitting there, stuck in gridlock, listening to the guy weep and beg her to take him back, I kicked myself for not mentioning meter and a half.

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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