The Central Freeway is like a noose. If you get on the elevated roadway when traffic is backed up on the bridge and/or at the Hospital Curve, you’re gonna be hanging around until you feel like dying.
Last Saturday night, as events at all the venues in Civic Center begin breaking one after another, the demand for transportation is intense.
Outside the Orpheum, a family gets in my cab heading to the Fairmont.
Along the way, the mother asks me, “So what’s the deal with Uber and Lyft?”
I can’t help but laugh. At least once a shift, usually more, a passenger brings up Uber and Lyft. A subject I avoid at all costs.
“Well, that’s a loaded question,” I say.
“Is it? I’m just curious what makes them different from taxis.”
Since she seems earnest, I give her a quick rundown.
“I like the sound of taxis better,” she says as I pull into the hotel driveway. She hands me a $20 bill folded in half. Tells me to keep it.
I race back to Civic Center just as the Opera is breaking. Before I can turn onto Grove from Van Ness, people jump in front of my cab. I try to direct an older couple out of the crosswalk but the man opens my back door. A mass of angry pedestrians maneuvers around us.
“Do you know Executive Park Boulevard?” he asks.
“Out by Candlestick Point?” I reply.
“Yeah, take 101 south.”
I head down Van Ness towards the Central Freeway.
“We were just about to order an Uber when you showed up,” the woman tells me.
While waiting for the light at Market, I pull check Google Maps to make sure there’s nothing impeding our trajectory. Besides some red at the merge, traffic looks clear.
Stuck between a slowpoke hogging both lanes of the on-ramp and a speed demon on my right, I fight my way onto the freeway. As predicted, there’s some backup at the interchange, but the road clears up immediately.
Then, out of nowhere, traffic begins to crawl. A few seconds later, a Caltrans tow truck rumbles by on the shoulder. Approaching the Army exit, we encounter a sea of brake lights. At the front of the congestion are flashing blue lights.
“What do you guys think?” I ask.
“Just keep going,” the woman recommends. “We’re still moving.”
“For now, anyway,” the man points out.
Once we’re at a standstill, I check Google Maps again.
“The accident is at Silver,” I announce. “But after that, it’s clear.”
The man makes a comment about the cost of the ride. Adding, “I guess that’s the benefit of Uber.”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“The price doesn’t change. You pay what the app says the ride will cost, even if you get stuck in traffic.”
“But in that scenario, wouldn’t the driver get screwed?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps.”
“Well, it seems to me that if a company is selling a product or a service cheaper than the competition, someone is getting screwed.”
“It looks like the freeway is closed,” the woman says, changing the subject.
“They’re pushing us into 280.”
“No, they’re letting cars through,” the man counters.
“I don’t think so,” I argue. “We need to get over.”
The woman takes my side. “Those are headlights you’re seeing.”
He’s not the only one convinced the path is clear. Most cars are determined not to move over to the right, making the traffic jam worse.
I muscle my cab between a Lexus and a Prius. The Lexus driver lays on their horn.
“Maybe take 380 and come back around,” the man suggests.
“What? That would cost a fortune,” I declare. “No, we’re talking Alemany to Bayshore.”
My instinct pays off. A few minutes later we’re back on 101 south.
In front of their building, the man runs his card and lets me know he’s adding a 15 percent tip.
I point out the delay didn’t increase the fare too much. “After all, it’s only 55 cents a minute when idling.”
Grateful there’s no traffic on the northbound lanes, I head back downtown.
Before getting on the freeway, though, I check traffic anyway. Better safe than sorry.
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.