Being a taxi driver is a Sisyphean existence. Each time you think some new initiative or change in policy will improve your ability to earn a living, it never works out in your favor and you end up back at the bottom of the hill, where your only choice is to start pushing that boulder up again. Or, if you believe in free will, give up…
After spending the past week gorging on the news, hoping that if I keep refreshing my newsfeed an article or video will materialize that resolves the razor-thin election results, one outcome has remained constant throughout the turbulence. Even by Tuesday night it was obvious: Proposition 22 had passed.
As much as I was hoping that Uber and Lyft would get kneecapped by the electorate, the results weren’t surprising. There was just too much misinformation surrounding the ballot measure. Most voters had no idea what was at stake.
The biggest lie was that if Prop. 22 failed, these predatory companies would have no choice but to close up shop in California and drivers would lose their flexible source of income.
Based on the comments I’ve read online, it’s clear that the 200-million-dollar vortex of misinformation was effective.
“Great, now my husband gets to keep his job,” one commenter wrote on Facebook.
Uhm, wasn’t that the whole point of Prop. 22? To prove that driving for Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, et al., wasn’t a real job?
One bonehead even posted on my page that if Prop. 22 didn’t pass, drivers would resort to cannibalism.
Ah, you gotta love social media…
Not that I care whether or not Uber/Lyft drivers get exploited or have to feast on each other’s flesh. Most taxi drivers were opposed to Prop. 22 because Assembly Bill 5, the bill the ballot measure was trying to override, was the latest, and greatest, chance the taxi industry had at creating a level playing field. If Uber and Lyft were forced to classify their drivers as employees, their rates would go up, becoming more competitive with taxi fares, and they’d have to limit the number of vehicles on the road. Which would persuade passengers to start using cabs again.
Now that Prop. 22 has passed, though, and most of the other industries impacted by the bill were able to carve out their own expeditions, AB5 is all but pointless.
And since Uber and Lyft have been given the green light to operate unfettered, the taxi industry is, once again, seemingly doomed.
For gate and gas drivers like me, we can either keep pushing that boulder up the hill or find another job. But the drivers who paid a quarter of million dollars for a medallion are still on the hook for those loan payments. Walking away isn’t an easy option for them. And yet, almost 50 paid medallion holders have foreclosed on their loans in the past few months…
As if to throw us a bone, in October, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency sent an email to taxi drivers that began, “Good news!” Apparently, the board had approved a $250,000 marketing campaign to convince San Franciscans to support taxicabs.
As if an advertisement is going to compel people to give up the convenience of using Uber and Lyft…
With rates that are half the cost of taking a taxi and with the streets flooded with vehicles, the decision to take a cab instead of the cheaper and more efficient alternative is entirely political now. People who take cabs do it out of solidarity. Not to save money. You’ll need more than a marketing campaign to inspire enough people to make those kinds of sacrifices. Just ask the folks behind No on Prop. 22.
Of course, none of this matters while we’re in the midst of a pandemic. Until we can get back to some semblance of normalcy, the demand for rides will remain minimal. There is more at stake with this latest election than the classification of Uber/Lyft drivers. Since the previous administration has done such a dismal job of handling the COVID outbreak, we can only hope the new president is able to get things under control. Until then, there’s not much we can do but just keep pushing that boulder up the hill.
Kelly Dessaint, a San Francisco taxi driver and veteran zine publisher, is the author of the novel “A Masque of Infamy.” His Behind the Wheel zine series is collected in the paperback “Omnibus,” available through book marketplaces or at his blog, idrivesf.com. His column appears every other week in the Examiner. He is a guest columnist and his point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner.