When getting around is more about being trendy than saving money

You can learn a lot about the current state of transportation in the ad hoc cabstand outside Public Works at 3 a.m.


You can learn a lot about the current state of transportation in the ad hoc cabstand outside Public Works at 3 a.m.

While waiting in line for 30 minutes or longer for a fare, you have a unique perspective on how the new San Franciscans get around these days.

And it’s not pretty.

As dozens of Uber/Lyft vehicles scrimmage on either side of Mission, some charging headlong into the smoking section on Erie, packs of club goers stand around the makeshift concession stand at the end of the dead end alley waiting for their rides.

For each cab taken, there are approximately 15-20 Uber and Lyft pick-ups. The process is slow going. Obviously, most of these young urbanites are willing to brave the precipitation and frigid night air in their skimpy club attire than get into one of the available taxis.

Meanwhile, every 15 minutes, a 14 bus roars by, blaring its horn out of frustration at the vehicular morass.

Even though you can easily get from Public Works to Monarch or Club 6 on the 14, or take the 9 to Halcyon, the Great Northern or 150 San Bruno, no self-respecting hip city dweller would be caught dead on Muni.

Or a taxi, for that matter.

Most recent transplants prefer to ride in some random dude’s Camry than take public transportation. Regardless of the price. Because getting around today isn’t about saving a buck. Or even convenience.

It’s about trends.

And taxis, like buses, are relics of the past.

As people emerge from Erie alley, you can tell who’s more likely to take a cab. Taxi patrons walk with confidence, even when they’re zonked out on drugs. They don’t hold their phones out like compasses. They make eye contact before opening the back door of your cab. They give you cross streets or the name of a venue. They don’t micromanage the trajectory. They just sit back and relax.

Or chat with their friends.

New urbanites, however, lack this kind of sophistication. They don’t know how to navigate the concrete jungle, which would normally involve taking buses or cabs. But they certainly know how to use their phones.

A few weeks ago, I participated in SF History Days at the Old Mint. I had all four issues of my zine Behind the Wheel laid out on a table in the “author’s room.” When a young couple wandered past, they inquired about the first two zines that documented my experience driving for Uber and Lyft. They’d just moved here from Iowa and were already frequent users of the two ride-hail services. When I asked if they ever took taxis, they scoffed. Why would anyone take a taxi?

Why indeed?

Besides the hip factor, it seems like most Uber/Lyft users prefer drivers who don’t know where they’re going. Especially the recent transplants. It gives them a sense of superiority. Since the dynamic in an Uber or Lyft is about control, they don’t want their drivers to be more knowledgeable or capable.

They want the upper hand. So even though they’ve only been here for six months, compared to someone from Davis or Sacramento, they’re practically Rand McNally.

When a regular Uber/Lyft user gets in a cab, they micromanage the route. They try and get you to make illegal turns or pull over where you’re not allowed. All those double-parked Ubers and Lyfts all over The City? They do that because their passengers expect that kind of service. And if they don’t satisfy the whims of their overlords, they risk a bad rating, andpotentially, their jobs.

And it’s this mentality that’s helped Uber and Lyft achieve their dominance in the transportation market. At least in San Francisco.

There is a common misconception that Uber and Lyft are always cheaper than cabs – and sometimes they are, especially on long rides out of town.

But their ability to undercut competition with venture capital is not what’s decimating the taxi industry. Ultimately, that has more to do with the change in demographics than a devalued price point.

Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. His zine “Behind the Wheel” is available at bookstores throughout The City. He is a guest columnist. Write to Kelly at piltdownlad@gmail.com or visit www.idrivesf.com

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