Getting too many short rides is one of the risks of working SFO as a taxi driver. (Courtesy photo)

Working SFO: The long and short of it

Getting a long, profitable ride is such an anomaly, expecting more than straight meter and a tip seems kind of predatory.

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Given the competition’s artificially deflated rates, taxi drivers rarely get long rides out of The City these days. The farthest south I go on any regular basis is Daly City, the Gateway to the Peninsula. As if to say, we can get to the door, but not past it.

Not only are taxi rates higher, we’re also allowed to charge meter and a half on rides that go 15 miles past the county line.

I’ve always had a hard time enforcing this policy. Getting a long, profitable ride is such an anomaly, expecting more than straight meter and a tip seems kind of predatory.

Unless there’s an expense account in the mix.

That’s what I’m trying to ascertain last week after picking up a fare at SFO going to Mountain View. Even though you’re supposed to tell passengers about meter and a half before starting the trip, it doesn’t occur to me until we’re already heading south on the freeway. And by then, changing the subject mid conversation seems awkward. So I’m somewhat relieved to find out she’s a communications professor at University of Texas at Austin, coming to visit her sister, who teaches at Stanford. Since gouging an educator seems disreputable, I don’t mention meter and a half.

Still, one of the advantages of playing the airport is the potential for long fares, which are more common there than in The City.

Of course, you also have the constant risk of shorts. During the day, though, you just go back to the front of the line and get another fare. But late at night, when the number of flights is dwindling, a short is downright painful.

Last Sunday, shortly before midnight, while idling in the P lot, I talk with another cab driver about our chances for fares.

“We’re gonna get rides,” he says, confidently. “Just hopefully not shorts.”

“Oh man, I don’t wanna think about that.”

A few minutes later, the starter’s whistle sounds. She holds up the sign for terminal three.

I follow several cabs to United.

Ten minutes later, the starter directs two young guys with three very large, cumbersome suitcases towards my cab. I can’t fit them all in the trunk so one goes in back while a guy sits up front.

“Where you heading?” I ask, winded from negotiating their luggage.

He shows me his phone. The Holiday Inn on S. Airport Blvd.

Great. Just what I feared: a short.

On 101, I notice the kid next to me is using navigation, even though the hotel is just two exits away. The fact that he feels the need to get Siri involved only adds insult to injury.

As I’m getting off the freeway, he points out, “There it is, straight ahead.”

Really? You mean the giant building with Holiday Inn across the front in green neon?

Despite the possibility of getting stranded at the airport this late, I go back and try for a decent load.

Fortunately, I don’t wait very long before the starter sends me to terminal one.

A few minutes later, three guys approach my cab.

“We’re going to the Dylan,” the guy in back says. “I’ll get the address for you.”

“I know where it is,” I respond, not even trying to hide my disappointment at getting another short.

“You must go there often,” he ventures.

“Yeah.” Unfortunately.

During the two-mile ride, they talk about being in a taxi for the first time.

When I pull up to the motel, the meter reads $14.05. He gives me a $20 bill. I hand him six dollars back.

“Thanks.” He exits without leaving a tip.

Now I’m really annoyed and race back to the airport.

The line for shorts is longer this time. When it’s finally my turn, I get terminal two.

Three people are waiting. I load the first guy’s suitcase.

“Aloft,” he tells me.

Oh man, I think, just great: another short.

“On Gateway.”

Wait, what?

“In Newark.”

Confused, I ask, “You don’t mean the Aloft on Millbrae?”

“No, I’m here for work and this hotel is right across from the office.”

“Well then, let me tell you about the meter and a half policy we have for long rides.”

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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