Back in my Uber days, passengers regularly asked me if I liked driving for Uber. Since criticizing the company while working on their platform could easily backfire and result in a low rating, I always said, “Well, I like driving,” and left it at that.
Now, when people ask me about being a taxi driver, I talk about how it’s hard to consistently make a living wage with so much competition on the streets, but that I genuinely like interacting with strangers and exploring The City in my garish rattletrap bomber.
At the end of the day, I really dig being a cab driver.
You never know where a fare will take you. A hand goes up, you pull over and hope for the best. Maybe you’ll get a long ride, a fun ride, a bizarre ride or even a bad ride … That mystery is what keeps the job interesting. But it’s the human aspect of cab driving that compels me to show up to the National yard each week.
Unlike Uber and Lyft, driving a cab requires quick thinking, a sharp wit and cat-like reflexes to traverse the treacherous streets of San Francisco. It’s more authentic and challenging than just interfacing with a computer.
Last week, this guy flags me in front of 1015 Folsom. He’s going to the Mission. I don’t realize he’s monitoring my path against Waze until I turn right onto Eleventh Street from Howard and he tells me the app doesn’t agree with my route.
“I go this way hundreds of times a week,” I say. “Navigation apps don’t factor in the driver’s ability to move through the streets efficiently.”
I make a joke about how Waze and Google Maps should have advanced levels, like video games.
He doesn’t laugh.
“I just don’t want a computer to think for me,” I say.
He looks baffled, as if using one’s brain to figure things out is such a foreign concept I might as well be talking gibberish.
He’s not the only one …
The other day I was reading about Flywheel Taxi, the cab company formerly known as DeSoto, and Flywheel, the app, and how, together, they’re trying to push the San Francisco taxi industry into replacing the traditional taximeter with the TaxiOS app.
Wait … So instead of working for taxi companies, we’d be working for an app company. Hmm … Why does that sound familiar?
It’s obvious Flywheel’s goal is to Uberize taxis. But they’ve invested all this time and money reinventing the wheel to create an app that solves a problem that didn’t exist.
Imagine a city with only one restaurant. The food isn’t great, the wait time for tables is long, the service is deplorable, the silverware and plates are always dirty and the prices are too high. Everybody complains, but without a choice, what can they do?
Then one day a new restaurant opens up. They put a big neon sign out front. The food’s not much better, but place is large enough that customers don’t have to wait long for a table. The service is impeccable, the place is spotless and the prices are much lower.
Soon, the first restaurant has lost most of their customers, and the owners start asking themselves, “How do we get them back?”
Well, if that old restaurant is the San Francisco taxi industry and the new restaurant is Uber, then Flywheel’s solution is to put up a neon sign.
I get it. We’re all grasping at straws.
“But they’re not regulated!”
Yeah, I’ve heard all the arguments, but I’ve also talked to thousands of people over the past two-and-a-half years while driving for Uber and Lyft and then a taxi. Most of them didn’t stop using cabs because there were no apps. Cabulous (which became Flywheel) predates Uber. No, it’s the cab experience — and the cab driver — they want to avoid.
Sadly, the human aspect of cab driving has become the scourge of the profession.
Uber and Lyft easily fixed this problem by giving passengers control over drivers through a draconian rating system, which, I can say from personal experience, takes most of the fun and adventure out of driving.
App-based transportation, in general, is boring as fuck.
Perhaps, instead of trying to beat Uber and Lyft at their own game, we improve what we claim makes our service superior in the first place: the human aspect.
We better hurry, though. The clock is ticking. It’s getting harder for anyone driving for hire to make decent money. And as far as public perception goes, it’s a long way to absolution, since San Franciscans love to hold grudges.
Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. Write to him at email@example.com or visit his blog at www.idrivesf.com.