Uber enlists qualified taxi drivers to join network

S.F. Examiner File PhotoPick-me-up: Uber

Cabdrivers and their long-suffering passengers might have new means to connect with each other, but taxi companies are not thrilled with the situation and local authorities are still trying to determine its legality.

Uber, a local business that connects limousines and town cars with passengers through a social media application, is expanding to include certified taxis. So far, 60 drivers have registered on Uber’s network, which launched Wednesday night, said company co-founder Travis Kalanick. Because taxi drivers are technically independent contractors — they’re unable to unionize and receive no health benefits — they can freely seek extra business.

“We’re giving the consumer more opportunities to get a convenient ride,” Kalanick said. “And cabdrivers will get an extra $100 a shift with our service.”

Under the Uber model, drivers collect the fare and the gratuity. Uber collects a convenience fee for each transaction.

Christopher Fulkerson, a San Francisco taxi driver, said signing up for the Uber service would be one more way for drivers to get business in a hypercompetitive industry. He also said it could be an indication that Uber wants to move away from its fleet of town cars and limousines drivers, whom Fulkerson described as undisciplined and dangerous on the streets.

Not surprisingly, cab companies aren’t thrilled with Uber potentially poaching their drivers.

Athan Rebelos, general manager at De Soto Cab, said Uber is trying to exploit the vehicles and taxi infrastructure that cab companies have worked hard to build and maintain. Still, Rebelos said he is not concerned because Uber has a flawed business model and the company doesn’t understand the taxi industry.

“Companies like Uber think the reason people can’t get a cab is because the driver doesn’t know they’re there,” Rebelos said. “The driver gets paid by who is in the car. If they’re on the way to a call and somebody hails them, they’re going to take the street hail.”

There also is the question of regulation. Uber has a dicey relationship with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees cab operations in The City. In 2010, the SFMTA hit Uber — then called UberCab — with a cease-and-desist order. Uber responded by dropping ”cab” from its name and has continued to operate.

SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose said the agency recently found out about Uber’s efforts to enlist certified taxi drivers and is working with state regulators to investigate its legality.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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