A recent estimate puts the dent that rideshare companies have put in the San Francisco taxi industry at 65 percent and that just in the last fifteen months. Though there has been much lamenting about this, including this documentary short on the topic, taxi drivers haven't really known what to do besides give and become Uber or Lyft drivers themselves, if they didn't already own medallions or had the freedom to do so. As the Chron reports today, taxi drivers and cab companies have been quitting their whining and doing some constructive things to save what's left of their industry, lobbying Sacramento for greater regulation on ride-shares and convincing the MTA to lower operating fees on standard cabs.
Also, they're hoping for a crackdown on Uber/Lyft/Sidecar drivers using taxi-only lanes, and taxi stands, which are things that they pay for with their fees.
Three things the traditional taxi industry still doesn't have going for it, which account for why their numbers have been decimated by the more modern ride-share companies, still remain sticking points for consumers.
- 1) While traditional taxis are technically, legally, supposed to cover all neighborhoods (and the Chron piece mentions this as an important fact), we all know that they have not always done this. Denizens of the Richmond, Sunset, and Excelsior know all too well that cab drivers have passed them up in years past, and they're still bitter about it.
- 2) Everyone hates cash. The ease of hailing and payment that comes from the Uber and Lyft apps has now spoiled many of us to the point that fumbling for our wallets feels downright third-world. Not to mention the fact that traditional taxis are supposed to accept credit cards but you will still find drivers who get grumpy about this or, worse, lie and tell you their credit-card machines are broken. The local taxi companies are catching on with the apps, only WAY too slowly. Per the Chron: "About 80 percent of the city’s cabs use the Flywheel app, while 60 percent use the Curb app," which both allow you to hail cabs and pay by a pre-stored credit card. But once you've found out how cheap UberX is by comparison, why would you use them?*
- 3) Cabs smell. The ride-share apps, particularly Uber, offer a sense of luxury and ease that the traditional taxi industry is going to have an impossibly tough time competing with.
Add to this the overall, notorious crankiness and unreliability of S.F. taxi drivers, and you had a perfect storm of ill will that led to the rise of ride-sharing and to a general "you deserve this" attitude among the citizenry as we watch the taxi industry go down in flames.
This is not to say that we at SFist have no sympathy for the men and women who are seeing their livelihoods affected by this sea change, because we do. But some sour-grapes, eleventh-hour negotiations and piecemeal modernization efforts are going to do very little to save the taxi industry from itself.
The Chronicle, however, will keep having their back.
*This post has been corrected to show that you can pay by credit card through Flywheel and Curb, and that the taxi industry was not involved in legislation pertaining to insurance requirements for non-limo rideshare drivers.