How does a struggling local taxicab company compete with the cheap and unregulated competition of Uber and Lyft? Apparently, the same way that people these days pay unexpected medical bills, bail their own asses out of legal trouble, or finance their oontz-oontz Burning Man orgy carousels with a crowdfunding campaign. We’ve already seen Yellow Cab declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but employee-owned taxi company Green Cab hopes to avoid that fate by cobbling together your donations of anywhere from $10 to $250.
The GoFundMe campaign Keep Green Cab Rolling was established Monday, it and it’s raised well, a pretty modest $250 of its $30,000 goal in the two days since. The top rewards include some kind of tell-all book by taxi driver Brad Newsham, various amounts of coffee from Cafe Trieste, and “a package of fine organic green tea from SF's Japantown.”
“It’s pretty dire,” Green Cab co-founder Mark Gruberg told the Examiner, stating the obvious. Green Cab has had financial problems for years, with another significant loan payment coming due October 1. Their fleet of active Toyota Prius vehicles has dwindled down to seven, but still provides an important safety net transportation option for individuals without smartphones or credit cards, the disabled community, and people who ride at peak hours and can’t afford the scourge of surge pricing.
Subsidies, handouts, and bonuses may be the only way to prop the taxi industry through this transitional phase, which is why the SF Municipal Transit Agency voted Tuesday to disburse $4.7 million in direct cash payments to taxi drivers. That money had been sitting in a fund intended to give drivers health insurance and to mount a marketing campaign to compete Uber and Lyft, but drivers lobbied the SFMTA to simply write them checks. The some 5,200 San Francisco taxi drivers will get a check anywhere from $421 to $916 depending on their tenure, according to the Chronicle, and their registration fees will be waived for two years.
It’s a nice little windfall for taxi drivers, but it’s also a white flag of surrender for the notion that the city-regulated taxi industry can compete with its relatively unregulated rideshare competitors. “What this tells me is that you don’t believe that another medallion is going to be sold, that the industry is dead,” taxi driver Mary McGuire said at the meeting.
While she’s probably correct, you can’t help but wonder if the legacy taxi industry might receive another form of unexpected bailout the total and complete collapse of Uber in an avalanche of bribery and corrupt practices charges, criminal charges, and getting sued into oblivion by Google.