Taxi drivers

San Francisco taxi drivers gear up for nation’s first Uber partnership | national news

Uber and taxis have long been mortal enemies. But now disruptors and disrupters are joining forces in hopes that each can provide what the other lacks: more drivers for Uber and more business for taxis.

The country’s first program in San Francisco will allow passengers to book taxi rides directly on the Uber app with the same user experience as booking an UberX. Although details are still being worked out, the program is expected to begin in the coming weeks. Taxi drivers wait with excitement… or trepidation.

“The ability for taxi drivers to access all those customers they’ve lost is a huge game changer. It’s almost like coming full circle,” said Hansu Kim, President of Flywheel Technologies, a San Francisco-based taxi booking platform that has partnered with Uber “It’s the future. It’s going to be a collaborative effort between rideshares and taxis.”

Eventually, all 1,075 taxis in San Francisco will be eligible to participate. Fares will be the same as UberX rides, allowing taxi drivers to take advantage of peak pricing. Taxi drivers will be able to see fares in advance and will have the power to refuse any ride.

The partnership was made possible by a pilot program approved by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency in April that allows taxi dispatch apps like Yellow Cab’s Flywheel and YoTaxi to offer upfront fares, showing passengers how much they pay before getting into their taxi. As part of this policy change, the SFMTA allowed taxi dispatch companies to offer taxi rides on outdoor transit hubs. So far, Uber is the only ridesharing app participating in the program.

In a statement, Uber described taxi partnerships as an increasingly important part of its business model, highlighting several examples in other countries. The taxis provide more choices on the Uber app and increase passenger reliability, the company said. Uber declined to provide a launch date for the San Francisco program.

Kim says the vast majority of taxi drivers in The City are eager to pick up Uber passengers. But not everyone is convinced. The San Francisco Taxi Worker’s Alliance, which represents a subset of drivers, and the SFMTA’s Citizens Advisory Council have spoken out against the program. For many drivers, the problem isn’t the program itself, it’s the company running it.

“So many drivers have such a visceral dislike – perhaps a much stronger word than dislike – disgust, hatred of Uber that they just won’t touch it,” said Uber driver Mark Gruberg. taxi driver and SFTWA board member, citing the damage Uber and Lyft have done to San Francisco’s taxi industry, as well as company labor practices. “Personally, I don’t plan to participate.”

Still, Gruberg and fellow SFTWA board member Barry Taranto admit that many taxi drivers are likely to participate. In fact, their biggest concern is that the program will become so popular with drivers that there will be fewer taxis available for regular taxi users, including elderly and disabled paratransit customers, and people using the card. Essential Trip by SFMTA. “Ridesharing apps don’t serve people who can’t afford expensive smartphones, who don’t have bank accounts, who don’t have access to credit cards,” Taranto said.

Chris Sweis, CEO of San Francisco Yellow Cab, predicts there won’t be a big impact on paratransit riders, as Uber’s price hike tends to happen when few paratransit customers take trips. “We’re going to be watching him very, very closely,” Sweis said. “Having a fair transportation system is something that is definitely important to me and important to the MTA and everyone else.”

Whatever happens in San Francisco will likely be “a flag for other cities and states,” said Matt Daus, president of the International Association of Transportation Regulators and former head of New York City Taxi and Limousine. Commission. Uber is working on a partnership with taxi dispatch companies in New York, and other US cities are expected to follow.

“It really helps the taxi industry and the taxi driver, and there’s no downside for them because they can reject the fare if it’s not good enough,” Daus said. “Once they see the results, once they see the money coming in, it’s kind of a no-brainer.”

Taxi driver George Lama understands other taxi drivers’ distrust of Uber. But he’s personally keen on taking Uber passengers. “For anyone who is against it, you don’t have to use it. Don’t spoil it for all of us,” Lama said. “Whether you like them or not, Uber is a brand, and they’re not going anywhere. This will revive our industry. »

Lama is constantly reminded of Uber and Lyft’s grip on the transportation industry. He often finds himself in a long line of empty taxis outside a hotel, waiting to pick up passengers, while group after group get out and order an Uber. Other times it will pick up passengers who say they only took a taxi because of high Uber prices. “Believe me, we’re second choice,” Lama said.

Sal, another taxi driver who gave only his first name, said the Uber option would be especially useful outside of the “taxi comfort zone” of downtown and Union Square. Typically, when taxi drivers offer rides to Sunset and Richmond, they return to downtown empty. With the Uber partnership, they will be able to pick up customers in the neighborhoods.

Sal also highlighted ways Uber passengers could benefit from taxi drivers. “The taxi drivers, they know how to get there,” Sal said. “All you have to say is the name of the restaurant, and that’s it.” Taxis have the added benefit of accessing the transit-only red lanes and being permitted to drive down Market Street. “It’s a win for Uber, a win for taxis and a win for residents.”

Supporters and opponents of the program said it had the potential to bring taxi drivers back to work and increase the number of taxis on the streets. But for Gruberg, this scenario is worrying. “I fear that if we end up in a situation of dependence on them eventually where drivers come back, the industry grows and drivers take many, many Uber rides, (Uber) is going to be able to dictate the terms and conditions under which we operate.

For his part, Sal is happy to take Uber riders, as long as the company doesn’t tell him how to do his job. “We like to joke, we like to talk with the customer, we like to give them a joyful and pleasant experience of being in the taxi, unlike Uber drivers who are afraid of receiving a star or two stars for something,” Sal said. . . “Personally, I don’t want to change. I want to keep talking to customers in the car.