Taxi drivers

What San Francisco taxi drivers think of the partnership with Uber

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors voted this week to expand a pilot program allowing taxi messaging apps, such as Flywheel, to begin dispatching rides from third-party companies like Uber, delving deeper into a complex relationship between ride-sharing apps and taxis in San Francisco.

The council voted unanimously to approve the amendment, which changes the taxi pricing model to allow third-party entities to set fare prices, instead of using traditional metered taxi fares.

Several taxi drivers at the meeting expressed concern that some details of the pilot program were yet to be finalized, including how much taxi drivers will pay Uber after rides. They also criticized the model for allowing Uber to set fares that could differ from the taxi meter’s regulated fare.

Flywheel users may have already noticed some changes in the app over the past few weeks. They are now required to enter a drop-off destination before the ride and then receive a fare quote.

Uber users will soon have the option to travel with a taxi by selecting an UberX ride. Drive-thru taxis will join Uber’s driver offering in San Francisco and can pick up passengers if their vehicle is nearby. The taxi driver will have the ability to accept or decline rides connected through Uber.

Describing it as a “strategic partnership”, Flywheel spearheaded the initiative after witnessing how Uber acquired UK-based taxi booking and dispatch technology company Autocab. , in the summer of 2020. (Uber also entered into an “unlikely alliance” with New York’s iconic yellow cabs in March 2022, reported the New York Times.) Recognizing an opportunity to “modernize” the taxi industry, Flywheel approached SFMTA’s Taxi, Access and Mobility Services Division to foster this partnership.

“We believe we can match our competitors,” Flywheel President Hansu Kim said in a public comment. “We would like to take the passengers of these services with global demand and bring them to the taxi industry. It’s a change for the better.

Bobby Soltanian, a Flywheel taxi driver since 1995, talks to his passenger Conor Nugent at a stoplight in April 2017.

San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst N/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Kim’s optimistic outlook was not echoed by members of the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance (SFTWA) and San Francisco Labor Council, who spoke out against the partnership at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I’m concerned about the lack of transparency and I’m sad that they didn’t come up with all the rules before putting them into effect,” said taxi driver and SFTWA member Barry Taranto. “Working with a company that exploits workers is a huge problem. If they treat their own drivers badly, imagine how they will treat us.

Speaking to SFGATE ahead of the meeting, Taranto expressed concern about how much taxi drivers will pay in commissions to companies like Uber.

“I’m concerned about what percentage Uber is going to get out of the ride,” he said, adding that the 15% figure had been mentioned. “The flywheel already takes 10% of the ride and 3.5% of the ride plus tip.”

In her presentation to the board, Kate Toran, director of taxi, access and mobility services at SFMTA, explained how the department builds dashboards to track metrics collected during these trips. She said all data will go back to SFMTA, allowing them to track driver and customer experiences. This information will be used to modify the program as needed, and the department has decided to remain indifferent to evaluate the results without restrictions, she said.

The pilot of the partnership begins without establishing regulations around Uber’s commissions.

SFMTA Director Fiona Hinze asked if Uber would accept a fare reduction. “We haven’t developed any specific rules on this,” Toran said.

“This is something that will require a deeper understanding,” Hinze noted.

During public comments, Benjamin Valis, taxi driver for Veterans Cab, decried how some program rules were not yet finalized and could come at the expense of his livelihood. “If you believe in a living wage in San Francisco, make it work at taxi meter fare,” he said.

Representatives from Uber were also present at the meeting, and after the vote they congratulated Flywheel’s Kim.

This is a significant turnaround for the relationship between the two companies. Flywheel sued Uber for violating antitrust laws in 2016. Today, their partnership is seen as a win for both entities.

Andrew Macdonald, senior vice president of mobility and business operations for Uber, tell investors earlier this year how taxis and other hail-proof vehicles are now part of the company’s growth vision.

“Now I understand the irony here. The Uber guy tells you taxis are the future,” he said. “But when we look to the next five years, we just don’t see a world in which taxis and Uber exist separately. There is too much to gain on both sides. That’s why we’ve set ourselves the very ambitious goal of putting all taxis on Uber by 2025.”