Kelly Dessaint
Feb 2, 2016 · 10 min read
Who wouldn’t want Tomas “Bandito” Perea as your cab driver?


I’m on the throne in the ad hoc cabstand outside Public Works, waiting for someone brave enough to venture into my taxi. On the sidewalk, club goers stand around in the cold. The girls shiver in their miniskirts while the guys look up and down the street like disoriented tourists, playing the “Find My Driver” game.

“Are you my Uber driver? No? Okay.”

“Are you my Uber driver?”

After ten or fifteen minutes, they invariably have to call their driver and give detailed directions to their actual location, because the GPS pin in the app landed half a click away.

Meanwhile, a row of taxis with experienced drivers wait in vain.

Why Uber? Why Lyft?

As I stand around with my fellow cab drivers, many of whom have been at this gig for twenty or more years, it’s hard to comprehend why people would subject themselves to this ridiculous process of app-based ride-hailing when a perfectly viable, and well-established, option is readily available.

Do people actually prefer inexperienced, untrained, random strangers so desperate for money they’re willing to use their personal cars as taxicabs, with only a phone on their dash to give them any sense of legitimacy, over real cabs?

It makes you wonder:

  • Is it the lower cost?
    Even though Uber and Lyft are 50% to 70% cheaper than taxis, if it’s surging, you don’t know how much you’re spending until the ride is over.
  • Is it because you can pay through an app and not have to carry cash?
    Well, cabs have apps too. You can even hail a cab on the street and pay through the Flyweel app. It doesn’t get any more frictionless than that.
  • Is it because you don’t have to tip?
  • Is it because you can see your car approaching on a map like a video game? Or that you know it will actually show up eventually?
    That’s great, unless the driver gets lost or he’s disgruntled and cancels your ride request in a concerted effort with other disgruntled drivers to force surge pricing and actually make a decent wage.
  • Is it because the car’s cleaner?
    True, you’re in some guy’s personal vehicle, not a cab that’s being run 24/7, but — and this is the crux of the issue — doesn’t it bother you that you are taking advantage of a system that exploits people who are so desperate for money they’re willing to risk using their family car as a taxicab, at a fraction of the cost?
  • Or could there be something else behind Lyft’s and Uber’s — ahem — surge of popularity…
In San Francisco, public transportation is such a part of life, the old cable cars, still in use today, are iconic symbols representing the city to the rest of the world.

Living in the City

When it comes to getting around a major metropolitan area like San Francisco, urbanites utilize some or all of the public transportation options available: subways, trains, light rails, buses and taxis. To get everywhere else, there are bikes and, of course, walking. When you live in a city, you do a lot of walking.

Naturally, using public transportation is not always pleasant. Sometimes it’s downright treacherous…

A few weeks ago, on a crowded 9R bus, I was caught in the middle of an argument between an elderly Asian woman and a man with an Australian accent over a log of government cheese. And just the other day, I took the 24 from Laurel Heights to Bayshore Blvd. at 3pm, right as school let out. At each stop down Divisadero Street, hordes of preteens squeezed onto the bus and proceeded to entertain themselves by laughing, cussing and smacking each other on the head like a bunch of wild animals. They were in such desperate need of adult supervision, I was almost compelled to say something, seeing as how I am an adult, but then I pictured a Lord of the Flies type scenario developing and just kept my mouth shut.

BART is no better. In the morning, you’re crammed in cars so tight it’s like being in a mosh pit as the train jerks into each station, where even more people are waiting on the dais to board. And even though there’s no room, they still try to board. By the time you leave the West Oakland station, the windows are fogged up from the miasma of morning breath and sweat is pouring down your spine. Then the train stops suddenly in the Tube, sometimes for several minutes, while an “obstruction on the tracks” is removed, and the whole time you’re standing there with someone’s bicycle wheel jammed in your ass crack looking at the instructions on the wall for what to do if you need to evacuate the train and walk to safety.

Whenever I’m stuck on a crowded bus or sitting in a seat on BART that reeks of piss, I think, Hey, Uber and Lyft! Disrupt this, motherfuckers!

Even when they’re not crowded, society breaks down on BART. The girl who sat down next to me at a later station took a picture too. This was the first car. With the conductor in it.

Still, public transportation is the cornerstone of life in the city.

Driving your own car can be torturous most of the time. Besides the added costs of owning one, traffic is generally horrible. You have to deal with potholes so deep they extend straight to hell; you have to navigate numerous construction zones; you have to share the road with MUNI buses, Google buses, thousands and thousands of bicyclists and jaywalkers, cars with out-of-state plates, fleets of private shuttles, and, of course, an army of Ubers and Lyfts.

Plus, there’s nowhere to park. And when you do find a place to park, you risk getting a ticket, or multiple tickets, and there’s the distinct possibility that someone will break your window and steal that ring binder you left in the backseat after your meeting on Wednesday.

While behind the wheel, you’re too busy watching out for shitty drivers to see anything that’s cool about the city. You’re in a white hot rage the entire time wishing you had the guts to bash that motherfucker in the Dodge for blocking the box. You fucking knew you weren’t going to make it through the cocksucking light! Now die, pig!

Cars shield you from the true reality of urban life.

In a crowded bus, however, you rub elbows with a full spectrum of society, from businessmen to crusty hippies, from old Chinese ladies to big hairy dudes in leather bondage gear, dancing kids, loud girls, sad workers going to work or on their way home from work, and, how can we forget, the homeless. They’re a part of our society too, right?

This is what you experience in a city like San Francisco, and why you moved here in the first place, right?

You take the good with the bad. Right?

Enter the Millennial

Spoiled and entitled, this new breed of city-dweller finds the day-to-day realities of city life beneath them. They’ve been raised to feel like precious little snowflakes, a better class of people than the plebeians who have no choice but to rely on public transportation. Lacking even a shred of self-awareness, these stereotypical twenty-somethings wear their privilege as a badge of honor.

When you listen to them talk it’s apparent they only moved to San Francisco to reap the benefits of the latest tech boom. Unlike the freaks who migrated here because they could always say, “Hey, I may be fucked up, but look at that guy over there,” these new residents have no intention of contributing anything to this historically and culturally rich city other than paying landowners exorbitant rent and running up bar tabs at trendy watering holes, where they tip the minimum and think they’re being generous.

Most of the kids I dealt with back when I was an Uber/Lyft driver, and those who wander into my cab these days, have never experienced what it’s like to be a service worker, only the one receiving service. They didn’t have to toil over a deep fryer at some greasy spoon to pay for their books in college, and most certainly didn’t grow up with a mother who worked as a waitress at Bob’s Big Boy and came home each night talking about her sore feet and the customer at table eight who ran her ragged and then stiffed her on the tip.

Although they will claim to possess a high level of multicultural awareness, I’ve had more than one young passenger who, upon seeing a naked man screaming and clawing at his flesh in the middle of Mission Street, make an off-handed remark like, “He really seems to be enjoying himself.” And then laugh heartily.

This level of insensitivity was shocking to me at first, until I realized these kids have probably never seen untreated mental illness up close. They know nothing of the human struggle. They come from suburbia, raised by parents who shunned the city life themselves to raise their children in nice houses with green lawns and lots of trees. They didn’t want to be around psychos, bums, drug dealers and skeezy hookers.

And neither, it seems, do their children.

Parents taught their children privilege, and coddled them every step of the way, which is why they became the douchebags they are today. Stereotypical millennials are apples in their parents’ eyes.

Populus Transportus

Unlike most San Francisco locals, who have no other choice but to rely on public transportation, these new denizens have:

  • luxury buses to ferry them to and from their jobs on the Peninsula;
  • shuttles to transport them to their startups in SoMa;
  • Ubers and Lyfts to cart them anywhere else they need to go.

In this configuration, these young transplants never have to deal with any of the unpleasant realities of urban life.

After all, to the new citizens, public transportation is something to be “disrupted.”

Hence Lyft. Hence Uber. Hence Chariot. Hence the ill fated Leap.

At the end of December, Sidecar, the first ride-hailing app, ceased operations. At the first of January, they were acquired by GM, which plans to enter the ride-hailing game.

Since they were the first to embrace Uber and Lyft, as early adopters, the young’uns helped propel the concept of on-demand transportation. It was their stamp of approval that have convinced the older generations to accept Uber as a viable, multi-billion dollar industry.

Like all trends, the kids sold Uber (but not Lyft, because it’s too dorky) to their parents, who embody Jello Biafra’s satirical, “Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death.”

Hell, these ride-hail apps have become so popular, even grandma and grandpa are Ubering to the Hometown Buffet on Sunday afternoons.

Thanks to the youth of today, Uber mania has taken over the whole world.

One Uber/Lyft, Two Uber/Lyft, Three Uber/Lyft, Four…

Based on a recent study by Northeastern University, in San Francisco, on any given night, Uber/Lyft cars outnumber taxis four to one. While the number of Ubers and Lyfts on the road are limitless, there can only ever be about two thousand available cabs. Per SFMTA regulation.

This statistic is easily verified in the cabstand outside Public Works, where at least four or five unmarked sedans pick up fares for each person who decides to take a cab. And that’s on a good night. Sometimes it’s as much as seven to one.

As I wait for a fare on Friday and Saturday nights, I watch these inexperienced drivers create havoc on the streets, following their GPS systems like robots and, one by one, plow into Erie Street, which is actually a dead end alley that’s used as a pedestrian mall/hangout/smoking area outside the club.

It’s amazing nobody else has been killed yet.

The privileged youth are taught to consume without question, and to expect superior service at the best price in the process…

The Children are Running the Nursery

Only a person with boundless privilege would expect their own personal driver to come to their exact location (however erratically), and wait there for an indeterminate time, regardless of how much it may inconvenience the driver or other drivers on the road, since they’re most likely double-parked, until the whim strikes him or her to mosey on down and get into the vehicle they requested.

Only a spoiled brat who’s had mommy and daddy wiping their asses their entire lives would lord a draconian rating system, that’s completely arbitrary, over another human being, like a manacle around their neck, to make sure their needs are properly serviced in a timely fashion, and in a way that fully pleases them… otherwise, it’s one less star.

Only someone with absolutely no sense of personal responsibility would pay someone to resolve their problems at highest standards, but at the lowest cost possible, and not even once consider the possibility the deal they’re getting is negatively impacting the one performing said task.

And yet, these are the new city-dwellers who’ve taken over and changed the DNA of San Francisco

The rest of us are only here to serve them.

How long can a trend like this really last before people realize they’re losing an erudite subculture that has historically been a part of San Francisco’s unique character?

At some point we have to ask ourselves, do these kids really deserve a separate reality from the rest of us just because they grew up in a fantasy world where they were taught to consume without question, regardless of who may be disenfranchised in the process?

Well, Kudos to Uber and Lyft for realizing that by catering to the greediest members of society — children — they would drastically change the public transportation dynamic.

Veterans Cab driver, Stephen C. Webb, in the old cab yard on Harrison and Eleventh.

Behind the Wheel

From Uber/Lyft to Taxi: Driving for Hire in San Francisco

Kelly Dessaint

Written by

S.F. Examiner columnist, author, zine maker, blogger, proud papa.

Behind the Wheel

From Uber/Lyft to Taxi: Driving for Hire in San Francisco

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