“If San Diego were a human body, then San Diego airport would be the butt,” said a taxi driver at San Diego International Airport. He was referring to how he felt cabbies are treated since the transportation-network companies moved into our city. “We have to follow a lot of rules that the ride-sharing services don’t.”
Transportation-network companies, such as Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar, are ride-share services that have popped up nationwide and internationally over the past three years. Driver utilize their own vehicles to transport passengers around town. They are considered independent contractors, according to Christopher Ballard, Uber’s general manager for San Diego, who commented, “We don’t own vehicles, nor do we employ drivers.”
These services are accessed by a mobile app on your smartphone that stores your credit-card information, so no money changes hands at the completion of your ride. The drivers do not carry cash on them, as most taxi drivers have always done.
It’s much less expensive to use your own vehicle than to pay the rent that cabbies pay on their cabs, which can be around $450 a week. That is why many cabbies are leaving the traditional cabs and have started driving for Lyft and Uber, if they can afford to buy their own vehicles. As one former cabbie who now drives for Uber said, “If you drive a taxi, you rent by the week or month, so, if you take a day off, you’re still paying for it. I make more money driving my own car for Uber than I ever did as a taxi driver.”
Ballard told me that “Taxi drivers are making about $5 per hour these days, and you can make more driving for Uber.”
Ralf Wilkowski, who drives for Lyft — these vehicles have big pink mustaches attached to their grills — said he is “making about $15–16 an hour and more on the weekends.” He also likes getting the attention his zebra-striped car brings. “Lyft has no control over me,” he said, “as long as I don’t slander their name.”
It seems that the new ride-sharing services are making some of the taxi companies change their ways. Yellow Cab’s website said I could text dispatch from my smartphone with my name, address, and pick-up time. And I could request a credit-card cab. My ride to the airport was in a Yellow Cab Toyota Prius and cost about $16 plus tip. My ride back in a Chrysler 300 Uber car was $12 plus tip. (Both Uber and Lyft have no-tipping policies, which their drivers say they hate. I tip anyway.) The price difference was in line with the general fact that ride-sharing services charge less than taxis.
That is one of the causes of growing animosity between the traditional taxi services and the transportation-network companies. This is especially true at San Francisco Airport. Lyft originated there in 2012. Drivers there were reportedly being cited and arrested for not following airport rules and regulations. The California Public Utilities Commission had to step in and laid down new laws regarding the transportation-network companies in September 2013. Drivers now must go through a training program (Lyft sends trainees out with established drivers, Uber does not) and the companies must have insurance policies that cover the passengers with a million dollars’ worth of coverage.
Several Lyft and Uber drivers, who mostly wanted to remain anonymous, say they are feeling the heat from the cabbies, especially at Lindbergh Field. Dave Boenitz, ground-transportation director at Lindbergh Field, said, “Oh, yes, it’s true, the cabbies are very upset at these new companies coming onto their turf. They’re very concerned about business being taken away from them and at the same time, about [the new services] not being properly regulated.”
Boenitz continued, “Cab drivers have to pay a trip fee for every trip they make out of the airport and have to pay for permits to operate out of the airport, too. As of right now, we have not negotiated with the [transportation-network companies] as to what their permits and trip fees might be. We are in conversation with them as to how we would do that. As of last ruling by the Public Utilities Commission, transportation-network companies are not allowed to operate out of the airports.”
Asked if he knew they are doing it anyway, he answered, “Oh, yes, absolutely, and we are citing those we can. We do cite the [ride-sharing drivers] with tickets if they do not have the proper medallion or trade dress showing in their window.” A Lyft driver told me he just removes the mustache when he wants to pick up a passenger at the airport. By doing this he avoids the $79 fine that his company would pay for anyway.
Boenitz said, “At the airport, I hear from customers about lack of cab drivers’ courtesy, lack of service, cab condition, how long they take to show for pick-up. The cab industry is looking at the [transportation-network companies] as a threat, as they should. But they should also look at it internally, as to why this threat is materializing. It’s because the public wants the transportation-network companies.”
Uber driver Kasheem agreed. “They [cab drivers] deserve to be pissed off. They’ve been treating people bad and taking everything for granted for the longest time. Everybody I’ve ever asked about taxi drivers, they say they’re rude to clients, don’t take credit cards, etc.” When I mentioned I just took a cab that takes credit cards, was clean inside, and the driver spoke English, he said, “Well, I guess they’re stepping up their game because they had to.”
All of this friction came to a violent head in Paris on January 13, as 5000 striking taxi drivers, angry at the transportation-network companies, attacked an Uber vehicle with passengers inside, according to several websites. Cabbies reportedly threw rocks and paint at the car and the passengers suffered cuts on their hands.
One Lyft driver who wished to remain anonymous said, “Because if I get in an accident, I’m done. Since drivers and passengers’ rate each other after a ride and I only get 3.5 stars, I’m done. And after seeing what happened in Paris, forget it. I don’t want to be attacked.”
Another Lyft driver said she wanted to remain anonymous because her partner “works for the government and didn’t want any of the drama that comes with Lyft.”
She said she got hit by a cab driver in San Francisco while driving for Lyft, before she drove for them here. When I asked if the cab driver might have hit her on purpose since she was sporting the ’stache, she claims the cab driver said it was raining and he didn’t see her. When she reported the accident to Lyft, she said, “They deactivated my account even though it was clear the cab hit me.”
Taxi companies and drivers continue to fight the transportation-network companies, but they don’t seem to be winning this war: Uber is now in 66 cities and 33 countries.