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I Drive SF: From Rideshare to Taxi

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It’s inevitable.  Now that I drive a taxi, I regularly field the inquiry:  “So… have you thought about driving for Uber?”  When I tell my passengers that I did the Lyft and Uber thing before switching to taxi driving, they’re usually shocked.  “Don’t you make more money with Lyft and Uber?”  Maybe some do, I’ll say, but I never did. After eleven months of mostly full time driving, my bank account was overdrawn, my credit cards were maxed out, the backseat of my car looked like I’d been transporting farm animals and I was riddled with self-loathing.  I was basically subsidizing multi-million—or, in Uber’s case, multi-billion—dollar companies.  And for what? Empty promises and a sense of community?  What bullshit.  I never felt like anything but an underpaid, untrained and unregulated cab driver.

I could go on ad nauseam, detailing the moral bankruptcy of the Lyft and Uber systems, but now that I’ve been a real taxi driver for two months, I try to deflect the Uber/Lyft question.  It’s boring.  I’m sick of talking about fucking Uber in my cab!  And to be honest, I’m not proud to have driven for them as long as I did.  In fact, I’m ashamed of it.

From the beginning, I was appalled by the self-entitled culture that spawned the phenomenon of “ridesharing” and the consequences it’s had on the livelihoods of cab drivers, most of whom are longtime San Francisco residents.  It wasn’t easy participating in the destruction of a blue-collar industry.  After all, I’m a descendent of coal miners, janitors, store clerks and army grunts.   In college, I was required to read The Communist Manifesto three times.  Being an Uber/Lyft driver is not in my nature. To be successful at it requires personality traits I will never possess: the ability to cheat and scam.  And a complete lack of conscience.  Since the only time you make decent money is during surge pricing, you have to take pride in ripping people off.  The rest of the time, you’re barely making minimum wage, so you need to be somewhat stupid as well.  You’re basically running your personal car into the ground and hoping to luck out with a ride that’s more than five bucks.  Some drivers have figured out how to make the system work for them and earn more money referring drivers than they do actually driving themselves, but isn’t that just a bizarro take on the pyramid scheme?

Despite Uber’s political spin or Lyft’s cheerful advertising campaign, using your personal car as a taxi is not sustainable.  Each time I got behind the wheel of my Jetta and turned on the apps, I had to overlook the absurdity of what I was doing.  It never ceased to amaze me that people would be so willing to ride in some random dude’s car.  But since my passengers acted as if the activity were perfectly normal, I went along with it.

Once I realized what I’d gotten myself into, I wanted to document the exploitative nature of this predatory business model. I wanted to expose the inherent risks associated with inadequate insurance, the lack of training and the vulnerability of not having anyone to contact in an emergency.  I wanted to shed light on the reality of being a driver, dealing with constant fare cutsenforced jingoism and the tyranny of an unfair rating system.  I wanted to reveal the lies.  All the dirty lies. I started a blog and even published two zines about my experiences.

Naïvely, I thought reporting on these issues from the perspective of a driver would make a difference.  I was wrong.  People hold on to their faith in the corporate spirit even when it’s against their best interest.  That’s what I figured out from all this.  Oh, and that I really like driving the streets of San Francisco.  So I signed up for taxi school and went pro.  Now I make more money, feel more relaxed and no longer have to worry about declaring bankruptcy if I get into an accident.

Plus, I’m a taxi driver.

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In San Francisco!

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I haven’t felt this connected to a place through a job since I was a cook in New Orleans.

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Kelly Dessaint - Will Drive for Food

Kelly Dessaint - Will Drive for Food

Former Uber/Lyft driver turned taxi driver... In my real life, I'm the publisher of the personal narrative zine Piltdownlad, founder of Phony Lid Books and author of the novel A Masque of Infamy and the forthcoming memoir No Fun: How Punk Rock Saved My Life.