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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.

34 Comments

  1. […] Read More… […]

  2. transistersistor
    March 25, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    where do you go to Taxi School in SF, and how much $ is it?

  3. March 25, 2015 at 3:19 pm

    Serious question, not meant to be argumentative: why do you consider surge pricing a rip off to the customer when often times it’s still cheaper than taking a cab?

    • David Madrid
      March 25, 2015 at 8:27 pm

      i think one of the reasons is Uber does this to attract drivers ” supply and demand ” and the fact is there are drivers waiting on these surges and as soon as the surge hits within seconds hundreds of drivers and the surges don’t last very long thus deceiving customers.Everybody knows about cabs. The only real reason for these surges is to help driver retention, the turn over is crazy! and go to the Uber blogs and listen to those new drivers who will tow the Uber line even at the cost of there own self well being.And they run around telling people to quit and they are in droves, and when those summer warm up guarantees end and all the have is the low per mile rates and they have to ask people for money to Uber on lets see. But like I said if you have a low self worth you’ll never hold a job and will always work for minimum wage.

    • March 25, 2015 at 9:11 pm

      It’s a bait and switch. The number one complaint you see/hear from Uber and Lyft users, even more so than drivers not knowing where they’re going, is how a ride to the restaurant/bar/venue is $10, but the return trip is $40. When the surge/prime time reaches 1.9x or 200%, most savvy rideshare users know it’s cheaper to take a cab. And do.

  4. David Madrid
    March 25, 2015 at 6:41 pm

    I was a Uber driver myself and now drive a Limo and had to have a live scan also and a limo permit and Driver Training I have a car fee, but at Uber’s rates a blind man could make more money. What drivers don’t realize is the .90 per mile and no base rate, when most of the trips are less then 5 miles paying out 2.40 and you pay gas wash’s, food insurance 3% tax’s and water if you have any class in some cases car payment and wear and tear on your car. Life is too short to work for this multi billion dollar corporation, who made that money off the drivers who had faith in them. I did this for over a year and five rate cuts, I’m not a quitter, but when you can no longer pay your bills and you reaching into your savings to pay for gas and food to Uber on it’s just becomes sad. I have a wife and grandchildren, My check would be 800 a week awesome right? minus 200 gas in a Prius 35 wash’s 35 for food 30 a week insurance 3% tax’s 4% wear and tear on my car, 20% Uber Fee on gross plus 1 dollar safe rider fee and average on car payment per week 50.00……. I was like a lot of drivers having faith in a uncaring corporation and didn’t want to believe the numbers and wouldn’t listen to my wife who saw the numbers and kept asking me to quit, finally I listened, now I’m a limo driver average a thousand a week.

    • March 25, 2015 at 9:16 pm

      My wife was telling me to quit Uber 2 months before I did. I guess we have masochistic tendencies.

      It’s not a popular sentiment, but if you’re serious about driving, you need to be in a cab or towncar/limo. Even then, it’s a tough racket these days. I know Uber is forcing UberBlack drivers to take UberX rides.

  5. David Madrid
    March 25, 2015 at 6:57 pm

    Well on the Uber blogs they are calling you names, these are the ones who always say ” there’s those math guys again ” some guy even calling Uber his pimp and calling himself a bitch….Funny, they say why did you do it for 11 months, these are all new guys and don’t remember the money we used to make before all the constant rate cuts, and they say well quit….what part of we did they don’t understand. when they have these warriors at 60 cent a mile no base and no per minute, they would still bend over for Travis, you can’t help people who have no self worth.

    • March 25, 2015 at 9:21 pm

      I have taken so much shit from drivers for discussing the problems with Uber and Lyft. As I said in this piece, people believe in the corporate spirit and think they can beat the system. Some do, and the rest think they have a shot as well. But it’s just a gamble.

      • David Madrid
        March 26, 2015 at 3:12 am

        Nobody beats uber they always will have that corporate mentality that these newbies will never understand, they are worthless robots who can’t think for them self so they brag about all the money they make, that’s cool if they have no real worth they’ll lash out at people who moved on.You can’t put faith in Travis he’s a billionaire who will not share the wealth with the people who made him.

      • cvcert253
        March 27, 2015 at 10:41 pm

        Now I see. It’s a freeking religion for you. Being a cabbie is in your blood. Us and them. The rest of us are civilians while you are in with the in crowd. You see things the rest of us don’t. News flash sunshine we are privy to things others aren’t. We all have our little in groups that we are part of not all of us take our jobs so serious that we turn it into a cult brotherhood of nitwit jerks. You want respect on the road from your fellow drivers stop looking at us like we’re in your way OK and show us some respect. Pull into a parking space if its available. You know how many times I’ve seen a cabbie double parked next to an open space along the curb? Use your turn signals. Use you hazards. Show some courtesy for others on the road. You’re not the only person trying to makeca living where driving is a significant part of it. I have to make a trip too, find parking, etc and would like to do it without having to slam on my brakes cause one of you clowns just suddenly decides he’s going to stop in the middle of the block and to hell with whoever might be unlucky enough to have to makeca turn at the next intersection so gets stuck behind his selfish double parking ass.

  6. March 26, 2015 at 12:03 am

    I’ve had no problem seeing behind the curtain of the UberMachine, but is Lyft no better?

    I also feel like the Taxi’s themselves have to share their part of the blame because for years they have resisted improving their baseline of service and then something comes along that does and now you’re asking me to subsidize it in the name of supporting some blue-collar class ideal?

    Also, at least you work for tips and per ride. It’s legal in CA to work us code monkeys as much as the man wants and only pay us for 40 hours. How’s that for fair?

    I sympathize, but it’s the whole system that’s corrupt. It’s not just the taxi game.

    • March 26, 2015 at 4:48 am

      In so many ways, Lyft is worse than Uber. First, they started this whole ridesharing craze. Travis Kalanick stole the idea for UberX from them. Second, that whole smiley face, friend with a car bullshit… Do you really believe that? When you think of McDonald’s, do you think of a happy clown or an evil corporation?

      Same with Lyft.

      Check this out… There was this driver in San Diego who had his car tricked out with all this Lyft stuff. Even had a personalized Lyft license plate. But some passenger made a complaint about him and they deactivated him. He was devastated. Contacted me because I’m so outspoken about the problems with Lyft and Uber on twitter. I sent him to a reporter who covers tech for a major publication and who has contacted Lyft for several other drivers in the past. I think she has a form email now. Since Lyft is so afraid of bad PR, they will make anything go away if a reporter contacts them about it. That driver was reinstated shortly after.

      Lyft also have a $2,500 deductible for accidents. (With Uber, it’s $1,000.) So even if you’re driving for Lyft and get in a no-fault accident, you have to pay $2,500 to get your car fixed. My personal policy has a $500 deductive. Which, of course, wouldn’t cover me while doing commercial activity. So while making this company (or their investors at least) millions of dollars, drivers have to pay five times a normal insurance policy to get their car fixed after an accident? And all the while, they can’t drive, so what little money they made doing Lyft is on hold until they get the money to fix their car.

      If you want to see the ultimate in corporate oppression, search “Lyft driver” on Gofundme.com and read all the pleas from Lyft drivers who have been in accidents. It’s sad and pathetic. I can’t help but wonder how many Lyft users boycott companies like Monsanto or Wal-Mart but see so problem with supporting Lyft and Uber.

      Those cheap rides have to come from somewhere, right?

      I’m not telling you or anybody else to take cabs. Nowhere in the article above did I write that. I don’t give a crap who does what. It’s up to people to ask themselves, do you want to be informed about the system you support, or do you just want a cheap ride home? I made my decision. And my only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.

      And I did the corporate, salaried gig. I’m old. I read Mondo 2000 in college. I thought technology and smart drugs were going to save us all…

      Life’s a bitch, man. And then you die.

      • April 2, 2015 at 3:35 pm

        Ha, I feel you. Most of the times I just ride my bike. It’s basically the times I’m with non-biking folks that I get roped into using these ride-share services.

        I also never liked that mustache, and the fist bump always felt weirder than shit. I just wanted a taxi that was cleaner, more responsive, and in case I left something behind would actually give a shit and return it to me instead of pocketing it.

        Maybe you know. What are the better companies? Which taxis should I look for?

        In many ways, this protest is more squarely in the hands of the drivers. Because a consumer will always choose the cheaper product if it’s better or, even, only marginally worse. It’s just how we’re wired. But if there is a perceptual improvement (even if it’s mostly placebo), then we’ll pony up our dollars. Go figure: we feel sorry for the caged chickens (cage-free eggs) but don’t give a fuck about our fellow man.

        Still, I feel like taxi’s need to up their game. I get so many weirdos and people who aren’t very knowledgable driving them that it’s tough to justify the premium. If no one but fools drove Lyfts and the good, smart folks drove cabs then I’d be glad to pay a bit more for better quality service.

  7. dearcatastrophewaitress
    March 26, 2015 at 7:51 am

    I still prefer uber/lyft over taxi’s any day…at least with uber you don’t get refused rides going out the sunset, you know that the payment is going to go nice and easy instead of the driver “not having change” for a $20 or the credit card machine mysteriously not working. Or when the driver hears my foreign accent giving out about us “techies” coming and ruining city (despite the fact i don’t work in the traditional tech sector) or wanting to take the long route as he assumes I won’t know otherwise

    Uber on!

    • ForgetUber
      March 26, 2015 at 8:19 am

      Which is perfectly fine. Us as drivers prefer driving taxi’s over Uber any day. We can accept both cash and credit cards, we can accept street hails, we can create personals and don’t have to run our personal vehicles into the ground. I make twice as much driving a traditional cab then I ever did at Uber with out the pain in the ass customers who think they are cool because they are “tech friendly.”

      You can keep stereotyping cab drivers all you want. Most current Uber drivers are former cab drivers and most current cab drivers are former Uber drivers who realized where the real money is.

      Taxi On!!!

      • chaig
        March 26, 2015 at 5:54 pm

        Hail a cab? In San Francisco? LOL!

      • March 27, 2015 at 4:02 am

        Yeah, cause that would require actually engaging with another human being in the real world. We all know the new San Franciscans are strictly against that practice.

      • March 27, 2015 at 4:06 am

        The amount of vitriol directed towards cabs is astonishing. But it was also a major impetus for me to become a taxi driver. If they are hated that much, they must be on to something…

      • cvcert253
        March 27, 2015 at 10:19 pm

        Its because you can’t do anything else. I’ve met my share of cab drivrrs with PHDs in English lit that couldn’t even hack it long enough as substitute teachers for grammar school. Many of you are bitter academics that think you got shortchanged by capitalism because after 12 years of study in the ivory tower you couldn’t land a cushy job and get tenure there and are now reduced to the same work as a barely literate refugee from Kyzerkistan. I’ve never seen a more cynical group of self important arrand boys who are so full of themselves that you wonder how their heads dont explode with all that gasous crap their always blowing. Lol.

      • Lupus
        June 14, 2015 at 3:43 pm

        Heh, I wanted to be in academia and never made it….now I drive Uber/Lyft/taxi…your comment made me wanna have a shot….

        btw it’s gaseous not gasous

      • Lupus
        June 14, 2015 at 3:38 pm

        It is partially justified. Before hiring standards went up a little bit, it is absolutely mind boggling the kind of people cab companies would let drive their cars out there. And in spite of repeated customer complaints. It is greed, see. They still make the gate whether it is good/bad driver, good/bad car etc. Back in the day there was no incentive for them to care since your only option as a passenger would be cab or limo. Repeated incidents between the public and individuals totally unsuited to providing that kind of service have helped create a ‘bad cabbie’ lore that is very difficult to undo by the many good and able drivers that exist. And so it goes.

      • Lupus
        June 14, 2015 at 3:31 pm

        I drive for both. Driving for money sucks, especially in a place like SF. The truly smart drivers, well, find a job for themselves that doesn’t involve driving in the first place…

    • March 27, 2015 at 4:09 am

      You do realize that you’re celebrating the fact that some people are so desperate for money they’re willing to use their personal automobiles as taxicabs, right? And that you’re exploiting that desperation? For your own gain? Because you had bad experiences with public transportation?

      Wow, you’re doing so much to make things in this city better.

      Good for you!

      Uber on indeed.

  8. cvcert253
    March 26, 2015 at 10:32 am

    To me..Uber, lyft and Cabbies….you all suck.You double park wherever you feel like, you’re texting and goofing around on your devices when you should be paying attention to driving. You are driving a car for christ’s sake and you think you should be making wheelbarrows of money. Why don’t you learn a trade? I’m tired of you clowns whining about the corporate bosses who are screwing you and complaining about merchant service fees for processing cards. I have to drive my 2 ton van on the road with you clowns. Stocked with tools ive paid out if pocket for so I can make my living then slam on my brakes cause one of you idiots suddenly stops on Pine st. The next time all my inventory goes flying because I have to brake suddenly ….well let me tell you I fantasize stepping out with a 6 foot pry bar and smashing all your windows. All of you…Ubber cabs etc. You cab drivers act like your noble men who own the road and dont give a crap about anybody else. Screw you…you drive a bleeping car for a living …it certainly isn’t rocket science ; what the hell makes you think your so important that anyone owes you anything anyway?

    • March 27, 2015 at 4:00 am

      I drive 12 hours a day, 4 days a week. I completely beg to differ with your analysis of traffic in the city. The horrible driving you see comes predominantly from the TNCs, not cabs. And if cabs are driving crazy, they are brightly colored and have top lights and emblems and all sorts of indicators. They’re visible. You should know by now to stay out of their way. They’re working. Just like you. But their place of employment is the streets. Sorry you’ve been inconvenienced, but when you’re driving for a living (which is just as much a skill as being a plumber) and everybody sees you as a target of contempt, you have to be aggressive. The proper thing for people to do would be to let taxi drivers get their paying customers where they need to go. Do you dance a jig in front of a waiter as they’re bringing food to the table?

      • cvcert253
        March 27, 2015 at 10:01 pm

        Lol. So you’re a journeyman cabbie huh? As skilled as a plumber or other tradesman. What’s the driving equivalent of building some stairs? Or installing a jucuzzi on the 4th floor of a Victorian mansion or opening a bank vault you putz. I spend hours on the road too you moron and haul hundreds of pounds of tools up 4 flights of stairs and lay out projects and I drive. Do you drive and also do a trade? A journey man goes through 4 years of apprenticeship to learn his trade then spends the rest of his career mastering it. You guys cant even master the simple tssk of not double parking on a corner so that others on the road can go around you. You can’t even master the art of using your turn signals or hazzards. Half you idiots act like your driving air craft carriers instead of cars cause you need 2 lanes to make a turn. You also drive like you have terrets syndrome lurching then stoping then switching lanes. Like I said I have no love for you idiots when your parked in a yellow zone and I have to haul 300 pounds of tools 3 extra blocks cause some selfish self entitled jerk cabbie is to lazy to find a grey zone. Spare us your sob stories. You drive a car for a living. Its not a skill foreign to many other people who spend a great deal of their time on the road trying to get to where they are going. You punks are the ones who are always causing problems for the rest of us.

      • Lupus
        June 14, 2015 at 3:59 pm

        1) The City is FULL of horrible drivers, be it residents, TNC’s, cabbies, commuters, tourists or other.
        2) One reason why this is so is because there is ABSOLUTELY NO TRAFFIC REGULATION. SFMTA puts emphasis on REVENUE, not regulation. They will give you a $279 for bus zone violation when no bus is in sight but they cant’ put someone on the intersection of 2nd and Mission where traffic is a mess on a DAILY basis. SFPD on the other hand go through their once-a-year enforcement when they get complaints for a certain location. They’ll pull you over for ‘rolling’ through intersection at the same time when they’ve never been in that location for the last 5 years.

        PS why do you think that everyone else should ‘learn to stay out of cabbies way’? The road should be a place to share because everyone on it, ultimately, has somewhere to go. Cabbies, or anyone else for matter, have no ‘exclusivity’ in navigation. No one ‘owns’ the road. It is a dangerous mentality that you are displaying.

  9. robotsrule
    March 29, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    I’ve never taken an Uber or a Lyft and I never will. Mostly I drive my own car or hoof it but in the rare instances I need to, I flag a cab like a grown up. Having bartended in the city for going on twelve years I’ve made friends with plenty of cabbies and they’ve become good customers. When Uber and Lyft showed up a lot of them said their incomes went down by 30%. Just more of the same in New San Francisco, where libertarian creative destruction has screwed over working class people. I won’t be a part of it.

  10. […] “Fare-weather” passengers are a crapshoot. There are those who seem unsure how to behave in a taxi. Like this guy. While others tell me straight up Uber is surging 4.6x and that’s the only reason they’re slumming it in a cab. Some just act like they’re in a rideshare and I have PTSD flashbacks to the ten months I drove for Uber and Lyft before switching to taxi. […]

  11. Lupus
    June 14, 2015 at 3:43 pm

    Aaaawh, what the heck, I’ll be the devil’s advocate. Few things about myself, lived here 25 years know the city been a cabbie for National have been office staff for American actually been here and there done a few things got a few degrees

    The cab industry in SF HAS NEVER worked for the public (It still doesn’t) for several reasons. One major factor is that the industry is liable to the same corrupt, fat-cat politics that plague the rest of city gov. In the article, the cab industry is portrayed as this idyllic blue-collar job that somehow is able to put us back in touch with our ‘true’ roots as SF natives or long-term residents. Truth of the matter is that the cab industry represents ONE thing: PROFITS for the City, the cab companies, and the medallion owners. $250,000 (plus the HIGHEST IN THE COUNTRY 8.5% SALES TAX) for a cab medallion?! PUUULLLLEASE. It is sheer PROFITEERING on behalf of EVER GREEDY City Gov (how else can they fund their spawning bureaucracy, see). This ‘reach-deep-down-into-your-pocket’ mentality is the foundational root for the greed and corruption in the industry, that, ultimately, screws the lease driver in a royal way. I remember back in the day when I worked for National I paid close to a $100 to rent a car for 12 hours that may have been dirty, broke, damaged, and a plain liability for getting a ticket from SFPD (lights/blinkers not working, for example). Since the priority for the cab company is that the car is out 24/7 to make $$$$$, they always hired more drivers and thus created conditions of inter-driver competition and antagonism. This guaranteed that there always more drivers than cars available. So much for worker’s ethic, eh Stewart? If you dared complained for the car you were assigned you were simply relegated to the pool of drivers w/o assigned shifts, the luben proletariat of lease drivers (Stewart, with your Marxist background, you should know this term). Then, in a profound act of subordination/exploitation, you had to tip the dispatcher who assigned you the shitty car $20. Back then most cars were Crown Vics and as a lease driver you had to pay another $80 to fill them up. The round of exploitation and corruption went on in almost every single exchange that I had to make as a driver. Doormen at hotels expect you to tip them for simply blowing on their whistle (you’re already next in line anyway). You can bribe the guy at the exit booth at SFO $5 so he lets you keep your exit ticket and you can skip the first parking lot and go directly to the second when you come back. The list goes on and on. In short as a lease driver you are being exploited, you are in danger, under extreme pressure, and with absolutely no job guarantee anyway. Lease drivers are independent contractors just like Uber/Lyft drivers, why not unionize, eh Stewie? But noooooo, the cab companies all got together to KILL the drive for union few years. That’s essentially because the industry represents a lucrative monopoly for the city and the entrepreneurs who decide to buy into it (the medallion owners). From the get-go the process generates a gambling, risk-taking, gangster-like mentality that culminates to stressed out drivers, accidents, bad driving behavior, horrible customer service. I am not saying that Uber/Lyft/whatever else comes up are better. But, please, in your criticism, spare us the watered-down worker ethic, eh?

  12. Jake Wall
    September 30, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    Great insight to some of the ways you can get screwed by costs associated with Uber and Lyft. One thing many people don’t realize is that you are an independent contractor with each of these companies, so you are not getting taxed up front when you get your paycheck but you will be hit by income tax (30%) and personal business owner tax (15%) at year end.

    The only easy way to make money with these companies is to get the sign up bonus with a promo code when you apply.

    For more info, driver resources and promotion codes, check out http://www.lyftdriverpromo.com

  13. February 18, 2016 at 11:24 am

    Stuart, would you consider helping us out at Wikispeedia? We pay you monthly to log speed limits anywhere. We send you a phone and you just touch-them in. Uber/Lyft/Cab we don’t care. Contact me and I will mail you the phone. -Jim Pruett (901) 213 7824