Taxi Drivers Say SFO Lets Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar Break Airport Rules

At a press conference on the steps of City Hall yesterday, The San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance (SFTWA), SF Yellow Cab, and Luxor Cab came out swinging against ride-hail apps at SFO.

“Cab companies are not against innovation. We love innovation. What [ride-hail companies] brought to the table is great. What they’re trying to attempt to do is good. We’ve learned from it, too. We have apps,” said Jim Gillespie, President and General Manager of Yellow Cab.

The issue, Gillespie said, is public safety.

[jump] Taxis in San Francisco undergo annual vehicle inspections by licensed mechanics, and cab drivers must pass Live Scan background checks and complete taxi and sensitivity training courses.

Ride-hail companies, by contrast, inspect their own vehicles, and the background checks their drivers receive are reportedly so perfunctory that last week San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon filed an amended complaint against Uber, alleging, “We learned of systemic failures in Uber’s background checks. They have drivers who are convicted sex offenders, identity thieves, burglars, kidnappers and a convicted murderer.”

Also at issue, according to taxi drivers, are rampant violations on the part of ride-hail drivers at SFO.

“There just doesn’t seem to be balance in enforcement,” said an independent consultant who works with Yellow Cab.

Ride-hail drivers are supposed to wait in the airport’s cell phone lot until a passenger pings them for pick-up, but according to taxi drivers, Uber, Lyft, and other ride-hail companies “troll” the terminal loops and idle curbside, waiting to be hailed. And although SFO claims to have issued $200,000 in citations against ride-hail violators, taxi drivers say the rules are loosely enforced.

To support their point, taxi drivers filmed ride-hail violators at SFO in June. Their video shows apparently empty Uber and Lyft drivers circling the terminals and parking curbside. (The video suggests that while Uber has since updated its app to default to drivers legally parked in the cell phone lot, Lyft and Sidecar have not.) 

Stanley Roberts also got in on exposing Uber “cheats” during a “People Behaving Badly” segment last month.

In May, SFO and and the SFMTA submitted joint comments to the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates “transportation network companies” such as Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar.

As the Examiner reported:

…The SFMTA and SFO wants ride-hails to have vehicle inspections conducted only by qualified automotive technicians; collect records of vehicle inspections; cap mileage of TNC vehicles at 375,000 miles; provide data on driver suspensions; increase driver training; require drivers to display permanent 'trade dress' (such as Lyft's signature pink mustache, which right now is removable); and the CPUC to implement graduated penalties against ride-hails that violate these regulations.

SFO’s alleged failure to enforce the rules for TNCs dovetails with taxi drivers’ broader complaints about unfair double standards. Taxis, for example, are required to be ADA-complaint, while TNCs are not. Taxis are also required to carry full-time insurance, bear permanent identifying marks (“trade dress”), have standard meters, and charge rates regulated by the city.

“We don’t have hundreds of millions of dollars or billions of dollars to promote ourselves and put out, frankly, false advertising like Uber has been doing, or Lyft. Deceptive advertising saying that they’re community drivers, as if the cab drivers that have been serving the community all these years aren’t,” said Barry Korengold, a board member with the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance.

Korengold added, “These drivers are coming from all over the state and out of state. That is not a community driver. We don’t have the money to put out that kind of propaganda.”

Gillespie framed the matter even more starkly: There should be 3,000 cabs on the streets of San Francisco, but there are only about 1,900, he said. Meanwhile, an estimated 20,000 – 30,000 TNC drivers flood city streets, driving in from the Peninsula, the East Bay, and points beyond. (There is no reliable data about the number of ride-hail drivers on the streets at any given time.) 

Once the taxis disappear, Korengold warned, surge pricing will be the new norm, whether at SFO or anywhere else in San Francisco. 

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