Updated: SFMTA Says New Rideshare Rules Aren't Enough to Stop Discrimination

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There's just no pleasing San Francisco's taxi lobby, it seems.

After battling rideshare companies for months at the California Public Utilities Commission, local cab drivers launched a spirited protest outside City Hall on Tuesday, claiming the new apps are unfair, discriminatory, anti-competitive, under-insured, dangerous taxi clones -- or "bandit cabs," as they're occasionally called in the business.

Later that day, the CPUC issued new proposed regulations that would effectively legalize the rideshare apps, which it rechristened "Transportation Network Companies," or TNCs. It said the apps have to behave just like taxis and make an effort to serve everyone equally -- even people in wheelchairs, or people who live far away from the main downtown corridors, or people who, presumably, don't have smartphones and credit cards.

And still the taxis weren't happy.

The problem, some taxi drivers argue, is that the new rideshare apps have discrimination baked into their systems. They operate via smartphone and only accept credit cards, rather than cash payments. They don't own conventional fleets, and therefore aren't required to purchase a certain number of cars that are outfitted for wheelchair passengers. By definition, they aren't burdened with the same regulatory costs as taxis, says Matt Carrington, a spokesman for a taxi-only rideshare app called TaxiMagic, which contracts with Luxor Cab.

It's worth noting that TaxiMagic has its own promotional axe to grind. Proclaiming itself the original digital dispatch app in San Francisco, it began contracting with Luxor roughly a year before Uber entered the market, and it helped block legislation to create a centralized city dispatch which would have modernized the industry long before rideshare start-ups took over. But Carrington also brought up some valid points.

He called the CPUC's recommendations "a step in the right direction," albeit a tentative step. Rideshare startups still have to decide, in a second phase of proceedings, how they're going to accommodate wheelchair passengers, and right now cab companies see that as a major sticking point. San Francisco taxis currently split up the hundred "ramp" medallions for wheelchair-accessible cabs -- Luxor and DeSoto own the most -- and each vehicle costs nearly double that of a regular sedan or SUV. To truly level the playing field, rideshare companies would have to foot the same bill, Carrington says.

"When you're a new entrant in the market, you don't have to worry about serving that population," he explained. And that puts you at a competitive advantage."

He also urged the CPUC to adopt a "universal access clause" that would force rideshare companies to serve all populations of San Francisco -- not just people in Pacific Heights or the Marina, he said. Taxi companies do that already because anyone who calls winds up in the same dispatch queue. If they play by the rules, then Yellow and Luxor can't just flood parts of the city where people have higher disposable income -- they have to go wherever a dispatcher sends them.

And while Carrington and other taxi industry spokesmen applaud the CPUC for foisting a complaint system on rideshare companies, they aren't convinced that system will be as rigorous -- or punitive -- as the one that the SFMTA currently exacts on cab companies. Angry riders registered 1,733 complaints through the city's 311 complaint line between 2011 and 2012, which caused a public outcry. Taxis want to make sure their rideshare competitors are given the same scrutiny.

It turns out Carrington has a friend in the SFMTA, whose director of taxis and accessible services, Christiane Hayashi, insists that there's no way there's no way for rideshare start-ups to properly serve people in wheelchairs. No driver-for-hire would ever take the liberty of purchasing his own wheelchair accessible vehicle, she says, because they're too expensive, and the weight of the ramp causes them to break down easily. That's not to mention that wheelchair accessible cars regularly require transmission, motor mount, rear axle, and flooring replacements, especially on San Francisco's hills, she explained.

Since limos aren't required to serve disabled people either, taxis have long shouldered the burden of door-to-door, on-demand wheelchair service in San Francisco, she wrote via e-mail.

"The fact that an unlimited number of new CPUC vehicles will be allowed to compete with taxi drivers for all of the good business means that taxis, more and more, will be left with the 'loss-leader' work of supplying paratransit and wheelchair service to the poor, elderly and disabled, while the profitable work goes to others," Hayashi wrote, reiterating a critique that cab drivers have long lobbed at the rideshare industry.

SideCar spokeswoman Margaret Ryan countered that her company has taken steps to help certain populations with disabilities -- namely the visually impaired -- and that its incorporated feedback from low-vision app testers. She said SideCar gets plaudits from customers who say it's available in parts of the city where cabs are scarce.

Spokespeople from Lyft and Uber have yet to comment, but a CPUC spokesman said rideshare companies will keep discussing disability accommodations in subsequent hearings.

In other words, it looks like the battle is far from over.




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17 comments
meatsack
meatsack

I gave up on cabs a long time ago in SF.  Waiting around for cabs that never come, being fed nonsense about how they are getting off soon and can't take me, I'm going in the direction of the cab company's yard.  etc...  I will never be at their conniving mercy again if I can help it.


The greedy and useless city flunkies wrongly sees them as a cash cow instead of a service so they don't give a shit, just $$.   For some bizarre reason cab drivers and companies claim to be offering a service to the city.  If you live outside of certain areas you don't get the get to use this service, if on the off chance you do get a cab, you have to listen to the driver bitch about taking you outside the comfort zone.


Reading these moronic complaints by drivers is too much.


laughtiger
laughtiger

The "taxi lobby"? Are you kidding? Just which side of this debate is backed by millions of dollars in venture capital? Which side hires social media teams to fill the internet with their astroturfing propaganda?


(The answer is Uber, Lyft, etc if you're that clueless...)

Barbara Mcwilliams
Barbara Mcwilliams

Are Rideshare companies paying the city of San Francisco $250,000 for use permit medallions like the Taxi companies?

monkey
monkey

How about the taxi industry, rather than whining about new competition due to innovation, instead innovate as well. 

josephinebaker909
josephinebaker909

Well, they have a point in terms of discrimination against people who don't have credit cards (poor) and people who use wheelchairs (probably also poor).

Francesca Soares Alati
Francesca Soares Alati

I had a Royal Cab spit in my face last night and tell me to get the fuck out of his cab also called my the C word. Stay clear of those cabs, (Royal, the have gold and red color scheme)..they are dangerous, and I am never taking a taxi again.

Lauren Larsson
Lauren Larsson

Wow, Taxi drivers accusing other people of discrimination? This is a new level of ridiculousness.

Erica Eilenberg
Erica Eilenberg

"the new rideshare apps have discrimination baked into their systems"?!?! So, how is it not discriminating when taxis drive right past you when they're available, refuse to drive you to certain areas, refuse to take credit cards because they don't want to be charged service fees, or seem unconcerned about the rider's safety?! Those 4 situations have happened to me multiple times. People who I've talked to about this (including myself) have lots of positive feedback for Lyft and Uber...these new "ride share" companies have figured out how to offer SF residents high-quality customer service, and safe, clean, reliable rides...taxis have had the opportunity to do that for years and years, and have failed to do so.

Eric Lee
Eric Lee

Taxi companies: 0, Cab Starved Pedestrians: 1

meatsack
meatsack

@Barbara Mcwilliams  

That cash grab was pure greed and stupidity on the part of the city.  It's not the companies who are feeding the city this money it is the drivers themselves.

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