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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Cab Drivers Gathering License Plate Intel on Uber, Lyft, & SideCar

Posted By on Tue, Jan 28, 2014 at 7:44 AM


After vehemently contesting a recent media report saying a mass exodus of cab drivers are headed to app-based, car-hire startups, the San Francisco Cab Drivers Association this week decided to make it clear that cabbies are still the victim in this business battle.

Namely, it's vastly outnumbered. After collecting license plate data from cars bearing the trade dress of a Transportation Network Company (TNC), the association says the ratio of car-hires to cabs is about 3,400 to 1,800 -- roughly 2 to 1.

"We're trying to show these TNCs are a big safety issue in the streets of San Francisco," SFCDA director Trevor Johnson tells SF Weekly before launching his litany of complaints.

He says companies including Uber and Lyft say they're creating efficient transportation when in reality, they're creating traffic snarls. They say they're being green when they're really flooding the roads with cars. They say they're improving safety when they're really encouraging more people to troll the streets looking at their cell phones.

To top it all off, TNCs call their business a form of "disruption," but it's actually profiteering, Johnson insists. They're using a VC-backed model to commandeer fares from small, highly regulated, mom-and-pop cab fleets.

"People claim we're whining because we're an incumbent monopoly," he says. "But that couldn't be farther from the truth. The taxi industry is actually made up of small businesses."

Richard Hybels, who owns a modest-sized local company called Metro Cab, says competition from TNCs has all but crippled his business. "We are clearly circling the drain," he writes, via e-mail. "No drivers and I'm losing $25-30,000 a month from max revenue. I wonder which cab co. will be first to close doors."

Johnson says that he and other cab drivers began gathering intel in June of 2013, and thus far they've only focused on sedans without commercial livery plates, which eliminates the whole swath of Uber town cars that are licensed with the state. The data isn't perfect, he admits. It doesn't account for how long each TNC driver is on the road (the number of driving hours might, indeed, be a better metric to determine how many vehicles are on the street at any one time). It also doesn't account for driver attrition rates, which are high at some of these companies.

Yet, it's perhaps the best evidence that taxi drivers currently have to show that they're being outpaced by the new competitors. Over the past few months, cab companies have taken increasingly drastic measures -- from charm offensives, to angry screeds, to fee waivers for new taxi permit applications. The license plate intel project might be SFCDA's best offensive strike yet, given that it can now turn that data over to insurance investigators and CPUC officials, in the hope of obtaining tighter regulations for the TNCs.

At the very least, Johnson, et. al., feel vindicated.

Spokespeople from Lyft and Uber have yet to answer requests for comment.

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About The Author

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan was a staff writer at SF Weekly from 2013 to 2015. In previous lives she was a music editor, IP hack, and tutor of Cal athletes.


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