A cab in San Francisco. Photo by Claus Wolf/Flickr.
A cab in San Francisco. Photo by Claus Wolf/Flickr.

Adrienne Kristine has nothing but praise for San Francisco cab drivers.

“Maybe it’s because I’m disabled and have a rather large walker to carry that the dispatchers treat me with kindness,” Kristine wrote in a comment on The Bay Citizen’s website. “When I was traveling back and forth to South SF for radiation treatments Monday through Friday for seven weeks, the drivers I had were spectacular and made the experience much easier to handle.”

Not every local resident, however, would describe cab service in San Francisco as spectacular. As The Bay Citizen recently reported, a total of 1,733 complaints against taxi drivers were registered with San Francisco’s 311 complaint line last fiscal year. That represents a 13 percent increase in gripes over the previous year, nearly double the 900-complaint goal of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which regulates taxis.

Taxis infested with bed bugs, drivers falling asleep at the wheel, rude behavior and difficulty getting a cab also were among the complaints….(T)wo friends were upset when a driver offered them a 10 percent discount if they made out in front of him….

Fifteen people complained that cabs wouldn’t pick them up because they were African American. On Halloween evening in 2011, a black woman called to complain that a Yellow Cab driver pointed to a white woman standing nearby and said, “I want her and not you.” After she complained, the driver used a racial slur, she said.

Coverage of the increase in complaints led to impassioned discussion between cab drivers, passengers and others in the comment forums of websites like KQED News and The Bay Citizen. Some riders said their treatment by drivers has led them to switch to ride-sharing services. Those in the taxi industry responded that some of the criticisms were unfair or represented a miniscule percentage of the total rides they serviced.

“Most cab rids are a nonevent,” DeSoto Cab General Manager Athan Rebelos said in an interview. “It’s one step up from riding a bus.”

Some drivers added they had gripes with the local taxi industry. They’re angry that San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency has closed the waiting list for new taxi medallions. And they’re upset about the growth of ride-sharing services, which the  industry considers unfair competition.

“There aren’t too many happy cab drivers in San Francisco given what’s going on,” noted Brad Newsham, who said he’s been driving a cab in San Francisco since 1985.

Drivers also shared some complaints about passengers.

“A lot of people get in and assume you’re an idiot,” noted Barry Korengold, who said he’s been driving a taxi in the Bay Area for more than 30 years. “If they expect to get bad service, they’re probably going to get bad service.”

Earlier this month we posted tips from cab drivers and taxi industry insiders on what passengers might do to ensure they have a better experience while riding in a San Francisco cab. KQED News and The Bay Citizen also asked passengers to share their stories online about riding in local taxis.

Some passengers said they had no complaints.

“I take taxis maybe 10 to 12 times a year in SF,” Teresa Harbin wrote. “I’ve had nothing but positive experiences.”

Others, however, shared stories about arguing over credit cards, speeding dangerously across the city and being refused a ride.

“I long ago lost count of how many times a cab pulled over, asked where I was going, and then refused and took off,” Stephany Filimon Wilkes wrote.

Below is a collection of some of the other stories we heard about local taxi service. These are all anecdotal, of course, and they don’t necessarily indicate San Francisco has a “taxi problem.” They do indicate that some people have had some memorable experiences.

Buckle up, passengers; here are stories from the back seats of San Francisco cabs.

San Francisco Taxis: What Our Listeners and Readers Say 23 January,2013

  • I’m not real sure how I feel about this. A lot ran through my mind as I read this. I wonder what people’s expectations are when they interact in a metropolis like the Bay Area. We are in one of the most crowded regions of the world, we have people from virtually every nation and every religion living on top of each other and we seem to expect things to work flawlessly. When I moved here in 1995 I enjoyed the energy and the nearly chaotic feel of this region. I think about the fact that taxis are designed to draw your attention, so it’s only natural that people would notice them more than other drivers. I think of the comment about the taxi driver not knowing where Scott St. was and I wonder if it was a suburban taxi bringing a fare into the City. I don’t know how much of this is water cooler talk and how much of this is something that is a municipal problem. Some things need to be clear, taxis until recently were in short supply. SFMTA has been making improvements to the medallion distribution system and those changes are beginning to have a positive effect. However an oversupply of taxis would be a much larger problem. There’s a reason taxis are heavily regulated in major cities and there is absolutely a lack of understanding of the science of public passenger transportation. Not every ride is profitable so certain rides actually subsidize others. There are enormous costs to operating a full service taxi company like workers compensation for the drivers and technology. Believe it or not a company like DeSoto probably spends more on technology and insurance than anyone would ever guess. I often say that the taxi is not just a car, it’s a 24 hour team. I also think it’s important for people to understand that the vast majority of taxi drivers are very proud of the work that they do. Taxi drivers work hard, they risk their lives daily, they assist the disabled and the elderly, they host visitors, they help catch criminals, they play therapist, they take kids to school, they are extremely versatile people who are greatly under-appreciated. Yes, things don’t always work as they should and people don’t always behave as they should BUT let’s not forget about what the job really entails during this discussion.

  • Most cab drivers are perfectly nice, some even quite interesting. the problem is not drivers. The problem is we have far too few cabs. Sorry if they think competition is “unfair”. But we need far more cabs …. like 5 times the number of cabs we currently have on the road. If we had more, people would not be so desperate to turn to alternatives.

  • Guest

    Anyone who travels often knows SF cabs are literally the worst of any major first world city. Taking SF cabs about 10+ times a week, I would say at least 25% of rides are unprofessional: The driver is barking mad, driving erratically, reeks of urine (the driver now–not the car), makes inappropriate political statements, tries to come on to me, refuses to drive out of his/her way. I’ve had friends from elsewhere shocked by the unprofessional service. Personally, I think it’s an embarrassment to the city. And I feel bad for the 25% of drivers who are good drivers and polite professionals. Regardless, until it’s sorted, I’m taking Uber.

    • I’ve been hailing cabs on a regular basis in the City since 1995. The picture you paint is absolutely untrue. I remember having one cab driver who went on an anti-American (pro-France) rant. I never had a driver do anything outlandishly rude. I’ve had drivers that weren’t the best or that didn’t do the job they way that I would have done it but I’ve never had the experience you claim to have on a regular basis. As far as using Uber as an alternative you’re talking apples and oranges. One is private hire the other is public hire.

      • Guest

        “I’ve never experienced what you’re saying so it’s blatantly untrue” isn’t a valid argument.

        • It is against blatantly embellished stories based in sitcom stereotypes, classicism and xenophobia.

    • The taxi service in San Francisco is no different than any major US City. The job is typically performed by members of our society who have reasons why they are not working in the R&D dept at Genentech, or performing neuro surgery. They can at times be performing on a major label album recording, or researching a book they are writing though. Many are recent immigrants, or under a great deal of stress, but I have taken taxis here for almost 30 years and never met a driver who’d relieved themselves in their pants.

  • Crazy_Homeless_Guy

    I have chatted with many interesting and occasionally way over qualified cabdrivers in SF.

    I have also had a handful take me a long way to my destination. I guess they think I am a tourist or maybe to shy to say something I guess they were slow these night because usually cabbies want to get you to where you are going as fast as they can so they can get another fare in the car.

    Oh, and turn your freaking sign off if you have a fare in the car. Very frustrating when trying to hail a cab.

  • Xavi

    I drove a cab in the city the worst customer I was getting in the cab was the white people especially the women they want more than one stop, paying me with card they just so cheap.

    But when uber ripped them off they leave with smile

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