A car with a hot-pink Lyft mustache.

Can’t get a cab? New ride-share companies like Uber, SideCar and Lyft offer San Franciscans alternative ways to get where they need to go. However, should these startups be required to abide by taxicab regulations? And how do they fit into the transportation landscape of the city?

Travis Kalanick, Co-Founder and CEO of Uber
Benny Evangelista, Technology Reporter, San Francisco Chronicle
Sunil Paul, Co-Founder and CEO of SideCar Technologies
Mark Gruberg, Member and former chair of United Taxicab Workers

  • Fred

    We are clearly living in an app bubble. All sorts of wacky ideas are being tried out, just like we saw during the Dot Com bubble. But this particular idea of a ride-sharing app is disturbing in its naïveté. How long will it be before one of these apps is used for a car-jacking, kidnapping, or a trip to an ATM compelled at gunpoint? All it will take is a perpetrator using a stolen identity to pass any background check. That’s assuming a check is even being performed. I bet the legal fine print for these apps nullifies all rights of the user to sue and absolves the producers. This ride sharing app idea is about as smart as sleeping on a stranger’s couch to save on a hotel, or “hooking up” with some psycho via Craigslist. I fear that lazy people and foolish people will become victims because of these apps.

    • MD415

      Spare us from the scare tactics. As if a taxi would add an extra layer of protection. Do you fear the driver or the passenger? A carjacking could happen to any car. Your argument lacks any credible proof, we all can give “what ifs”. It sounds like you are fearing a real change in giving people the power to have efficient transportion options.

    • Slappy

      I think Fred’s got a valid point. Entrepreneurs like to lead people down blind alleys, with results ranging from wonder and joy to boredom to even possibly death. But those entrepreneurs never take responsibility for the bad outcomes. Drug dealers come to mind… It would be poor judgment to blindly do whatever some entrepreneur says, without considering the risks and questioning their judgement. Whether it’s popping a pill or jumping in a stranger’s car (or van), look before you leap.

      Mind you, I *never* use cabs. They are too expensive unless you’re in a group of 3 or 4. I prefer buses and walking.

    • Bob Fry

      Fred, you’re just a fear-mongering, hating troll, and your other posts on other topics provide plenty of evidence for that.

      • Slappy

        Bob it’s all too easy to make an ad hominem attack when you are unable to overcome someone’s arguments.

        Be braver, Bob. Think harder.

    • Great. Don’t use these things. I for one am quite comfortable with the risks those things present. But if you can’t deal with the minute chance that a perfect stranger is a homicidal maniac, nobody is forcing you to participate in society. Watch out! The janitor who is cleaning the bathroom while you are there alone might turn out to be a murdering lunatic!

  • If there were no problem getting cabs, such apps wouldn’t exist. The problem is that even when you call for a cab, there is no guarantee one will ever appear. The cab companies need to serve citizens in SF neighborhoods, not just tourists. That is why they get a medallion. I’m afraid San Franciscans without smart phones will be left without cabs either way.

  • Stella

    I’ve use Uber because taxis are unreliable in my neighborhood (Glen Park area). I like that they use qualified driving services. I manage pick up from my iPhone and less than 10 minutes they are at my house.
    Taxis are complacent and do not meet the needs of outer San Francisco areas. I’ve been stranded because taxis have not shown up and I have almost missed my flight at SFO. I’ve called the taxi dispatcher and his response was “I don’t control the drivers.” Taxi companies have the opportunity to improve service with competition, but choose to keep things as is and not meet the needs to residents in outer parts of San Francisco.

  • Scott A

    I love seeing technology get used to empower individuals to take initiative for themselves and side-step problems in their lives. These car programs fit that model well.

    However, they also pose a huge problem for society.

    Intentional or not, they “cream skim” the “best” users – those with the most money, technology and power, making it so that those users don’t have to use public services. The result of this is that public services eventually suffer dramatically because those who have the means to improve them no-longer have a reason to care – and those left dependent upon them get worse and worse services, further dividing society.

    Imagine if there were “private club” based buses running around the city (not just the company-run commute buses) – and they’d only pick up pre-screened customers with smart phones. What would that do to the public transportation experience?

    I hope we find a way to keep innovative tech uses AND public services we can be proud of. But that won’t happen automatically, we need to talk about solutions openly, and put effort into action. It can certainly be done with a bit of thought. But it _won’t_ be done if we don’t make it a priority.

    • Guest

      Scott is right! It sounds like these new car companies are servicing the wealthy class. The taxi companies have always been there to help out the disabled, low-income, elderly and even crime victims. Those that are contributing to the gentrification of the city have done enough.

      • Could point. ramp taxi drivers are required to do a certain number of wheelchair pick ups. Uber vehicles aren’t accessible.

    • MD415

      There are private bus services in the city, picking up all the Google, Apple, and Facebook employees and taking them down to the silicon valley.

  • Gaurav

    In cities like Chicago and New York I’ve almost never seen people being forced to drive to evenings out within the city. In San Francisco that just isn’t possible. Cab service in SF is a cartel. Lately Cabulous asks me to bid multiples of $5 for finding a cab near me. No wonder these guys don’t want competition.

  • fed up

    Mark Gruberg, you sound like a fool accusing these ride-sharing innovators of trying to get rich. There are more important issues at play here than you and your fear of losing a monopoly on paying customers. SF taxis offer terrible service and crazy drivers that don’t care about anything but themselves. Give me the alternative ANY DAY. I no longer use established cabs – not just because the last 4 times I requested pick-ups at my home in the Inner Richmond district they never showed (Yellow and Luxor) even after follow up calls – but because you all have the attitude that it’s either your s****y service, or no service at all. You deserve to be obsolete with your backwards thinking.

  • jennifer

    Part of the issue is the lack of enough taxis and I believe the other part of the issue is the circulation of them. It’s as if they want to camp out at a hotel or airport waiting for that big fare and ignore driving around the city picking up its citizens choosing to not drive. With that being said, citizens will solve for the problem… supply and demand. Welcome to entrepreneurship

  • Slappy

    If there are not enough cabs, how about adding mini-buses?
    How about if SF were to start its own cab service to augment the bus system?

    Private enterprise is not always the answer!

  • Guest

    Oh yes, let’s incentivize using your cell phone while driving. This won’t impact public safety at all, lol.

  • fed up

    The idea that any of these alternate services are taking away business from taxis is ludicrous. As Gruberg just said, there will never be enough cabs in San Francisco to meet the need. There is more than enough transportation money to go around and the taxi drivers and companies know it.

  • Alex

    There difference between a Taxi and an Uber is #1 safety and #2 service. All Taxi drivers I’ve used are rushing to get you to your destination, and as a result taking big risks. The way Uber drivers driver is night and day difference and I feel much safer inside an Uber than in a Taxi cab. Safety is the only reason I need to always chose an Uber over a Taxi cab. The superior service is a very welcomed added bonus.

    • I’ve seen Uber drivers run red lights, do U-turns on Market St, speed on Market St. There is no one I can report this to. If I see a cab to this, I can report it by color scheme and vehicle number. I was nearly hit by an Uber vehicle but had no recourse to complain.

      • egoldin

        It’s harder to see, but all Ubers have a TCP# on the back, not to mention their license plate. You could take note of either of these things and call/email Uber.

        • And I’m supposed to trust Uber will follow up in a meaningful way? At least I know that real taxi drivers can be cited/fined/suspended for unsafe driving.

  • Lucas

    For years, riders have dealt with an insufficient number of taxi medallions to serve SF. Uber provides a superior service in terms of punctuality, and the consumer has voted. I do wonder about businesses such as Lyft and Sidecar built around a legal loophole with their “donation” system, both in terms of legality and liability. But as for Uber, they’re regulated drivers, licensed, and every Uber driver I’ve ever asked has expressed a strong PREFERENCE for working for Uber as opposed to their usual dispatcher.

  • MoistPup

    Über is providing a valuable service.

    With Uber I have never been kicked out of a car, like I have by a cab in San Francisco, for putting my arm around my (same sex) partner, Uber cars never smell bad, their drivers are never rude, never try to run down pedestrians, never refuse a fare because it is going to the far west side of the city. Uber doesn’t have rude dispatchers, or the terrible reliability of the cab companies, if I call an Uber they show up, where as with a Taxi you can wait hours after calling a cab dispatch, and 50% of the time THEY DON’T EVER ACTUALLY SHOW UP! And of course, there is the supposedly broken credit card machine in EVERY cab in San Francisco.

    San Francisco’s cab companies have abused the citizens they are supposed to be serving for decades. And now that there is an alternative they are trying to destroy them before they can take root.

    Rob in San Francisco

  • Curtis C Buckley

    We must do whatever we can to reduce carbon emissions. If new technology can help us do it, we have to do it. The change will be hard . There will be loser in the change, but it must be done.

  • The Indra

    I’ve used taxis for years because Muni is unreliable. On Muni it would take me an hour and a half to get from the castro to
    fisherman’s wharf where I work. I have to say that UBER is by far a
    BETTER customer experience. I know exactly which car and driver I’m
    using and can CALL them. I’ve had taxi drivers go crazy on me for trying
    to tell them how to get to my work. I’ve left important documents and
    my phone in cabs and have never seen them again. Using UBER is safer
    because I know who I’m with even with a taxi. AND I CAN REVIEW THE
    DRIVER. I feel safer in UBER because there’s a trail of who I was with. I
    can call the driver after I get out of the cab or car. AND the drivers
    are unilaterally nicer and care about customer service with UBER. All in
    all it’s a waaaay better experience and I feel safer. It’s not anecdotal to have a trail of EXACTLY who you were with UBER.

    • Why do you feel safer with an untrained, underinsured driver?

      • Andy

        Cab Drivers aren’t trained. I have been one part-time for ten years; I am in a position to say this with some authority.

        get two weeks in a ‘taxi school’. It is not training with any real
        purpose, except to charge the driver $200. Beyond this, there is nothing
        in the way of training for drivers, only a lot of forms and paperwork
        that must be filed with the city and county.

        Lyft drivers are
        insured for nearly a million dollars per car, while they drive on a
        shift, in addition to the driver’s personal insurance on the vehicle.
        That is more insurance than the $750,000 insurance available to cabs.

        Incidentally, cab drivers themselves are not insured for an accident. Only the passengers, and the other party.

        of this legality around Uber and Lyft is happening because the
        regulatory powers have not yet found a way to profit from the success of
        this business model. They want money. For medallions. Medallions they

        Cab companies are approaching this unwisely. Squashing
        these services solves nothing. Competing with them would be much wiser,
        but then the cab companies would have to change their entire business
        model. They are rental services that make business arrangements with
        drivers, nothing more. They don’t really care about the passengers, only
        that the driver pays them for the shift and car that they give.

        leads me to one last point: Cab service is terrible because cab drivers
        do not work for the companies; they are actually the only true customer
        the company cares about. Or to be more accurate, the driver’s $100 or
        more rental fee for the car they borrow is what they care about. The
        driver is expendable, interchangeable and ultimately invisible.

        pay for the junk cars they have to rent. They don’t pick up their
        orders because they have to get the nearest person they can, to recoup
        their daily loss.

        They drive like maniacs because it can take up
        to 5 or six hours of their entire shift to earn back what they spend to
        be on the road.

        These ride share services are vastly superior,
        safer, and offer a better overall experience because they are based on serving individual rider, and on an individual driver.

        Cab companies could learn from this. If they chose to.

  • Jeff H

    I work in the SF nightlife community, and have always been turned off by SF cabbies. I can’t tell you how many times when a cab has pulled up or dropping someone off and myself or a patron tries to hire the cab to the tune of “not going that way” or “heading back to the yard” after the destination has been stated. The people I know who use the apps rave about drivers, conditions, and timeliness. Here’s a hint Mark. It’s not 1970 anymore, adapt and swim, or sink and drown.
    And the idea of bidding for a cab on cabulous or whatever it’s called is outrageous. I am better giving my money to muni

    • Alfie

      Yes, but Muni would be smart to start their own mini-bus service or cab service. In some cities they have a public-run bus just for the party crowd to prevent drunk driving crashes.

  • MoistPup

    “One person anecdotal perception” regarding Taxi cab safety!?

    Wow, he just lost the sympathy of every San Franciscan that has ever taken a cab here. The cab drivers in SF run stop signs, and have no qualm with trying to run down a pedestrian.

    • I’ve witnessed Uber drivers running stop signs, pulling U turns on Market, and nearly got hit by one. I don’t buy the propaganda here that all Uber drivers are good and all cab drivers are bad, crazy, rude.

  • BerkeleyFan

    Taxi service from San francisco to the east bay is non existent. Even if you can hail a cab (which is very very difficult) the drivers inevitably say no when told that you are doing to Oakland or Berkeley. With uber I now have a safe and reliable way to get home. Taxis had their chance to serve this market and they failed. Über deserves to stay in the game.

    • Jeff H

      Seriously. They had their chance and failed. Lets move forward

    • Alfie

      Personally I just use BART. Why do you need a taxi to begin with?

      • Alfie, BART does not run at all hours and to all places. Sometimes you do need something other than public transit no matter how much you believe in it.

        • Rhet

          Have you considered a scooter or motorcycle?

  • Bob Fry

    A probably irrelevant story…

    Some years ago my wife, niece and I took a cab from the Newark, NJ airport to Manhattan. The cabbie was a jerk and demanded cash for the tunnel toll, I didn’t know if this was proper or not but paid…we were sort of hostage. Upon arriving at our hotel in Manhattan I paid the fare with a $1 tip, given his attitude. He demanded more money (for the tolls going back to NJ) and when I wouldn’t give it, tried to grab a suitcase from my wife, failed, then grabbed my cell phone from me…and drove off!

    When I called the Newark Taxi Authority they immediately defended their cabbie, saying I had left the cell phone in the cab. They did ZERO to listen to my story, etc.

    The point being that just because there is a Taxi Authority means nothing.

  • Neal Gorenflo

    Hi Michael,

    As a extremely satisfied Sidecar user, I’ve been following this story
    closely. What disturbs me is the solution the PUC proposes – to add
    more cabs in San Francisco.

    That’s a terrible idea because the quality of taxi service is so poor.
    I’ve been treated rudely and ripped of far too many times while
    riding in grubby cabs. And that’s on the rare occasions that I’m
    actually able to get one. We don’t need a bad service made more
    widely available.

    My question to your guests today is, how can we increase the
    availability AND quality of on-demand mobility? My suggestion is to
    not add more cabs unless the quality is brought up to Sidecar levels, which are very high from my experience.


    -Neal, blogger at Shareable.net

  • It is an issue of freedom of speech and freedom of association. It is as though the post office claimed email violated their monopoly on mail.

  • christina

    Innovation is good and if it compels the existing taxi system to update itself and serve the customer demand better, then it’s good outcome. However, it should not happen at the expense of stating on the right side of the law, nor ignore the potential risks and personal liabilities that these private car services open up. Are these drivers insured? It’s all well and good until a passenger gets hurt, violated, or worse…they have no where to turn.

  • Peter

    Government exist to serve the people. Not people who own and maintain medallions.

    Regulate technology to innovation not to protect the inefficiency taxi industry.

    Fundamentally its not just about the ride but the entire experience. Cubulous, Taxi Magic don’t deliver on the promise of delivering a safe quality ride. Its not enough to just have more cabs and licensed drivers, background checks, but start filtering drivers to improve overall quality.

    Uber has taxis but their drivers are just better because they are filtered. There is an incentive to get better.

    • Guest

      Filtered? Sure. But I question if their filtering system isn’t a bit racist. You’re supposed to be able to get a job in this country whether or not you can speak English. That is the law. It really sounds to me like that is what most people are complaining about, when mentioning that ‘Uber’ has better customer service! Keep it real!!

  • Guest

    Wow. I feel like Dave Iverson has not been a fair and balanced moderator on this segment. He seems totally biased towards these new services. I am really disappointed.

  • Guest

    I get the impression that Mark Gruberg has never even bothered to try any of the new ride-share companies. He ought to before criticizing.

    This discussion on the “dangerous” lack of regulation for these new app-based services implies that standard taxicabs are always clean, timely, safe, and professional. Some taxi cars and drivers are fine, but many clearly haven’t undergone any regulatory checks in ages: drivers trying to extend the route to make extra fare, trying to add undue charges at the end of the ride, driving dangerously, filthy cars in poor repair. It’s a gamble for passengers, with little recourse.

    This is standard fear mongering by lobbyists, trying to protect their monopoly. And the city wants to regulate? So create regulations for ride-share systems, rather than applying existing regulations that don’t work.

    This technology is empowering, and the laws have failed to keep up. As an individual with a smart phone, I’ll take my life into my own hands and use Lyft when I can.

  • Regulators are quick to defend themselves against charges that they work for the industry they regulate. But it bears reiterating that regulatory capture isn’t about corrupt or evil regulators. Regulatory capture occurs simply because in the regulatory process, regulators spend most of their time with industry insiders who are given plenty of opportunities to convince the regulators to see the world their way. Of course the chief regulator for taxis thinks they work in the name of safety. That’s the way the successful lobbyists she sees all day long couch their arguments.

  • Alex

    If I could have a dollar for every strawman Mark Gruberg raised on this show, I would have enough money to start my own cab company. Everything he was saying had no bearing on Uber, specifically. If anyone is deserving of more regulation is it the Taxi companies. Maybe some kind of regulation would make them be reliable, actually show up when calling in, have safer drivers behind the wheel, and ensure that every cab has a working credit card reader. What’s wrong with putting in place regulations that actually benefit the customer.

  • Gene Keenan

    I have had to wait up to 2.5 hours for a taxi to pick us up in the outer Richmond district in SF or they just don’t come. When we are out on a Friday or Saturday night in the Mission district we have had taxis kick us out of the cab because they don’t want to drive all the way out to the Richmond district. The fact is there are not enough taxis in San Francisco. Even if there were enough the taxi business is something that is ripe for disruption. Why is it in this time of hyper connectivity you cannot book a cab to pick you up in a reasonable time and to be able to see what their ETA is? I don’t even bother calling taxis anymore. Uber provides a superior service. They arrive within 10 minutes of calling, I can see how close they are to my house. The cars are clean and they don’t stink of smoke. In addition many have additional treats like that days newspapers or magazines and bottles of water. Taxis are a classic case of rent seeking (see below).


    “In economics, rent-seeking is an attempt to obtain economic rent by manipulating the social or political environment in which economic activities occur, rather than by creating new wealth. One example is spending money on political lobbying in order to be given a share of wealth that has already been created. A famous example of rent-seeking is the limiting of access to lucrative occupations, as by medieval guilds or modern state certifications and licensures.People accused of rent seeking typically argue that they are indeed creating new wealth (or preventing the reduction of old wealth) by improving quality controls, guaranteeing that charlatans do not prey on a gullible public, and preventing bubbles.”


    • Rhet

      Soon on Broadway, the musical: Rent Seeking.

  • Why was no one from SFMTA Taxi services invited to participate? This is indeed a biased forum. Very disappointing.

    • egoldin

      There was a rep from the taxi companies. Isn’t that a little more direct?

      • I think it would have been good to have a reality check to the baseless assertion that Uber is “safer,” and to address the issues of insurance, training, and penalties for bad behavior.

        • Gene Keenan

          Penalties for bad behavior? How about taxis not bothering to pick you up and nearly missing your flight? How about kicking you out of the taxi when the driver realizes you live out by the beach. I don’t even bother calling taxis anymore. Why bother with the humiliation. Uber has been 100% excellent.

  • R White

    The ride sharing services like Lyft and Sidecar are filling a gap that the taxis are not covering. More cabs would help some, but most would be in the same rut as the current status quo, mainly seeking out the long airport trips, or downtown hotels hoping for a trip to the airport. The taxis do a poor job of serving south and west San Francisco. One way to solve this is to have certain cabs restricted from picking up at SFO or in a downtown zone, which the cab drivers would pay a lesser rate for the license and rental. Right now, overall taxi service is poor in SF, in coverage, reliability and driver attitudes. Until that changes, these ridesharing companies will only gain ground over the SF taxis among the public.

  • rafaelx

    Here we go again in San Francisco. We tackle Mass Transit problems with cars!!! If anything we need less cars on our city. We need to focus all our efforts and intentions on digging more tunnels, create more bus lanes without competition from cars. We must hurry to solve this chronic problems of mobility in San Francisco. The people who fool us with these small tricks they are there just to make money and they stand to win in the absence of a robust Mass Transit.

  • David Schneider

    WHO really DROPPED THE BALL & WHY???

    Of course there are problems with supply and demand taxi services but there is also the question of efficiencies and unification of taxi services to get the greatest bang for one phone call or the send button on the app.
    The people, politicians, regulatory agencies are all more or less connected but for what it’s worth taxi services UNDER THE LAW are supposed to be regulated for “the public convenience and necessity.”
    It’s worth noting that both Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom backed centralized taxi dispatch so a passenger could get the nearest available cab regardless of company. “A no brainer” Willie told me in May of 1997 when I got a town hall meeting with him.
    And the SFMTA has heard the complaints for years now.
    So geez guess who dropped the ball in carrying out their duties to regulate for the public convenience and necessity.
    As Willie said: it’s a no-brainer. Guess he wouldn’t like to see his, Gavin’s and now the SFMTA’s reflection in the reality-public service mirror.

    Dave Schneider

  • Lisa

    The taxi service has had a monopoly in SF. As a result, they treat their customers that way. The vast majority of the service I receive is terrible. Rude dispachers. Rude and terrible drivers. Lack of interest when complaints are lodged. Filthy cars. While this movement is about speed, it is more about service for me. The taxis did not care about the problem until they had rivals for fares. Long live competition! We need it in this case.

  • Ned Rozbicki

    The time of the taxi has passed! Just like the Poni Express being eclipsed by the railroad. Thousands of private cars going in every conceavable direction and we’re going to allow Taxis to clutter the roads for hire when there is millions of free seats in existing cars already burning precious fuel? It’s crazy. Taxi’s should be outlawed.Get over it taxi drivers. Time to retrain and join the new age! Sorry guys. Your time has passed.

  • Chomsky_P

    Quantity regulation is bad, but what makes it worse is the price regulation as well. Once cannot do both, and the net result is that a busy cabdriver does not have to compete to get business. Rather, they choose which routes they want to serve. So to all you who blame the cabs for kicking you out, for not picking you up, for not taking you to the east bay, etc., don’t blame the cabbies, blame the idiots (many of you likely voted for) who subscribe to the idea that they can regulate both the price and quantity of a product.

    Safety – how best to achieve this? Consider two options 1) Lyft/Uber, etc. have drivers which compete for your business, developing ratings and building up their “brand” to win repeat customers.

    2) Taxi drivers, chronically busy, who don’t have to compete for customers because customers are plentiful. They have one main concern – to get customers from A to B quickly and safely so they can grab someone else next. But they have little desire to build up a rapport with their customer because their business doesn’t depend on it. And because the idiots in charge restrict what fares they can charge, they have no ability to offer discounts or to do other favors in hopes of becoming a “preferred vendor”. And suppose they drive too fast? Will a customer complain? They have to write down some identifying information and then put in the effort to complain. Seems unlikely. There is no feedback loop here.

    That is why it is amazing to me that the woman from the MTC who called in praised the fact that taxi regulations gave consumers somebody to complain to in the event of a problem. I like someone I can call and complain to, but in the taxi business, it appears as if this “safety regulation” has come with some very significant costs – the suppression of entrepreneurs who want to serve customers better.

    Finally, it’s useful to remember that ridesharing on jitneys emerged in the early 1900s, but was regulated out of existence by the streetcar industry. Imagine what transportation would look like with a modest amount of regulation and without government granted monopolies.

    And, does anyone see parallels between this and public schools? Public teachers aren’t bad people. But when the institution that governs them is bad, the outcome is bad for teachers and kids. Which is how I see this situation – the institution that governs taxis is bad, and it makes taxis behave poorly.

  • The issue is not the technology, it’s the cars. If the cars are behaving like taxis then they are taxis and they need to be regulated as such. The taxi system is broke and should be fixed. Running a parallel deregulated fleet is not the solution.

  • Taxi’s are not a safer ride than a Lyft or another ridesharing apps… I have left 2 taxis in the past due to my own safety… Taxi’s need to alter their entire business! Driver training for Taxi’s really…I would like to see this in action?

  • Taxi companies need to evolve and let progress happen, they need to review their own internal safety issues, driver legality and service to consumers. All industries that have aggressively fought new technologies that make consumers happier, safer and help their lives have lost the battle. There is no reason these companies should not exist side-by-side to taxis, limos and other services for hire!

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