In some cities, ridesharing services like Lyft, Sidecar, and Uber are just starting to take hold. But in San Francisco, they're already clobbering the taxi industry. The president of DeSoto Cab Co., one of the biggest cab companies in the city, said in a recent interview that he would be surprised if San Francisco's cab industry survives another 18 months.
The warning was published in a San Francisco Examiner article about the retirement of Chris Hayashi, the head of SF's taxi industry. She said an interview with the Examiner that she's retiring because she's ready and not because "Travis [Kalanick, founder and CEO of Uber] has kicked my ass."
She went on:
Hayashi said she is "extremely proud" of the changes she fronted, which include a taxi enforcement team after the Police Department backed away from the role, and that it seems the industry in the past five years has moved "100 light-years forward." Then, enter Uber, Lyft, Sidecar and others formally known as transportation network companies.
"Here I am, trying to steer the Titanic and someone hits me over the head with a baseball bat, is pretty much what the TNC issue is like," Hayashi said. "We were about to clear, and all of a sudden here comes billions of dollars of venture capital for people who are willing to break every law in the book."
In a sense, it's shocking to hear such grim assessments about the state of an industry—one that seems like a basic city service—that has been around for decades. But this is a lesson for other cities: San Francisco's taxi system is notoriously horrible, with too few cabs on the road, too many cabbies who lie about having broken credit card machines so customers will pay cash, and problematic drivers.
A look at 1,700 customer complaints by the Bay Citizen reveals all sorts of issues, including cabbies smoking, texting while driving, falling asleep at the wheel, and just being rude. Should we surprised that the industry is in danger of toppling over?
It's not that ridesharing services are perfect (see this article about an Uber driver kidnapping a woman while off-duty). But in a city where getting a cab in some neighborhoods is nearly impossible, the ease of apps that promise quick rider pick-ups, online payments, and a two-way driver/rider rating system are hard to resist. Cab drivers have started using the Flywheel app, a cab-centric app that offers many of the same features as other ridesharing apps. But at least in San Francisco, it might be too little, too late.
[Image: Cab, San Francisco via Flickr user Torbakhopper]