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“If San Diego were a human body, then San Diego airport would be the butt,” said a taxi driver at San Diego International Airport. He was referring to how he felt cabbies are treated since the transportation-network companies moved into our city. “We have to follow a lot of rules that the ride-sharing services don’t.”

Uber’s San Diego general manager Christopher Ballard says his "partners," i.e. drivers, make more than taxi drivers.

Uber’s San Diego general manager Christopher Ballard says his "partners," i.e. drivers, make more than taxi drivers.

Transportation-network companies, such as Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar, are ride-share services that have popped up nationwide and internationally over the past three years. Driver utilize their own vehicles to transport passengers around town. They are considered independent contractors, according to Christopher Ballard, Uber’s general manager for San Diego, who commented, “We don’t own vehicles, nor do we employ drivers.”

These services are accessed by a mobile app on your smartphone that stores your credit-card information, so no money changes hands at the completion of your ride. The drivers do not carry cash on them, as most taxi drivers have always done.

It’s much less expensive to use your own vehicle than to pay the rent that cabbies pay on their cabs, which can be around $450 a week. That is why many cabbies are leaving the traditional cabs and have started driving for Lyft and Uber, if they can afford to buy their own vehicles. As one former cabbie who now drives for Uber said, “If you drive a taxi, you rent by the week or month, so, if you take a day off, you’re still paying for it. I make more money driving my own car for Uber than I ever did as a taxi driver.”

Ballard told me that “Taxi drivers are making about $5 per hour these days, and you can make more driving for Uber.”

Ralf Wilkowski says he is “making about $15–$16 an hour and more on the weekends” driving for Lyft.

Ralf Wilkowski says he is “making about $15–$16 an hour and more on the weekends” driving for Lyft.

Ralf Wilkowski, who drives for Lyft — these vehicles have big pink mustaches attached to their grills — said he is “making about $15–16 an hour and more on the weekends.” He also likes getting the attention his zebra-striped car brings. “Lyft has no control over me,” he said, “as long as I don’t slander their name.”

It seems that the new ride-sharing services are making some of the taxi companies change their ways. Yellow Cab’s website said I could text dispatch from my smartphone with my name, address, and pick-up time. And I could request a credit-card cab. My ride to the airport was in a Yellow Cab Toyota Prius and cost about $16 plus tip. My ride back in a Chrysler 300 Uber car was $12 plus tip. (Both Uber and Lyft have no-tipping policies, which their drivers say they hate. I tip anyway.) The price difference was in line with the general fact that ride-sharing services charge less than taxis.

That is one of the causes of growing animosity between the traditional taxi services and the transportation-network companies. This is especially true at San Francisco Airport. Lyft originated there in 2012. Drivers there were reportedly being cited and arrested for not following airport rules and regulations. The California Public Utilities Commission had to step in and laid down new laws regarding the transportation-network companies in September 2013. Drivers now must go through a training program (Lyft sends trainees out with established drivers, Uber does not) and the companies must have insurance policies that cover the passengers with a million dollars’ worth of coverage.

Several Lyft and Uber drivers, who mostly wanted to remain anonymous, say they are feeling the heat from the cabbies, especially at Lindbergh Field. Dave Boenitz, ground-transportation director at Lindbergh Field, said, “Oh, yes, it’s true, the cabbies are very upset at these new companies coming onto their turf. They’re very concerned about business being taken away from them and at the same time, about [the new services] not being properly regulated.”

Boenitz continued, “Cab drivers have to pay a trip fee for every trip they make out of the airport and have to pay for permits to operate out of the airport, too. As of right now, we have not negotiated with the [transportation-network companies] as to what their permits and trip fees might be. We are in conversation with them as to how we would do that. As of last ruling by the Public Utilities Commission, transportation-network companies are not allowed to operate out of the airports.”

Asked if he knew they are doing it anyway, he answered, “Oh, yes, absolutely, and we are citing those we can. We do cite the [ride-sharing drivers] with tickets if they do not have the proper medallion or trade dress showing in their window.” A Lyft driver told me he just removes the mustache when he wants to pick up a passenger at the airport. By doing this he avoids the $79 fine that his company would pay for anyway.

Boenitz said, “At the airport, I hear from customers about lack of cab drivers’ courtesy, lack of service, cab condition, how long they take to show for pick-up. The cab industry is looking at the [transportation-network companies] as a threat, as they should. But they should also look at it internally, as to why this threat is materializing. It’s because the public wants the transportation-network companies.”

Uber driver Kasheem agreed. “They [cab drivers] deserve to be pissed off. They’ve been treating people bad and taking everything for granted for the longest time. Everybody I’ve ever asked about taxi drivers, they say they’re rude to clients, don’t take credit cards, etc.” When I mentioned I just took a cab that takes credit cards, was clean inside, and the driver spoke English, he said, “Well, I guess they’re stepping up their game because they had to.”

All of this friction came to a violent head in Paris on January 13, as 5000 striking taxi drivers, angry at the transportation-network companies, attacked an Uber vehicle with passengers inside, according to several websites. Cabbies reportedly threw rocks and paint at the car and the passengers suffered cuts on their hands.

One Lyft driver who wished to remain anonymous said, “Because if I get in an accident, I’m done. Since drivers and passengers’ rate each other after a ride and I only get 3.5 stars, I’m done. And after seeing what happened in Paris, forget it. I don’t want to be attacked.”

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Comments

CaliForward Feb. 19, 2014 @ 10:03 a.m.

Uber Lyft and hundreds of other ride-sharing pirate taxi apps need to be regulated. Make them pay licensing fees to the city they operate in. This way these law-breaking companies will at least be giving something back instead of siphoning profits made on our city roads to some offshore bank account. The fact that cities dare to regulate hard-working local taxi businesses to death and yet are too afraid to even start regulating Google-Uber oligarchy is outrageous. Ride-sharing in its present form is no better than daily ongoing road theft. Yet, regulators are "hard at word" looking the other way.

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Joaquin_de_la_Mesa Feb. 19, 2014 @ 3:28 p.m.

Or… maybe neither taxis nor ride sharing drivers should be paying license fees. The city doesn't charge me a fee to do my job.

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il2580 Feb. 19, 2014 @ 7:44 p.m.

Hard to believe that something like this its allowed to work . Here in Chicago, this criminal apps companies are working hand in hand with Obama's little guy....Rahm....its beyond my understanding how you treat taxi business which pays about $50 millions every year to the City budget like this and you put the red carpet for this gypsy cabs criminals....which pays $0 I understand Google desire for driverless cabs....but to send the little killer apps to do the dirty work.....unbelievable FYI......I am so disgusted by Google's approach....I started using Yahoo or Bing as a search engine.

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dwbat Feb. 20, 2014 @ 9:17 a.m.

Uber and Lyft are not Google's companies.

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Joaquin_de_la_Mesa Feb. 19, 2014 @ 8:23 p.m.

Maybe this system will break the traditional taxi system, and drivers will end up free agents, as they should be. The traditional system is obsolete.

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Matt101 Feb. 19, 2014 @ 10:21 p.m.

Key point from this article:

"It’s much less expensive to use your own vehicle than to pay the rent that cabbies pay on their cabs, which can be around $450 a week".

Wake up, cab drivers. You are being robbed by the taxi companies. $450 a week to rent the cab you drive? That's $450 every week of the year that could be going into your own pocket instead.

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jnojr Feb. 20, 2014 @ 8 a.m.

Just another antiquated business model that's sinking into obscurity, even as the "Old Guard" desperately tries to hang on to what they know instead of taking that big scary leap into the future.

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