I drove late in the night on New Year’s Eve. As a recent beginner in the world of cab driving, I am a ‘day driver’, low on the taxi company totem pole. I cannot drive during the lucrative hours of 5 pm to 12 am.
As such, I was very lucky to get a cab at 1 am. I waited in the garage for about an hour before my name came up.
On New Year’s Eve
- It was gangbusters busy from 1 am to 5 am. It was the busiest I’ve ever seen the City. On some streets, most notably Geary and O’Farrell between Union Square and Van Ness avenue, so many people were hailing cabs that they were almost dangerously close to through traffic. It felt as though I were weaving through a sea of people.
- I saw numerous examples showing that a shortage of taxis during peak periods brings about significantly undesired results for City residents and guests. Here are a few examples:
- A few times I encountered people that were denied a cab one, two, or even three times when the driver realized they were heading out to the Richmond, Sunset or other far ends of the City. It is illegal for drivers to refuse fares going to any area within the City limits unless it would prohibit them from ending their shift on time.
- A friend told me about a cab driver that insisted upon a $20 flat fare from SOMA to his home in Noe Valley. Also illegal.
- I saw many Lincoln Towncars with license plates removed and their TCP (public passenger permit) number spray-painted over. They were picking up unscheduled orders. This is all mucho illegal.
- I saw many out of town taxis from other Bay Area cities operating illegally. In the past some taxis from as far as Los Angeles have operated in the City!
These things aren’t pure evil. But, they circumvent the whole point of a regulated taxi scheme: to ensure safe drivers, safe vehicles through semi-controlled markets so passengers have a reliable and secure ride home. Having an insufficient supply of taxis at peak hours is almost as bad as having an unregulated taxi scheme.
- It was a lot of fun to drive New Year’s Eve. It is an elating feeling to drop off a fare and have another jump in right away. Even as far out as the Excelsior, Richmond or Sunset I would easily get dispatched calls or find people on the street.
- For a while most revelers were going from bars or clubs to after-parties at their homes or friends’ places. It was fun to experience the City through the tales of others. I think it was more fun than if I went out and got wasted myself.
- A couple times I picked up taxi ‘exiles’ who were denied rides by other drivers since they were going out to the Richmond, Sunset, etc. I didn’t mind at all, I was happy to have a fare since I’m used to having to scrounge for the least bit in the middle of the night. They always tipped very well when I took them back out of town to their home.
- I took a couple and their friend to go back home to a friend’s place in Monterey Heights. I felt bad for the friend, he had been married for about a year but didn’t trust his wife. They got ‘separated’ in the City and I got the impression this happened more often than he liked.
- Later in the evening I was driving back to the Castro to find more fares.
I stopped at a light on Van Ness at Market and came across a lady that looked homeless who was hailing me down — she had tattered clothes and an unkempt look. I opened the window. She wasn’t asking for money. She wanted a lift to bring her and a bunch of cardboard she found that she could sell (or, as I later found out, use for shelter). She made it very clear that she had money. I think a lot of cabbies skipped her by that night. She was moving from a weekly hotel to another but didn’t make the realization that it’d be tough to get a room tonight since everyone was in town for New Year’s. She used to be homeless but now makes a good enough wage (doing what, didn’t ask) and has a regular roof over her head.
I took her to an alley where she used to live. She called it ‘her alley’. She was one of the only sober passengers I had all night and was a pleasant conversation maker. I got the impression she had reached a state of life acceptance of which I could only dream. She seemed happy, despite the fact that she was sleeping in an alley. I didn’t want her to pay but she strongly insisted, it seemed like a point of pride for her to pay for the trip.
I don’t like giving money to the homeless on the streets. As a practical matter, you’d go broke if you gave money to everyone anyway, there are too many. But, some people really need help in the City. How can you tell? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff? How are you supposed to know if someone really needs help or is just putting on a show so they can buy alcohol or drugs? When is someone really in dire need or when do they just not want to work? I don’t know the answer to any of these, but if I see that lady again I’d be happy to give her a fiver.
- I took a lot of drunk people back home. If any of them were more interesting I’d write about it, but they were all kinda the same. Sometimes loud, most were polite, tipped rather well, happy to be going to bed, didn’t care what routes I took, didn’t give a crap what music I played, some weren’t in the mood to chat but some had good convos about their evenings.
- It was getting quiet around 6 am. My girlfriend called and wanted some water while I was stopped at a Safeway for a passenger to get some cigarettes. I stopped by to drop it off, but she locked herself out when she came to meet me so I thought I might finish out early. I had made enough money and it was getting near to impossible to find fares. I made about $170 over 7 hours, which worked out to about $24 per hour, significantly above my all time mean of about $18 per hour. But after 6 am I would make about $10 per hour, significantly below my mean and significantly below the per hour value of sleep. I called it a night.