Driving a slow weekend in the City

It was another slow weekend in San Francisco. During my shifts

  • I witnessed a non-trivial collision. A Toyota pickup truck was traveling behind me south on South Van Ness. As we approached the 16th Street intersection he passed me on the left and returned to my lane immediately before entering the intersection. The light had just turned green for our southbound traffic. Meanwhile, a Ford SUV crept west into the intersection on 16th Street, presumably not having seen the red traffic signal or slowing after realizing he was running a red light.

    The Ford SUV clipped the rear of the Toyota pickup truck. The Toyota’s tires lost all traction as it launched into an out of control 360 spin, coming to rest against a parked car across the intersection on South Van Ness.

    While my traffic signal intuition knew that the signal was about to turn, or had already turned, green, I couldn’t trust that intuition as a witness. But, the instant the vehicles came into contact I looked up and confirmed we had a green light. That is what I told the Toyota driver’s insurance company, and, later this week, his lawyer.

    After the accident I questioned myself, “Should I wait around and be a witness?” I hadn’t made very much money that day and needed to keep going on the road to earn a reasonable take-home pay for the day. The Toyota driver was smart. He knew a cab driver would be a reliable witness should a conflict arise regarding fault. He ran up to my cab and got my phone number. I said, “I’ll be happy to recount what happened, but I really can’t wait around here. I have to keep moving.” I kept moving.

    Random thoughts:

    • If the Toyota hadn’t passed me, I could have been the first vehicle in the intersection.
    • What if the Ford SUV had been a tenth of a second earlier and hit the driver door instead of the rear of the truck?
    • If I didn’t volunteer to be a witness, it would have been easy to find me again since my vehicle has a phone number in large white letters painted all over AND a unique taxi ID number.
    • If the same thing happened to me, I would depend on witnesses to prove I wasn’t primarily at fault.
    • Driving slowly prevented me from being a participant in this accident.
  • When a passenger mentions San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom it’s usually not in a positive light. I think a great deal of this negativity derives simply because he is the personification of a stressed municipal entity that has an extremely wide range of duties, arguably insufficient funding, and arguably no ability to make itself more efficient due to the inherent structure of local government.

    So, it was with surprise that passengers in my cab spoke at such length and voracity about the positives of a Newsom program to offer basic housing, health care, mental health care, life guidance, career counseling and general support to homeless residents of San Francisco.

    These passengers had called DeSoto to request a van cab. I answered the call after returning from an airport run. They were moving from a weekly hotel in the Mission to a weekly hotel on Nob Hill, a few blocks from my apartment.

    Upon my arrival, they cheered in joy that a van cab showed up so quickly. As I’ve mentioned a few times before on the blog, it’s tough to get vans to take moving orders because the loading/unloading time is labor intensive and often not metered. A lot of time and effort output for perhaps not enough return. Perversely, or wisely, I enjoy the short burst of labor motivated by a need to maximize speed on van moving calls. It makes the blood flow faster than it otherwise would while I stagnate in the driver’s seat.

    We loaded up their stuff which mostly consisted of clothing in black plastic trash bags but also included some classic American necessities like an old wood paneled CRT TV.

    The most direct route dictated Franklin, a 3-lane timed signal boulevard which normally flows very well after the morning rush. Unfortunately, that day it didn’t flow so well so we had quite a bit of time to chat in the coagulated traffic.

    The passengers appeared to be a couple, but of course you never know for sure. The lady was black, in her 30s or 40s, sported an oversized t-shirt and wore a bluetooth telephone headset in one ear. The guy looked a bit older, perhaps in his 40s or 50s. He looked at ease with the world.

    They both had travelled a great deal, especially around the American south where they were both born. The lady’s favorite American city was Seattle, the guy preferred Atlanta.

    Not long ago they were both homeless on the streets of San Francisco. They spoke at great length about the City program they were working with. They have 3 months of subsidized rent while they get back on their feet. The City pays for many other needs — they even pay for their taxi fare via City issued taxi scrips! They have mandatory counseling appointments with City social workers. They have mandatory mental health sessions. They have mandatory career counseling. After 3 months the subsidies begin to decrease.

    I was surprised at their positive reaction to the mandatory nature of the meetings and counseling sessions. Many of their peers complained that there were too many hoops to jump through to qualify for the free rent aid. But, my passengers were adamant that showing up on time for a career counseling session is a simple thing to do and is a necessary step to practice personal responsibility.

    A choice paraphrased quote from the lady, “I’m past the age of 30. To not have a place of my own is embarrassing. I’m glad to have this chance to get back on my feet.”

    I was impressed by their extremely positive reaction to the program. I was impressed by the program. I hope it helps them on their way.

    Mayor Newsom and the City, good job.

  • I picked up a few Academy of Art students from their Nob Hill apartment answering a van call. They had a great deal of video equipment from lights and camera equipment to tripods and sandbags.

    They were undergraduates in the Academy’s film production program. They were unanimously disappointed with the program. They felt the classes were stretched out. They felt the cost of the degree was not commensurate with the gained knowledge. But, they all agreed that the Academy would give them a significant advantage finding a job. Arguably, like many MBA programs, perhaps the greatest return from an Academy degree is the built-in connections to recruiters. Those connections are very valuable.

    But, do you need to waste 4 years on a degree to get those connections? What if you could just pay the same amount of money and get those connections immediately? I guess the recruiters need to buy into the illusion that the school teaches something magical such that there is a reason to recruit directly from the school instead of pulling from the general public.

  • Sunday the cashier/driver operations manager gave me a nice car — a late model Dodge Durango. It was a guilty pleasure to drive. It had amazing acceleration, its brakes were surprisingly responsive given the mass of the vehicle, the interior was luxurious without being ostentatious, and the sound system was above average. Driving any vehicle model painted with taxi coloring always gives the driver automatic priority, but this vehicle commanded additional priority. It was easy to push my way into lanes.

    The visibility was a bit disappointing. Compared to the Dodge Caravan taxis, the Durango felt like a tank. I rode higher but the windows were shorter and felt like small slits compared to the tall front glass of the Caravan.

    The cargo space was adequate but appeared a bit smaller than the Caravan. It could seat 7 passengers in addition to the driver, but the the nice midwestern family test-case was undeniably smushed as I took them from their downtown hotel to the Fish Wharf.

    The worst attribute was gas mileage. I spent $56 on gas, a new record during a shift. Dodge Intrepid sedans fuel up between $30 and $40 followed by the Caravans at $40 to $50. $56 is ridiculous, especially considering I drove lightly on the accelerator with a highly conscious aim to conserve gasoline. If I had driven like a ‘normal’ acceleration-heavy cab driver I would have paid between $60 and $70.

    This is an excellent example of a non-aligned incentive between cab companies and drivers. As cab companies do not pay the cost of gas, there is no motivation to purchase fuel efficient vehicles. What’s more, our company has a close relationship testing vehicles for Chrysler, so it gets these odd gas-guzzlers at a cheap, cheap rate. Unfortunately, it is the cab drivers that bear the downside of these ‘deals’ the cab company gets on rolling stock.

  • I am losing my inhibition to try out my extremely limited Spanish on Mexican passengers. I know basic useful terms, like ‘right’, ‘left’, and ‘at the corner?’ in addition to numbers up to 20 which helps out when confirming numbered streets.

    Despite the ‘laughable’ nature of my attempt to speak basic Spanish with these customers, it seems to accomplish two positives:

    • I can now absolutely confirm a destination and route in a language other than English. Many Spanish speaking passengers will incorrectly interchange the English words for right and left, or make the surprisingly common error between, for example, 7th and 17th Streets.
    • This shows a respect and openness to other cultures on my part that is always very pleasantly received.

    I’ll keep stumbling along.

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One Response to Driving a slow weekend in the City

  1. Reblogged this on Human Mathematics and commented:
    Great post.

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