More Bay to Breakers

  • This is a continuation of a previous post.
  • Toward the end of my shift, around 3pm, I picked up an elderly Chinese couple hailing on the street downtown. They were heading all the way out to the deep Richmond on the far west side of the City. We took Turk as far west as we could go until it turns into Balboa. They lived on Balboa so we continued on as both Fulton and Geary were clogged from the post-race exodus.

    Being the transportation geek I am, I put a lot of thought toward transportation logistics, especially after the event. Wikipedia says Bay to Breakers brings in close to 100,000 participants each year.

    As I drove westward with the elderly Chinese couple it became quickly apparent that there were insufficient transportation options available for people leaving the event. Starting from about Divisadero westward there were hails at every block. From Park Presidio westward there were constant hails on both sides of the street from a thick crowd of tired, drunk and shivering partiers who hadn’t dressed for the chilly afternoon fog.

    The problem is two fold:
    1) There was insufficient transportation infrastructure to bring these folks back downtown, and
    2) Race participants from out of town were clearly unaware of the meager transportation infrastructure that DID exist, namely the frequent but slow 38-Geary just 2 blocks north of Balboa.

    I noticed a number of special Muni “Bay to Breakers” busses which, according to SFMTA’s website, provided express service from GG park direct downtown. This is well intentioned, but a bit silly. Both the N-Judah and 38-Geary provide regular, high-capacity service downtown. Providing parallel express busses is inefficient use of resources. As evidenced by street hails and my brief glimpses of the few busses they used for the “special” service, the special busses did not offer nearly enough capacity.

    Here’s a better solution: provide FREE shuttle busses from the event to the 38-Geary and N-Judah lines, and beef up the frequency of these lines. Use the special event fare to pay for additional 38-Geary and N-Judah runs. Again, it was silly to reinvent what already exists — adequate eastbound transit lines are in abundance in the Sunset and Richmond. The only missing piece of the puzzle were north/south bound shuttles from the park to the 38/N lines with clear signage directing pedestrians toward these shuttles.

  • During both the pre-race rush and the post-race exodus I received a number of calls from friends looking for cab rides.

    This is a tough request to balance: On the one hand I seek to earn as much as possible during my shift while I have access to the limited resource of a cab operating medallion and the vehicle, but on the other hand I want to help out friends who are having a hard time catching a cab, especially given the unusually high demand for cabs in the City. Balancing those desires is difficult.

    The best balance I have come up with is to offer a ride if I’m in the neighborhood. Here is the best reasoning I can muster:

    • The only time that these requests are made is when the City is extremely alive: demand for cabs is high which is usually correlated with traffic congestion. Thus, traveling to another ‘zone’ will cost at least 1, perhaps 2 fares since travel time is compounded by congestion.
    • By the time I finally move to the new zone, especially one far across the city, most likely that person would have been able to find a cab had they not been waiting for me. Or, in the worst case, they did find a cab and my effort is wasted.
    • Because the person is either a close friend or a friend of a good friend, I will charge them nothing, less than the meter, or, at the least, I won’t accept a tip. It’s a bit counterintuitive to recognize that the cost is not just the actual ride I gave them for free, but also the time required to change zones. Therefore the total cost could be as many as 2 or 3 fares, not just the 1 fare that I gave them for free. (2-3 fares is $15 – $45.)
    • The best compromise I can offer is to pick a friend up if I’m in the same zone, which is just a 1 fare cost assuming they aren’t charged.
  • After dropping the elderly Chinese couple in the deep Richmond, I knew I could easily find a fare on Balboa. But, as sometimes happens in times of extreme cab demand, I was a bit apprehensive about re-approaching the masses of humans hailing their hearts out.

    It’s a scene out of a classic zombie film: You’re the last human alive on Earth. As you drive through the urban wasteland, masses of brain-dead zombies try to attack your car, tearing at the loose rubber seams of your cab’s door jams with an unending murderous zeal to taste even a sliver of your as yet untainted human blood. This is what Balboa Street at 39th Avenue looked like Sunday afternoon after Bay to Breakers, at least in the eyes of this cab driver.

    I went a few blocks on hail-free Anza, making the plunge to Balboa-land around 37th Avenue. Every corner of 37th and Balboa bulged with ravenous taxi-hungry yuppies. One of the groups had a camera — a very expensive commercial grade TV camera. I aimed for them — chances are they wouldn’t be too drunk or ravenous. It turned out to be a crew shooting for an HD Net travel program. As they climbed in the 7 passenger van, a smaller group approached our cab to squeeze in and share the journey back downtown. “Can we come along too?” I deferred to the first group, “I have no problem with it, but I’ll defer to the first party and we’ll drop them off first.” We had a deal.

    The HD Net crew was heading back to their Fisherman’s Wharf hotel. To avoid as much traffic as possible I headed north on Park Presidio and swung around the Marina to the Fish Wharf. It was a great route. We chatted a bit about HD video equipment’s astronomical pricing. Their camera, without a lens, cost upwards of $40,000 — add $30,000 for a lens and you’re now carrying around a piece of equipment worth the value of a factory built house and lot in the super-suburbs of Indianapolis. We talked a bit about HD formats; there are still a number of tape-based formats battling for victory, but it appears that fight will be short-lived as the battles moves toward tapeless. I was intrigued; our additional passengers were not.

    The HD Net guys tipped me very, very well, handing me two twenties for a $18 fare. I did a good job aiming for potential passengers. I took the 3 remaining friends downtown to Union Square and charged them only the meter of the remaining distance. All parties were happy with the transaction. Including the elderly couple, I netted $80 from a quick out/in Richmond run. I look forward to future City event days. Pride weekend is coming up soon.

  • Just as I thought about the breakdown of the City’s overall transportation infrastructure to bring race goers home from the event, I thought specifically toward the breakdown of the cab infrastructure.

    Obviously, there is not sufficient supply given the outlandishly abnormal increase in demand. I am a big fan of the concept of peak medallions, or supplying a peak increase in supply at times of obvious demand increases. Another approach is to fiddle with pricing.

    I imagined one such approach: let’s say that people could call my cab company during times when it’s impossible to find cabs. On Sunday, during the B2B event, it was tough to get through at all, and even if the call was answered there just weren’t enough cabs to answer the flood of incoming requests. Most of the radio calls that were answered were airport runs (I answered a few on Sunday). Why are those responded to when others aren’t? The obvious answer is that airport runs net the driver a lot of cash for the amount of time invested.

    So, airport runs attract drivers even on a busy shift because it offers a higher than average (guaranteed) payoff. Why couldn’t this work for extremely urgent intra-City runs?

    Driving down a street with hails at every corner doesn’t give me any information, aside from instant surface judgments, about the degree to which each person really needs a cab. Instead of trying to guess which waiting customer really needs a cab, a simple method would be to increase the price of cabs, or offer the chance for customers to make clear if they are willing to pay more. Customers could call dispatch and be clear that they are comfortable paying double meter. Drivers would be more willing to pass up street hails to answer double meter dispatch calls.

  • I took a New York family from a restaurant to their son’s USF graduation at the top of Nob Hill at the Masonic Center.

    The dad and I talked on the ride about why it was so tough to find a cab, why the City’s cab fleet has a hard time expanding to peak demand, how NYC has a power of ten more cabs (15,000 vs. 1,500), how a peak medallion system would be difficult to implement but would be labor friendly, and how indecision to act on a solution hurts residents and visitors of the City.

    As I dropped them off he said, “You’ll do well.”

    “Today?” I asked. “It’s been a good day given all the City events.”

    “No, you’ll do well in the rest of your life.”

    Thanks for the compliment, NYC dad.

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One Response to More Bay to Breakers

  1. Pingback: Driving Bay to Breakers « kfarr

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