Amid BART Negotiations, Occupy Dings Rideshares

Photo of BART logoPhoto by Wilson Tai.

En Español.

For many in the city, this week’s conversations have centered on how to get to work if BART workers strike. But for members of the Occupy Forum, the BART negotiations offered a prime opportunity to discuss the history of labor unions and their future in a tech economy.

The night’s title set the tone: Brutal and Unequal: Disruption, Precarity, and the New Tech Boom. Front and center was the one viable option many commuters had for getting to work should BART strike — the multitude of rideshare programs such as Lyft, Sidecar and Uber that allow ordinary car owners to work as freelance taxi drivers.

Viewed by many as a positive way to earn a supplemental income, the speakers on Monday evening described rideshare apps as tech’s way of subverting the unions.

“Rideshare is a completely unregulated industry and does not pay fees to the city,” Darwin Bond-Graham, a writer and sociologist, told the room of two dozen labor supporters. “They are robbing the public coffers.”

He argued that traditional cabs pay fees to the city through medallion sales, thereby generating revenue for the city’s transportation infrastructure.

Co-presenter Ryan Smith, a former Zynga employee, offered an “insider’s look” at what he viewed as the efforts of tech companies to keep employees from organizing. One of Smith’s biggest complaints was the improper use of contract workers — the standard practice of rideshare companies that contract with car owners rather than hire full-time drivers.

“These are not young, scrappy kids challenging the establishment,” Bond-Graham told listeners, categorizing the rideshare companies as more akin to large corporations than young entrepreneurs.

No one listening appeared to disagree.

“You have these [rideshare] drivers that have no union protections like the BART unions can give to their employees,” Javier Arbona, who teaches urban field studies at Berkeley, said after the forum. “The CEOs at tech companies would like to see the trains completely mechanized, and bust the union that way.”

For Arbona, looking at the pay of the chief executives at the city’s largest tech companies versus the wages being requested by BART workers, makes all the difference. “I think the BART union is fighting for something that’s worthy,” he said.

But, the question of whether Missionites will be contemplating the labor practices of ridesharing companies or simply hustling to find their own way to work come the next BART deadline seems to have already been answered by the boom rideshares experienced during July’s shutdown — Sidecar alone reported a 40 percent increase in business during the summer’s shutdown.

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  1. Old Mission Neighbor

    Short answer:
    If cabs in this city were any good and there were enough of them, non of these ride-share companies would be in business.

    Long answer:
    The cab companies artificially restrict the number of cabs that are on the streets. It’s hard to get one in even the busiest parts of the city, and almost completely impossible in the quieter areas. Compare this to NYC, where you can walk up to any intersection, stick out your hand, and get a taxi within 10 seconds – literally.

    The funny thing is, since SideCar, Lyft, and Uber have come to the city, I’ve noticed a dramatic improvement in the taxi system.
    > Almost all cabs take credit card now (3 years ago, I had multiple drivers yell at me for not having cash).
    >Cabs are cleaner now than they used to be.
    >There are more empty cabs than before.

    All of these improvements have actually made me use cabs more often. If the taxi numbers increased the number of cabs on the streets, and made ordering one easier, I’d go back to using cabs exclusively.

    It’s on the cab companies. They are only the ‘victim’ because of their own shady practices and terrible business strategy. Don’t blame the ridesharing companies for solving a consumer problem and innovating.

    • endangered species

      Agree 100%

      I would further add that an efficient car sharing system (taxis, city car share, Uber, etc.) would have huge benefits for the city by allowing many people to give up car ownership, yet still have quick point-to-point transportation.

      When car ownership goes down, fewer parking spaces are occupied, so all parking becomes easier, and additional bike lanes can be created without adverse impact.

      More, and safer, biking further reduces care ownership, a positive feedback.

      We’ll know we have a good car sharing system when we can get a ride from anywhere in the city at any time (including Saturday evenings) within 5 minutes, for a reasonable fee.

      • C. Russo

        With more and more private citizens driving around waiting to be hailed, the streets are more clogged than ever. Look at how many brand-new cars are doing it. These are full-time jobs for many of these kids.

        Just curious. What do you do when you’re injured in a so-called rideshare (which is more likely to happen with an inexperienced driver)? You’ve already waived any claims by clicking the terms of agreement.

        Google “uber divisadero” and “uber rape.”

        • Valenchia

          Do you have any evidence that the streets are more clogged than every because of car shares? I certainly haven’t noticed it.

          Why are you trying to scare people away from these services? Are you a taxi cab company owner?

          The fact is that the taxi cab companies have worked hard to perpetuate a monopoly by limiting taxi medallions in the City. They own these medallions and the City gets no benefit from them. And the drivers who have to rent the medallions in order to drive end up making very little.

          Please explain why such a system is good for anyone other than the taxi cab companies?

    • Carol-O

      I am happy you are taking more cabs! However, you do not have the cause/effect right with regards to taxi service. The difficulty in finding a cab is a logistics issue not # of cabs. I drive only weekend nights and you will find me empty abnout 1/4 to 1/3 of the time because I am driving to find a fare. If

  2. Robotic

    “The CEOs at tech companies would like to see the trains completely mechanized, and bust the union that way.”

    You mean have them run via programs so that there wouldn’t be any delays? Yeah, that would suck…

    • Valenchia

      Imagine if MUNI buses were powered by driver-less software technology and the existing subsidies could be used to expand the hours and reach of MUNI rather than paying labor costs.

      Would your life in San Francisco be better or worse?

    • C. Russo

      Wow! Hard data. Had not seen this before. Thanks!

    • Valenchia

      Umm the “hard data” that is refered to seems to be pretty irrelevant. The author refers to the taxi industry as a “competitive industry” ignoring the fact that entry into the industry is tightly regulated and designed to prevent competition.
      The result is that taxi cab companies make money and their drivers work hard for very little.
      Maybe those drivers will be able to make more working for Uber or Lyft. I am willing to let them try, but the author of the blog seems content with them remaining beholden to taxi cab companies.

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  4. Dave Schneider

    I personally met with Willie Brown in May of 1997 and proposed centralized gps dispatching of all cabs so the passenger could get the nearest available cab regardless of company, he slammed his hand on the table calling it a no-brainer. I tried to get follow up meetings on this but he did Jack Ship.**

    Gavin Newsom in two state of the city addresses endorsed a substantially similar plan but also did Jack Ship.

    When it was proposed continually and repeatedly to the SFMTA board especially to Tom Nolan they dawdled for years and are now talking about a centralized taxi app. Chris Hayashi de facto SFMTA director of taxis has known about it for years, too and is moving at snails speed. Hey what can she do — she’s trapped in illusory reality too and you can’t fault her for being no Harry Bridges or Cesar Chavez. Plus she’s up against the powers that be in the SFMTA and perhaps taxi service isn’t as big a deal as taxi revenue for the SFMTA. I could be wrong. I really don’t know.


    The Transportation Network Companies now threaten to destroy taxi service and the livelihood of real drivers, the taxi drivers, who do the heavy lifting often carrying between six and nine thousand passengers a year and driving 36,000 miles a year or the distance to the moon in seven years. Taxicabs have a track record of picking up the poor — not just the better off; they pick up at the Safeway and General Hospital. The pink mustached Lyfts and also the Ubers etc [Transportation Network Companies or TNCs according the CPUC] are lightweights without the chops and track record, but their big bucks founders can throw the money around. That’s Jack Ship, too.

    * note: I think I may have misspelled JackShip!

    David Schneider
    co-founder UTW for id only

  5. sf24hr

    If the companies on a mission to disrupt labor succeed, they will find their customer base too broke to participate and the value of real estate will drop.

  6. soraia

    Compare to other categories of job the are in good position , I guess many people are jobless and would work happy without any changed!

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