Taxi drivers and their allies rallied on Thursday at the California Public Utilities Commission to protest against the unlimited expansion of robo-taxi companies, Waymo and Cruise. The state body will decide on July 13 whether the two companies’ self-driving cars can ferry paying passengers around all of San Francisco.
“We’re here to send a message to the CPUC: put the brakes on Waymo and Cruise!” Mark Gruberg, member of the SF Taxi Worker Alliance, said to an attentive crowd Thursday at 10 a.m., standing on the steps of 505 South Van Ness Ave.
Cab drivers and gig workers expressed concerns with the inequality inherent in the ride-hailing system: Taxi drivers, for instance, have been required for decades to pay tens of thousands of dollars for medallions to carry passengers around San Francisco. Waymo and Cruise will not be subject to the same fees.
“Cab drivers had to pay $250,000 for a taxi medallion to operate a taxi cab in San Francisco,” said Marcelo Fonseca, a cabbie with over 30 years of experience. “Why isn’t there a level playing field? It’s unfair.”
And, city-wide, cab drivers are “still struggling to pay for these medallions,” he argued. Medallion debt, which made headlines in New York in 2018 with cab drivers facing debt-related suicides, is a significant concern, Fonseca said.
Waymo and Cruise have faced significant pushback to their expansion plans in recent weeks: San Francisco transportation and planning officials sent a letter in early June to the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates robo-taxis, urging the state body to slow down the latest plan to allow unlimited expansion.
Waymo and Cruise vehicles have wandered into emergency scenes, despite police officers and firefighters warding them off, using flares and sometimes smashing the vehicles’ windows.
Others at Thursday’s rally worried that, like workers before them, they too would suffer job loss from the new technology.
“We’re concerned about how workers are included in the narrative and in the future of work,” added Carl Macmurdo, the president of the Medallion Holders Association (MHA), expressing concern about job displacement.
Escobar criticized the CPUC’s handling of the situation: “I don’t see this as being a public representation of the greater good of society. This appears to be pandering to the privatization of transportation.”
Protester Martin Kazinski echoed that concern. “We’re not against technology, we’re against technology benefiting few people.”
Another protester agreed: “We’re not saying that technology doesn’t have a place; we’re asking what the future of our work is.”