If there’s one thing the taxi cartel doesn’t like it’s unregulated competition. Of course, when it can cost anywhere from $250,000 to $1 million per taxi to get a piece of the pie, one can understand why cab drivers are willing to take extreme measures to protect their turf.
Earlier this week, cabbies created chaos at San Francisco International Airport as hundreds of taxis honked their horns and flashed their headlights and tail lights while circling the airport between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m., with most refusing to pick up passengers.
For about a half hour, between approximate 9:15 p.m. and 9:45 p.m., the slowly circling cabs created gridlock, backing up traffic on to nearby highways.
The protest was in response to technology-driven ride-service startups like Uber and Lyft that use untrained drivers in personal cars, summoned by smartphone apps. Taxi operators complain that the newcomers are barely regulated, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
A coalition of San Francisco taxi drivers, pleased with the impact of the protest, have vowed to bring more disruption to San Francisco International unless the airport director agrees to discuss their concerns that the ride services are being given an unfair advantage in serving the airport.
“That’s just a sample that we showed them,” said Harbir Singh, a taxi driver and board member of the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance, which organized the protest. “We will do it again and again, every now and then. They have to listen to us.”
The protest was the latest skirmish in the ongoing fight between San Francisco’s taxi industry and the technology-driven ride-service startups. Taxi operators complain that the newcomers are barely regulated while the ride-service operations argue that the cab industry is a monopoly in need of a shakeup.
In San Francisco and many other US cities, both big and small, taxi drivers have become frustrated as they see ride-sharing operations cut into their business while not being subject to the same heavy-handed government regulation.
“Until the last month or so, the services were officially banned from serving SFO, though many did anyway,” according to the Chronicle. “But beginning in October, the airport announced experimental 90-day agreements with ride-sharing companies Sidecar, Uber, Lyft and Wingz, allowing them to legally pick up and drop off passengers.”
But instead of cabbies working together to try to reduce regulation, which includes heavy entry fees – a medallion to operate a taxi in San Francisco, a regulatory requirement that keeps down competition, costs approximately $250,000 – they are looking to protect their government-backed monopoly by going after competitors who offer better deals for consumers.
Uber and companies like it argue that regulations intended for taxis don’t apply to a service no one could have envisioned when the laws were written, according to the Washington Post.
Consumers don’t seem to care what those laws say, anyway. They are seeking the best deal for their dollar, whether it be lower rates, better service or a combination of the two.
“The taxi industry warns that without medallions, cities will lose their control over an essential public service,” the Post added. “Uber counters that medallions have created a cartel that operates for its own benefit — and not in the best interests of the public.”
This battle isn’t over by a longshot. Too many taxi companies have millions of dollars tied up in government-mandated taxi medallions to stand aside and let Uber and their ilk push them aside.
Expect things to get uglier, much uglier, in 2015.