S.F. Cab Driver Weighs in on Competing With Uber, Lyft With New Documentary

Little did we know, when we were making our video comparing the experiences of a taxi driver and a Lyft driver, that the taxi representative was busy making his own hour-and-a-half documentary on the same topic.

John Han, who has been driving a cab in San Francisco for over 13 years, posted the video, called “Driving for Hire,” on YouTube Sunday.

It’s a deep dive into the multiplicity of issues that have surrounded the contentious battle in California (and much of the rest of the world) between the cab industry and ride-service firms Uber and Lyft over the past several years: insurance, wages, wheelchair access and something that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention -- the environmental cost of putting all those extra vehicles on the road.

And while you may not be surprised to find that a cab driver advocates, ultimately, for more regulation of the ride services (and interviews attorney Christopher Dolan, a well-known critic of the transportation network companies, who is suing Uber), he doesn’t spare taxi companies their share of the blame for the poor service that allowed  the upstart industry to emerge and eat their lunch.

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The documentary also addresses a longtime complaint of many cab drivers, and an issue we have covered in the past: the illegal custom, which some drivers say is obligatory at some companies, of “tipping” taxi dispatchers in order to be assigned a cab.

One of the more interesting segments, starting around 4:15, looks at the history of the relationship between San Francisco cab companies and drivers. Han talks to several drivers who toiled at the wheel in the 1970s, when drivers were employees and not just independent contractors for taxi outfits. Back then, the companies made them wear ties and slacks and banned facial hair, but drivers also enjoyed paid sick and vacation time and other benefits that are unheard of in the industry today.

Han did not talk to Uber or Lyft, but he says he did email Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, asking for an interview. Han says he never got a response.

It took Han about 10 months to complete “Driving for Hire.” His only experience working in video consisted of taking a crash course on the subject, and I asked him why he made the documentary.

“I felt some issues weren’t being looked at enough and addressed enough,” he said. “I wanted to emphasize some things, particularly around the disability issue. And it doesn’t seem like anyone on the regulatory or legislative side is in any hurry to determine the environmental impacts.”

As for the San Francisco cab industry these days, Han said he thinks it’s going to be a “good, prosperous” year, although he says some of his fellow drivers beg to differ.

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“Every time I tell them my business hasn’t been affected too badly, they say I’m one of the few."

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