Uber Close to Deal for Partnership With San Francisco Taxi Outfit

SAN FRANCISCO – Uber’s plan to bring more taxis to its platform in the next few years could soon take another big step.

The company is close to concluding an agreement with San Francisco partner Flywheel Technologies to allow Uber passengers to make taxi calls through the Uber app in the city, according to a video presentation by four people familiar with the matter and the city’s transportation agency. Which was seen by The New York Times.

The next step is to approve the tweaks in the pilot program for the board of directors of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency at its April 5 meeting. The city’s transportation director will then need to authorize it, paving the way for Uber and Flywheel, an application used by various taxi companies in San Francisco to accept rides by hundreds of taxi drivers.

The deal will mark the sudden departure from years of fierce fighting between the two groups, following the announcement of a similar partnership between Uber and taxi companies in New York City last week. If approved by regulators, the partnership in San Francisco could begin in early May.

Uber has called the taxi industry corrupt and greedy, and a San Francisco-based taxi company once sued Uber in federal court, accusing it of violent price practices. Some taxi drivers are backing away from the idea of ​​a partnership, fearing that it will reduce earnings and make it more difficult for long-term taxi customers to get an affordable ride.

The agreement is particularly surprising as San Francisco, Uber’s hometown, is one of a group of cities that has aggressively opposed Uber’s business. California, along with other companies using gig workers such as Uber, Lift and Dordash, supported Proposition 22, a measure that gave gig workers some limited benefits but barred them from being fully employed. Although the move passed statewide in 2020, San Francisco was one of the few counties where a majority of voters opposed it, before a judge dropped it last year.

In recent years, Uber has partnered with taxi companies mostly outside the United States. The company said in February that it had added 122,000 taxis to its platform last year.

The taxi industry lost customers for ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lift even before the epidemic drastically reduced travel demand. The number of taxis operating during the epidemic dropped to 400 – from 1,300 – to 600 before recovery, the municipal transportation agency said. Joining Uber will give taxi drivers access to a much larger pool of riders, while Uber will have a supply in the form of hundreds of taxi drivers.

Last year, San Francisco approved a testing program that would allow passengers to get guaranteed upfront costs for ordering taxis using the app, such as how Uber and Lyft work. The goal was to help taxi drivers make more money, partly by dealing with a phenomenon called meter discomfort – the discomfort of seeing an increase in the price of a ride on a taxi meter in real time prompts riders to cancel trips or avoid calling a taxi. In the first place. If calculated using a meter, the upfront cost should be equal to the cost of the trip.

Now Uber wants to join the experiment with a twist: if San Francisco approves so-called “third-party dispatch services” like Uber to participate, Uber will require upfront costs from customers to obtain a taxi through its application. Will not be. Be like a metered taxi ride. That means they can charge the same as a normal UberX car ride, which is many times cheaper than a taxi ride.

Some San Francisco taxi drivers are worried that they will be offered cheaper rides that earn them only a few dollars. Others worry that the rising cost – while Uber raises rates in times of high demand – could keep current low-income taxi customers from getting a ride.

“That’s not right,” said Evelyn Angel, executive board member of the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance, which supports taxi drivers. She said she and other taxi drivers had heard about Uber’s involvement in the pilot program from the city’s transportation agency.

“Uber will have hundreds of full-time drivers on their platform,” Ms. But Angel said taxi drivers would not even be paid “per-ride fare which allows them to live a dignified life.”

Mufafak Mustafa, 53, who has been a taxi driver for decades and now also operates operations for flywheel taxis – a company that once sued Uber – said he thinks the Uber partnership will enrich taxi drivers and help save the fledgling industry. Will. A few cheaper rides, he said, would be offset by more demand.

Mr. Mustafa said. “More calls, more value and more money.”

George Lama, 60, a taxi driver in San Francisco for 20 years, said the partnership was needed because passengers now completely ignore taxis. He waits outside the hotel in a line of cabdrivers to pick people up, he said, but they order Uber instead.

Mr. Said the Lama.

In December, Hansu Kim, president and co-owner of the flywheel taxi-hailing app, told a panel at the Transportation Regulators Conference that the taxi industry’s approach to technology was like “dinosaurs that are still in the tarmac.” And he was talking to Uber to help taxi drivers reach ride-hailing customers.

Mr Kim said in a video of the meeting, which was seen by the Times.

Potentially Uber could benefit from the partnership by reaching out to hundreds more drivers; Although he said the number of drivers has increased in recent months after many people left during the height of the epidemic, many drivers still complain of low earnings and some said they have left the platform or started driving less as gas prices have risen. Have done.

The Municipal Transportation Agency says taxi drivers will also benefit. “The taxi industry is taking advantage of Uber’s large riding population and pushing it into the taxi industry,” he told taxi drivers at a recent zoom meeting seen by Forest Barnes, the agency’s transportation planner, The Times.

If taxi drivers see more money through partnerships, it may encourage some ride-hailing drivers to consider driving a taxi instead. But some taxi drivers are bald on the merger.

Marcelo Fonseca, 62, said he would do “empty driving” instead of participating in driving passengers for an Uber or lift. “My morals, ethics and principles will never allow me to be a part of it,” he said.

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