Cabdrivers in San Francisco now have yet another requirement with which to distinguish themselves from their generally loathed counterparts at Uber, Lyft and other app-driven ridesharing companies — a training course required along with their annual permit renewal.
The new mandate was set into motion after Chris Hayashi, deputy director of San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's Taxis and Accessible Services Division, concluded that the recurring online sexual harassment courses required of high-level managers could be applied to taxi drivers.
At the transit agency's board meeting Tuesday, Hayashi explained that the roughly hourlong training course would come at no cost to the driver and could be completed online at home instead of in the atrium at the agency's headquarters.
The refresher, required for drivers to renew their permit each year within a 90-day window, would include new regulations, information on bicycle safety and dangerous intersections, and maneuvers and customer service tips.
With nearly 8,000 taxi drivers and 5,000 active on a regular basis, the course creates an opportunity to reach each taxi driver once a year, Hayashi said.
"We are not trying to teach anybody how to be a taxi driver," she said. "We're just trying to communicate the regulation changes, and it's hard to get the changes out."
Agency board members approved the proposal, enabling Hayashi to begin looking for course providers.
Drivers had a range of reactions to the added requirement.
"Insane," said Bill Mounsey during public comment. "What can you possibly teach me that I don't already know about the taxi industry driving for 24 years? The pink-mustache cabs and Uber cars don't have to do anything, but there are more and more regulations on taxi drivers. It's just not right."
Fury over how lax The City's rules are for less-regulated services that compete via apps remained at the core of cabdrivers' complaints, but some saw the benefits of having a required course.
"The certification is another way to separate ourselves from Lyft and Uber," said Hansu Kim, president of DeSoto Cab Co., which has a 170-taxi fleet. "We are professional and the fact now is we have no standards of training. We are going the professional route and not the one where criminality follows."
In response to a handful of taxi drivers expressing feelings of insult that they need a course to teach them how to do their job, Hayashi reiterated that the word "training" is interchangeable with "outreach" and "communication."
"It's a communication opportunity for all drivers who haven't been in training 10, 25, 15 years," she said. "So that we can have a chance to reach out to them."