by Christopher Fulkerson

On April 27, 2015 this passenger fell forward onto a backseat credit card and entertainment unit when a cab driver had to brake suddenly to prevent an accident with a silver Prius that made a sudden illegal U-turn on Market Street. There was no collision, but the passnger had to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance.
Incident of Friday, April 27, 2015.
Courtesy of Metro Cab, LLC.
(This incident did not involve CF.)


CF's Composition Desk

Christopher Fulkerson, Ph.D.
at Metro Cab ca. 2013



The undersigned 495 individuals from all over the world have contributed their names to this petition which I created and circulated during 2014 and 2015.   These people are united in their belief that the extra credit card devices in the back seats of San Francisco taxicabs are a hazard and a nuisance.   The particular device about which these signatures were collected was the Verifone credit card and advertising unit, specifically the second, conspicuous and redundant unit in the back seat, but the complaint is not limited to the devices made by the Verifone company, it is against any and all such devices.

The signatures were of course all offered willingly; a (very) small percentage of persons given the opportunity to sign did decline to do so.   Few of those who declined to sign were actively in favor of the devices; most who declined specified they did so because of feelings against activism; or because they liked the credit card function of the device but not the advertising function (or the other way around) and could not sign because the petition specifies both.   There were no incidents of persons being strongly opposed to the circulation of the petition.   There were very many incidents of persons expressing immediate and extreme gratitude at being offered the chance to sign such a petition.

As the dates of the signatures indicate, in the first weeks of collection, many people signed, and this was because I was vigorous in my pursuit of signatures.  As the project wore on I gradually began to offer the petition only after the customer’s own prompting, usually in the form of an unsolicited verbal complaint made against the devices.   These public complaints against the back-seat devices were often very unambiguous and emphatic.

The SFMTA authorities have required the presence of these machines, claiming that they are a convenience to the public.

In general, the public quite strongly disagrees with the City authorities.

An especially small minority of passengers agreed with the claim made by Verifone representatives that there is some kind of security need for the passengers to have the option to refrain, should they wish to, from “surrendering” their credit cards to the driver.   In hundreds of interviews I have conducted, most members of the public do not understand this claim; it has to be explained to them.  Most persons found this claim to be simply absurd.   It is not lost on some drivers that it is insulting to cab drivers to be spoken of in such an untrusting way, by company representatives, by the business partners of the companies, and in their own presence by Verifone and other industry persons.

The Verifone representatives do not ask themselves how it is that persons who have just trusted their lives to a cab driver might at the end of a fare be so concerned about “surrendering” their credit card.   And when arguing in public debate in favor of their claim that credit card fraud is possible of cab drivers, the Verifone representatives had insufficient examples of credit card fraud in the San Francisco cab industry, they had to choose examples of credit card fraud in other industries!   I have witnessed one Verifone representative repeatedly use his own one, single bad experience with a waiter in a restaurant who defrauded him – and on this account (which evidently the SFMTA credits with greater veracity than that of drivers whose collective experience total hundreds of years), every cab in San Francisco now has, absurdly and unnecessarily, not one but two credit card machines in it.  The influence on the general good of one or two salesmen is really quite astonishing.  In fact, and as the public has a common sense about, cab drivers are merchants whose handling of their credit cards is done in full view of the customer.   There is little opportunity for the kind of fraud the Verifone representatives claim that their product is so desperately needed to protect the public from.

The only real advocates of the credit card and advertising devices are their makers and salespeople, and the politicians they have convinced by the sales talk.  The City authorities who have insisted on the devices’ installation are acting only in the interests of those who can make money from their use.   They are not, in fact, acting in the public interest.   Many customers simply do not want to see the screen in front of them, and very many have expressly stated that in the event of a sudden stop they would rather fall forward onto upholstery, not onto machinery.   I now feel another duty of the nuisance kind, to make sure that no passengers with children in their arms sit behind the machine, in order to prevent another worst-case scenario, of a baby’s head crashing into it.

That the devices are perceived as a safety risk is specified in the petition.   Many members of the public were in particularly strong agreement about this.  

As their occasional signing statements suggest, a large number of the signatories are emphatic in their feeling that negative aesthetic reasons are alone enough of a reason to prohibit the presence of the devices.

This is an important point, bearing on the economic difficulties cab drivers presently face, which supposedly the SFMTA wishes to remedy, and has even convened a Task Force to address.   In requiring these devices be installed, the City is forcing cabs to have an increasingly aesthetically unsatisfying interior, inconvenient in design and difficult to keep clean, loaded with cumbersome devices.   It becomes possible for the public to develop an understandable preference for the larger, more open, “comfort” style of the auto interiors of the illegal competition.   In this way City authorities are working against themselves, and are in fact working in the interest of the illegal vehicles they claim should be in their jurisdiction.  This gives the illegal vehicles a clear advantage with regard to the overall passenger experience, an advantage which the SFMTA is encouraging not merely by failing to solve the problem, but by enforcing policies which keep the cabs disadvantageously unattractive as vehicles in which to ride.   Their would-be oversight makes the bandit product more attractive than that of the cabs the City does oversee.   It’s almost as if the City were working for the bandits.

The City authorities are working against their own interests in a number of other ways.   One example of how they work against their own interests is that once the passengers begin to understand why the devices were in front of them, their reasons for cynicism about Government are galvanized.   Most customers feel that once again, Government has been found to be working against the real interests and preferences of the public, and in favor of big companies who only want to treat the cab as a marketplace.

The back-seat devices should be prohibited.   One credit card machine per cab is enough.  Drivers should not have to endure the deleterious effect the devices have on their working environment and on their relations with their passengers.   Some brands of the devices are more difficult than others to deal with.   And having the same conversation over and over about the damned devices is becoming incredibly boring.

Another serious safety concern that often arises is due to the inability of some passengers, especially intoxicated ones, to deal with the devices at all.   

This fact of daily work in cab operation reveals the extreme high ignorance and/or unconcern of the SFMTA “authorities” and the machine’s salesmen, the crude disregard of all these people for the actual effect of the implementation of their ideas and products on ordinary workers and customers.  The situation not infrequently becomes one of astonishing absurdities of inconvenience.   In the case of devices which work only in the back seat, it is too often necessary for the driver to get out of the cab, go to the back seat, open the door, and try to deal safely and courteously with the situation, all very possibly while double parked with safety and convenience concerns for one and all, but most especially for the driver, double parked with his right rear door stuck open, who knows where.   Cabbies who are required by law to let their passengers out where they ask to be let out can find themselves in locations of the utmost inconvenience and real or possible illegality, only to discover that their passenger is too slobbering drunk to operate the credit card device and that they must then get out and walk around the cab to operate the credit card machine for them.   That sort of situation in turn invites predatory behavior of onlookers and impatience and discipline from the police.  

In some quite different cases, adults may prefer to sit up front, and have their children sit in the back, and when it comes time to pay, much confusion arises, if the credit card machine only works in the back seat, as in the case of the machines used by CitiWide cab.   Far from not desiring to “surrender” their credit card to their driver, these customers are quite surprised to have to hand their credit card to their child in the back seat, who likely as not cannot deal with the device.   No SFMTA “authorities,” cab company executives, or credit card machine manufacturers seem the slightest bit concerned about the inconvenience vested by their policies onto these very common situations, which all come about because supposedly the cab drivers can’t be trusted to hold a credit card in their hands – after driving them on the streets and highways!

These problems are all compounded with passengers who do not speak English.   I appeal to administrators to consider that they are creating complete nightmares for cab drivers trying to help drunk, non-English speaking foreigners to figure out how to use the device, when double-parked in the Tenderloin or wherever in the middle of the night.   It is really unreasonable to insist the passengers do it all themselves; very, very few think there is any advantage in this.   The devices are just a plain awful nuisance.   What an extraordinary amount of trouble has ensued because a few salesmen convinced City administrators that it is unsafe for a customer to just hand the driver a credit card.

The net effect of all this is that the lack of street-level awareness which the City demonstrates, and which on the street seems completely obvious, acts to galvanize passenger and driver alike against the impracticality and imperious ignorance of City government.   Claiming to work for the public, the politicians are making enemies of them.

This petition proves that the San Francisco cab passengers do not appreciate or agree with the claims of City government on this matter, and view it as one more example of government tailoring its activities to corporations and not themselves.   The claims of drivers opposed to the devices are supported by these passengers’ signatures.  The 495 people who have signed this petition express the opinion of many more passengers and drivers who agree with its content, to wit that the back-seat devices should be disallowed from San Francisco taxicabs.

The cab interiors are the cab drivers’ workspace, workspace the drivers themselves pay for, and should have complete authority about.   It is wrong for the City and the companies to repeatedly disregard the preferences of the drivers about just what use shall be made of the cabs which the drivers lease and spend so much time in.

This petition is part of a project to make the public and authorities aware of the deleterious effect of public policy on the cab industry.   One part of this project is to refute City Hall’s claims about the usefulness or even benevolence of the slipshod reliance being made on computer-assisted taxi operations.   All the problems cab drivers anticipated the computers could cause in everyday operations have occurred, and some things are far worse than we feared.   We knew there would be double-billing; we got double-billing.   We knew the computer firms would misrepresent our work on IRS forms; that is what they are doing, cramming the work of many drivers onto one IRS sheet.   We have gotten waybills claiming we made $30,000 in a single a shift.   When we complained, Verifone disallowed our inspection of the situation.   We are now denied access to the records of our own work.   Further aspects of Verifone’s intransigence and uncooperativeness, withholding of information and gross falsification of business records, maintenance of poor standards of web site accessibility, and other problems, have been and will continue to be dealt with in other components of this project, which includes a report to the Better Business Bureau, and website, Facebook, and blog reports.

Christopher A. Fulkerson, Ph.D.
Composer and Cab Driver
Member, SFMTA Taxi Task Force
July 4, 2015