November 2013 Report On the San Francisco Taxi Industry
by Christopher Fulkerson

Return to the TAXI ESSAYS PAGE
Return to the CF HOME PAGE

Christopher Fulkerson Speaks
Simulcast Imagery
CF Speaks against "Peak TIme" medallions
and against SFMTA Misappropriation of funds
Meeting of the SFMTA Board, March 1, 2011
Photograph and Image Title by Ed Healy

CLICK HERE for a standard PDF of this Report

The report is eight pages long including a title page.




Verifone is going to get us cab drivers into big trouble with the Internal Revenue Service.    If the IRS believes Verifone when it tells them I drive $30,000 shifts, I’m sunk.    Head’s up, cab drivers: such astonishing inaccuracy is happening, now.

The worst-case-scenario we previously imagined has been exceeded, by far.   Those nightmare 1099s might already be in the print queue.

Crying foul about the dispatch companies is not limited to the drivers.  Director Christiane Hayashi of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has stated that “These vendors contribute a lot to our problems when they can't perform.”

We all know that dispatch is the true problem in the taxi industry.   Cab companies resist up-to-date dispatch technology that would encourage the public to realize that it is dispatch, not more cabs, that gets cab orders filled.   The motivation of the cab drivers is the motivation that matters.  

In my direct observation as a cab driver of 23 years experience, Taxi Magic is the most realistic and effective dispatch system available, but so far only Luxor uses it.   Flywheel too is legal, but it is run by geeks who don’t know - and steadfastly don’t care - what it’s like in the field.   For sending one order on, Flywheel put me offline for five hours.   I won’t use them.   They cannot possibly be a real business: they actually and severely PUNISH their customers, the drivers.   I once had a Flywheel employee in my cab.   He didn’t know how to operate the device.

Uber and Lyft arose because of the service vacuum that the cab companies encouraged in their gambit to spin all problems to the tune of “more cabs are what is needed.”    The worst dispatch is of course Yellow Cab.   You have to allow me to tell at least one cab story.   I drove some guys to the St. Francis Yacht Club recently.   One of them exuberantly remarked that “Yellow Cab’s phone number is easy to remember.   It’s Trace Trace Trace, Trace Trace Trace Trace.”    Sure, I thought, after all this time, I have finally been told, straight up, and by the way, thanks.   That would explain the incredible delays at Yellow.   In the current climate, maybe we should speculate that their orders are going through the NSA before being filled.

What every driver should know is going on is the absolutely astonishing inaccuracy of Verifone’s record keeping.   As Miss Hayashi has said “Verifone is notorious for being wildly inaccurate and completely unresponsive.”   And the type of problem that I have found is happening at Verifone could be happening with other record-keeping services.   You’d better check on yours, or you may be billed way too much in tax.

When the day finally came last June that we switched to electronic waybills, I was at first quite pleased.   

Verifone’s web site for drivers to access their work records is called Taxitronic.   I began to go to Verifone’s Taxitronic site and print up my waybills every week or two.    This worked for awhile.   It is another chore that increases the off-duty office work of the job.   But it frees up my time on the road, so I am not double parked in front of other drivers, getting honked at, and running possible safety risks.  

These problems couldn’t be avoided before.   We were required by law to write our waybill entries, and only by writing fares down on the spot can reliable waybills be created.   Electronic waybills were supposed to make things better, not worse.

I am on record for having said at an SFMTA Board meeting that I represent the extreme right of waybill accountability.   Because I want to have that shoebox full of receipts ready for any IRS audit, I have always kept carbon copies of my waybills for at least the necessary seven years.   I am ready to testify to Congress that my waybills have always exceeded 99% accuracy.   I do have a shoebox ready to put the receipts in for dramatic effect, but of course in reality I keep them in a file cabinet.

During the clamor, a year and two ago, against electronic waybills, which all reasonable people understood as the last stand of that type of driver who doesn’t want to pay taxes, I did agree with the opposition that we should wait until the technology was perfected before we switch to it.   At that time, the agreed-upon worst-case scenario seemed to be that since we knew the machines sometimes had to be told twice about the most recent transaction, we might be double-booked for our work, and have 1099 forms that were “wildly” inaccurate.

Then I discovered that Verifone thinks that on July 20 I drove a $1776.05 shift.   How patriotic of me.  

And on September 12, Taxitronic reports I drove a $30,032.14 shift.    That waybill is 101 pages long.    A 70-page waybill beginning September 27 states I drove a $20,727.14 shift.

These shifts last many days, and overlap in time.    They are obviously humanly impossible, and if they were driven, it would have to be in teams.   If they show up in records the government needs to look into, either the driver will be automatically and erroneously billed, or the appearance of team driving, involving some kind of crooked dealing between drivers, would possibly merit investigation.   If that one $30,000 waybill were correct, I might be billed for something like $92,000 of driving income - $20,000 more than my best gross yet, including medallion income.   But if all such waybills were believed, and that is far more likely in a fully automated environment, then maybe I would be taxed for many hundreds of thousands of dollars I haven’t earned!   I can only hope an auditor would believe I hadn’t worked every shift, day and night, for 365 days in the year.   I don’t want to be in the situation of having to make such a defense.

We were right about one thing: we are being double-booked for some fares.  

I am not the only one to whom this is happening; at least two other medallion holders at Metro Cab have requested explanations of these problems.   So it seems probable that a lot of drivers are being charged with having driven all the shifts and all the fares of their cabs, whether they drove those shifts or not.   The likelihood is that many drivers would be billed for driving the same fares.  

Anyone who logs in to an inaccurate waybill accounting situation is in danger of being told they owe for everything that they, and everybody else, did.   It is strangely opposite a computer hacking situation: an innocent logon reveals atrocious claims.   But you can’t avoid the problem, if it is in the works.    For example, things could get worse.

I hope it is clear by now that I am right and the machine is wrong.   I didn’t drive a $30,000 shift, not even a $1776 shift, in 23 years, never once even close to a quarter of that!   I am writing this to anticipate the possibility of a correspondingly inaccurate 1099 form being issued about me, or anyone else.

I have reason to be nervous about the taxman getting the wrong data: twice now in the last month the State of California has tried to claim I didn’t pay my taxes.   I am able to send copies in easily, but this isn’t a good sign.   If the State can think me a flake, the Feds can think that.   If the Feds can think that, they might decide that it is better to ask questions first and trust me later.   In practice that could mean an audit now, a release later.

I’m not trying to be incendiary about Verifone.   We drivers need to give one another a head’s up in situations like this.   In the second part of this article I will report some of the correspondence of which I am aware, including from Verifone.

But the danger has not been resolved, and everyone who wants to be up to speed about their work needs to know about the possible problem with inaccurate, and I mean VERY inaccurate, 1099s.

I hold Medallion 43.   I hang my shingle at Metro Cab, where the Office Manager is a very capable fellow named Perry.    As soon as I began getting bad waybills, Perry began writing to Verifone.   Miss Hayashi’s assessment seems quite correct: Verifone ignored him for a long time.   He copied a lot of emails to me, so I know he tried to bring Verifone in on their error.

When I saw I could be taxed on a $30,000 I didn’t make, I told Perry about it, and in addition to again writing to Verifone, he spoke to Hansu Kim of DeSoto Cab, whom everybody knows has had an association with Verifone.   On October 30 Hansu said he would talk to the Verifone people, specifying he would do it that very day.   Whether their response a week later was due to Hansu’s intervention or not, I don’t know, but I know Hansu is no slouch.   Ed and I had already been talking about my writing this report.   A short notice about the problem might be found at Ed’s blog:


The waybill situation at Taxitronic is utterly, hopelessly messed up.   The site is worse than useless, it’s mendacious.

The Taxitronic site has lately been incapable of allowing downloads of waybills.   I have been able to get one or two waybills maybe, and not just any waybills, only the ones they allow, and after one or two then you get the message “You’re done, no more for now, come back later, maybe.”

When you search for a waybill, you are given a calendar to use to find it.   But the calendar is the wrong calendar.   You don’t go to a different place to get the correct calendar.   You have to ask again, the same way exactly, several times, and then it will change its mind and give you the correct calendar.   This is not supposed to be the computeroid methodology, but this is what happens.   I had to find this out by trial and error.   There is an “Exit” button with which to sign out, but when you “Exit,” the site doesn’t sign you out.

Any hacker who has made it as far as to see even one single driver’s Taxitronic screen could then walk right in to the whole Verifone computer system.

Once this article had been through one round of peer review, and I had given time to Taxitronic to clean things up, I went back to Verifone.   On November 17, I downloaded what should have been my November 14 waybill, on a document that erroneously said it was created on November 18.   (I won’t accept EST on my documents: correct for time zones or be a schmuck.)   This wrong document says it is for the time period “Start Shift 11/14/2013 16:53 pm” to “End Shift CURRENT.”    Current seems to mean current: I got a document that goes from November 14 right up to November 17.

It says I made $1498.    There’s a major misunderstanding here: that’s the year of Columbus’s Third Voyage.   I understand he was thrown in chains that time.   I’m getting nervous.   I’ve gone from a patriotic 1776 to a Columbian 1498.    Along the way there is a minimum of $50,000 I didn’t earn but might be called upon to explain… and pay for.

Taxitronic has no “Contact Us” button.   Even without inaccuracies this is unacceptable.    As Doctor Waybill Accountability, my diagnosis is, we’re all going to be in deep doodoo if Verifone doesn’t bring Taxitronic up to speed.

I know the blue light of that Verifone unit is burning my right to the tune of $30,000 inaccuracies.   And I am telling you about it so you can find out whether you are also getting similarly zapped.

And now, some words from our vendor.

About this whole fiasco, Verifone’s Nestor Guzman says “Driver may forget to log off, or the unit auto powers off before logging off and the shift remains open indefinitely.”

Guzman’s ungrammatical words are of course partly an attempt to blame the drivers for Verifone’s programming gaffe.   I really don’t think there are many drivers who go two weeks without signing off, or even two days. 

It is important to note that there aren’t any banking errors in this mix.   That means that Mr. Guzman’s explanation doesn’t quite add up.   If it were as simple as Mr. Guzman says, then banking problems would also occur.   But the shifts are all being registered correctly, as far as payments are concerned.   A subpoena to my checking account will reveal I’m telling the truth, but in a cash-dominated industry I have to fear such an inquiry would not even suffice.    And again, I don’t want to be in that position.   I thought that being honest all along was going to work.    I hope it does, but as I say the Franchise Tax Board has twice asked me for proof I( have paid.

There is also the response to Verifone that it should not even be possible for more than one driver to be booked into a cab.   “Always blame the cab driver” is a refrain we are used to hearing.

Guzman went on to say “In the case of Mr. Fulkerson waybill, we found a problem with the logic as even though the previous shift is being closed automatically, there are several other open shifts (no close date/time) such as the one from 09/12/2013 which although accurately reflected all the trips for the period printed, it did not reflect a single shift as it was intended.   [Some material below.]
b.      Proposed solution: VTS system will automatically scan and closed all open shifts whenever a new shift is opened.    [This didn’t occur to you until now?]
c.       We are also in the process to manually closed all open shifts with the date of the next open shift in order to eliminate the issue.”

The problem has not been resolved as Guzman says.   I’ll say that more directly: the manual closing of open shifts is not being done.   

We’ve given Verifone a bit more time to clean up it’s act, and it hasn’t done so.

There is the resounding fact to consider that Verifone should never have claimed a place in the market if it did not have a reliable accounting method.   There is the obvious indication that if Verifone can’t be any more accurate than this, it ought to be out of the local industry entirely.

We should expect that we don’t get crazy 1099s.   They should not be in business if they can’t provide them.   We cannot even count on waybills that will convince the IRS we’re not blatant liars.   I advocate transparency about earnings, because I want to be credible.   Verifone is mucking up the work that those of us who cared to were once able to do correctly by hand.

Even with his claims that have not been made good, Guzman is not on the same page with us yet.   He has reported “In some rare occasions the Pulsar meter sends unusually large fare amounts which then are send to our backend as part of the trip log altering the total dollar amounts for the shift.  

  1. Proposed solution: VTS system will actively monitor for any trip over $1000.00 and void it before it makes it into the reporting tool.”

The problem with this is that (if Guzman even made these changes he said he’d make) only single fares over $1000 are perceivable by the system as possibly incorrect.    So any $900 or $700 fares are going to make it onto the waybill and into your 1099, no problem.

I suggest that figure should be a lot less than $1000.

Or maybe he means not “fare amounts” but “shift amounts.”    I reckon the ceiling of possibility of a cab shift to be $700 – about one dollar a minute, plus room for error.   (Not that I have even once in 23 years come sufficiently close to that myself.)   That just seems to me a better theoretical ceiling – and not for any fare, but for a whole shift.   I would be interested to learn whether it is even possible to drive for ten hours with meter on, and the figure to approach $1000.

You are what you do.   As the Romans used to say, “the sower sows the field, the field works the sower.”  (In Latin, that’s the palindrome “Sator arepo tenet opera rotas.”)   Since I have some sense of the larger implications of these cab errors, I have to ask: what life events do these crazy claims, like the $30,000 I supposedly took in, correspond with?

I mean, what events besides a 1776 revolution and a 1498 trip to America.

I don’t believe that these inaccuracies are without effect, even when they don’t get onto a 1099.   Any business engaged in shift work can get into the groove of making money by passing the buck.   If one way to understand a job is that it is a task that begins from the moment of someone else’s failure, and if shamefully kept records say you have more against you than you do, then from the moment of your supposed failure, someone may be “doing you.”   Your life could be wrong not from the moment of a real problem but from the moment you are blamed in any way.   In the cab industry, there is the possibility of the reordering of a variety of possible timelines -  there are times I think that’s what we really are all about.

But all speculations aside, one thing can be said: Shame on you, Verifone.   Bad Verifone.   Bad, bad Verifone.


First posted November 18, 2013.