By Chelsea Baer
Each day, a line of brightly colored taxicabs line up alongside the entrance of the San Diego Zoo. Ben Kanzi frequently drives his orange taxicab to the Zoo parking lot, where he waits to chauffeur families and tourists around the city.
Kanzi has been a taxi driver in San Diego for more than two decades. He is one of many cab drivers that have watched their business dramatically decline, especially in recent months.
In an age where nearly every industry is going digital to stay visible, the taxicab business is no exception. San Diego Yellow Cab has steadily lost riders and drivers to new-age ride-hail services. Their response? Evolve and innovate in order to stay relevant.
Round-the-clock taxi alternatives, Uber and Lyft rolled into the San Diego market around 2012 after launching their apps in cities across the country. Since then, the taxi industry has been financially impacted, losing almost a third of their business, forcing them to join the trend of app accessibility, said Dan Brand, San Diego Yellow Cab’s Director of Sale and Marketing.
The new crowded field of cab services have left some cab drivers calling for fair treatment.
“We are not against Uber or Lyft, okay. We’re just asking the city to make the same regulations as we have,” Kanzi said. “That’s all.”
Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego Yellow Cab came together as a coalition to create an app that competes with popular ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft.
“Ride Yellow gives you the availability to book the ride from your phone but you also have the extra insurance,” Brand said.
During his eight-year career with San Diego Yellow Cab, Brand has witnessed a lot of change in the taxi business including an exodus of taxi riders and drivers. Brand estimates that about 30 percent of traditional taxi riders have switched to using ride-hail services.
RideYellow is Yellow Cab’s official app, which puts taxicab transportation in the palm of the rider’s hand. The app is currently available in 20 cities across the country. It made its Southern California debut at the beginning of this year in response to the increased competition, according to Brand.
RideYellow essentially works the same way as competing apps, equipped with a GPS based pickup and drop-off options, driver information and easy payment methods.
Some features that set this taxi app apart include a cash-friendly option and a surge-free policy, ensuring a dependable rate.
Regulations that Kanzi wants to see made uniform involve insurance and licensing. San Diego Yellow Cab drivers must pay for commercial insurance that covers damages up to $1 Million. All insurance is not made equal, according to Brand.
“When it comes to public safety, I think [regulation] is really a necessity,” he said.
A complaint from Uber and Lyft riders is the unpredictable surge pricing, according to Brand. During holidays, special events and high-demand hours, the rates can increase. If there are more riders than drivers, the rate can reach more than double the standard rate, according to Uber’s website.
San Diego branch representatives from Uber declined comment and directed media inquires to their webpage.
While RideYellow offers a surge-free ride service, Uber and Lyft have a lower daily rate on average, about 90 cents per mile. The RideYellow App is a $2 per mileage rate all day, every day, according to the RideYellow website.
The RideYellow app is fully functioning. The hardest part, according to Brand, is advertising and reaching customers who are already accustomed to Uber and Lyft.
San Diego State University senior Maggie Sin, frequently uses apps like Uber and Lyft to travel around San Diego.
“What I really like about Uber and Lyft is the convenience factor,” Sin said. “I can be anywhere and it locates me, where exactly I am and how much it will cost.”
Sin was not aware of the RideYellow app but said she might consider using it the next time she encounters a surge fee from Uber or Lyft.
“I would be open to using it just to see how different it is, if there is a fare difference,” Sin said. “As long as it is a mobile app, I feel like I would be open to anything.”
Kyle Schneider, a graduating senior at San Diego State University, has been driving for Lyft and Uber for almost two years. What started as a side job ended up being a hobby he grew to enjoy.
As a busy college student, he appreciates the flexibility of working for Lyft and Uber.
“I like the freedom I have,” Schneider said. “ I get to drive my own car and work around my schedule.”
Aside from being able to earn money in his free time, Schneider also enjoys meeting new people.
“The thing that I like most is the ability to interact with a diverse crowd,” Schneider said. “Obviously, you don’t really know much about them aside from their name and a picture, but when they get in the car you can learn all types of interesting information from where they come from personal preferences and hobbies.”
As Uber and Lyft continue to grow in popularity and taxi drivers are losing almost a third of their business, one may wonder if taxi drivers would consider transferring to a company like Uber or Lyft?
That’s an easy question for Kanzi to answer, based on principle.
“I’m never going to be an Uber driver, personally,” he said. “I can’t say it for everyone, but for me, never.”
Others, like Schneider, think the transition in the taxi industry is just another technological shift.
“I think millennials and young people can utilize it more effectively and it fits their lifestyles so that’s why the transition has become integrated into society now, and I feel like progression is kind of inevitable,” Schneider said.