For reasons far too boring and stupid to recount here, I spent a lot of the weekend driving around San Francisco and environs. I actually don't drive all that much and when I do it's pretty much the exact same route - our house to day care or preschool - so I don't see a lot of the town. On all my perambulations around the City this weekend, I was hit by one recurring thought: HOLY SHIT, THERE ARE A LOT OF UBER/LYFT CARS OUT HERE.
"A lot" doesn't mean much, so I did what any Junior Scientist would do and decided to count. First, a couple of definitions: an "Uber/Lyft car" will hereby be defined as an car with a visible Uber or Lyft placard (or, most commonly, both) in the window. 90% of the time, in my experience, anyone with a smartphone bracket on the front widshield just above the dash is also one but I'm being strict and requiring the telltale logo.
I decided to start counting yesterday, a seemingly normal Sunday, and I happened to be at 26th and Bryant when I started. I went from 26th and Bryant to Ocean Beach, taking a not particularly direct path. Behold, the route:
OK, now for the fun part. (Or, I guess, the "fun" part). How many Uber/Lyft cars do you think I counted on a normal Sunday afternoon in San Francisco going roughly across town? 20? 30? More?
Not even close. I counted 61. And that's just the ones I counted while also driving! I could have easily missed some. 61 seems a lot to me. For comparison, during that same drive I saw 6 cabs, and 4 of those were on Polk while I was stopped at the light. Polk is a very big cab street!
There were so many Uber/Lyft cars that my guess would be they represented 1 out of every 4 to 5 cars I saw. Sometimes they even appeared in bunches. Here are two in a line waiting to turn left at California and Hyde.
Another time I was boxed in by 3 of them at once, one in front and one on each side. It was vaguely frightening! What if they decided to use their powers for evil?
So my first question is "How did all the people using all these Uber/Lyft cars get around before these services existed, back in the Dark Ages of 2003?" Three answers spring to mind: (1) For one thing, there are about 100,000 more San Franciscans than there were in 2000, so these new services are needed to transport all the shiny new SFers to and from their coding stations and food delivery incubators; (2) They took cabs or Muni or walked; and (3) People didn't go as many places because life wasn't as interesting in 2000.
I don't know. I DO know that a lot of these Uber/Lyft cars drive like complete assholes. I had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting one that blithely drifted into my lane on Franklin going about 35 miles an hour. They routinely just stop wherever they happen to be and throw on the hazards, not giving a single fuck about the line of cars behind them, which is one thing if you're on deserted 28th and Noriega and quite another if - as I saw this weekend - you're on very crowded Fell Street, which is essentially a three-lane freeway with timed lights and on which any impediment immediately causes a blocks-long backup. And so on.
I'm not advocating getting rid of Uber and Lyft. I've used their services and may do so again in the future. But it seems a little crazy that we've allowed this many essentially unregistered cabs to flood the streets with no screening process or driver safety and etiquette class or anything. 61 cars in a relatively short time is a lot.