SF supervisor turns to Uber to help public housing residents


Supervisor Malia Cohen met with a group of grandmothers Wednesday to hear their complaints about the decaying public housing on Potrero Hill.

"It's hard to get a cab up here any time, morning noon or night," said Turner Terrace resident Stella Scott.

Though many taxi fleets are based in that neighborhood, the seniors there say drivers don't want to come to the projects.

"They say no," said Scott. "Or sometimes they just turn around and come in and go right back on out."

Another resident added, "It takes them forever to get here, sometimes they get robbed."

Now with reduced bus service in the area, Stella Scott has become somewhat of a chauffeur to the neighbors.

"If they need to go to the doctor, I take 'em to the doctor," she said. "They pay the gas. And then if the car is disabled, then we all are in trouble."

But Supervisor Cohen brought along a guest who said, "I work for Uber. It's a tech company that connects riders with drivers via a smartphone app."

Yes, Uber. First known for hailing town cars, and now for getting a cheap ride in your neighbor's hybrid, says it has some 800 drivers in this part of the city. And they're not afraid to pick up here.

"I can't speak directly to what taxis see in terms of foul play," said Senior Operations Manager Brian Tolkin. "But yeah, we certainly see very very low rates of incidents."

Tolkin says Uber doesn't use cash, and the app records names of drivers and passengers. But that's not the only reason Supervisor Cohen's interested.

"Just because you live in public housing doesn't mean you're not inclined to have that entrepreneurial spirit," Cohen said.

Uber has a financing program to help new drivers buy cars, even with bad credit.

"The weekly payments automatically get deducted for them so they don't have to worry about that," Tolkin said. "And it's a great system that has enabled a lot of people to start their own business on Uber."

It could mean opportunity for unemployed residents.

"They do need jobs," a resident said. "Maybe it'll keep them from stealing and breaking into folks cars."

And maybe even a more reliable ride for Stella Scott.

Several cab companies told ABC7 they do serve the city's southeastern neighborhoods. But they concede there are places where some drivers don't feel safe.

Supervisor Cohen wants to bring them to one of these meetings soon.

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