Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Jitney Stand at 18th and Castro in 1915

Jitneys at 18th and Castro, July 12, 1915. Detail of SFMTA photo U04909. SFMTA Photo |

On a Monday afternoon, July 12, 1915, United Railroads photographer John Henry Mentz set up his camera on Castro street at 18th and took a photograph of the intersection:

SFMTA Photo U04909. SFMTA Photo |

He then moved his camera to the north side of the intersection, and took another photo, facing south:

SFMTA Photo U04910. SFMTA Photo |
Mentz was just interested in the details of the tracks in the middle of the street, but fortunately for us his camera also captured the wealth of street-life that characterized San Francisco in that era. Castro was pretty lively, even 101 years ago:

The jitney stand, as seen from the north. Detail of SFMTA photo U04910. SFMTA Photo |
There is the jitney stand, of course, which Mentz captured not only from the front (as featured in a previous post) but also seen here from the back, with a slightly different set of cars in it.

A three-wheel curbside gasoline pump selling Red Crown Gasoline for 10 cents. Detail of SFMTA photo U04910.  SFMTA Photo |
Yes folks, that is a movable gasoline pump on wheels, which someone has pulled up to the curb at the end of the jitney stop, no doubt to sell gas to the loading jitneys. How safe does that sound?

If you noticed the passenger in the rear jitney pointing off to the side in a previous photo, this is what he appears to be pointing at:

Palm Bar. Detail of SFMTA Photo U04910.  SFMTA Photo |
The Palm Bar, apparently attached to Moses Bodes' pool hall, advertises steam beer, "hot lunch," and "Boxing Next Tuesday" — admission, 25 cents.

Marquee of Castro Street Theater, advertising Lois Meredith in "Help Wanted". Detail of SFMTA Photo U04910. SFMTA Photo |  

Across the street, the old Castro Theater, at its original location (now Cliff's Variety) was playing the silent film "Help Wanted" starring Lois Meredith.

Zerolene horse truck. Detail of SFMTA Photo U04910. SFMTA Photo |
Zerolene may have been "the standard oil for motor cars," but it was delivered by horse. Maybe to help prevent explosions?

Detail of SFMTA Photo U04910. SFMTA Photo |
In the upper stories, windows advertise the offices of a dentist and a surgeon.

Detail of SFMTA photo U04909. SFMTA Photo |
The 8-Market streetcar turns onto Castro, amid horse-drawn wagons, automobiles, laundry trucks, and a horde of jitneys which have been poaching along its line.

Detail of SFMTA Photo U04910. SFMTA Photo |

Oh yes, and lots of pedestrians. The newsboys hawking their papers in the middle of the street just might be hamming it up for the camera.

Newsboys at 18/Castro, 1915. Detail of SFTMA Photo U04909. SFMTA Photo |
Detail of SFMTA Photo U04909. SFMTA Photo |

(For more on San Francisco jitney history, see here).

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Ride-hailing Apps Swarm Into Austin

Uber alternatives are fine with being regulated, and do not use surge pricing.

In the wake of Uber and Lyft huffily leaving Austin, a swarm of lesser-known "ride-hailing" or "soft cab" services are rushing in to fill the void. Unlike the giants Uber and Lyft, these companies seem to be fine with following local regulations. And the big news is: not a single one of these Uber alternatives uses "surge pricing", the dynamic pricing system which Uber and Lyft use to manipulate the market.

Dallas-based GetMe shows an absolutely insane number of cars available on their app. Uber always tried to make their over-saturation less noticeable by limiting the number of visible cars to 8 or so. GetMe shows so many cars available it actually interferes with the screen refreshing rate. It might also be daunting to would-be GetMe drivers -- how easy can it be to make money with this much competition?

Playing the Lyft to GetMe's Uber is Fare, founded in Phoenix. Part of Fare's selling point is that they claim to be friendlier to drivers. They appear to be far, far behind GetMe in terms of drivers available, but that might be a good thing as far as sustainability of the network is concerned.

Back in 2012, when Uber was just a limousine dispatching service, Tickengo was one of the first companies to go the "ridesharing" route. Since rebranding as Wingz, they have focused exclusively on airport rides--until now. Their new "WingzAround" service, available only in Austin, gets back to their roots. It's interesting that, while both Fare and GetMe's apps follow the map-based style which has become the e-hailing standard, Wingz is sticking with a text-based alternative format, as you can see from this screenshot.

Finally, there is Austin's licensed taxi app, Hail A Cab. Unfortunately this app uses a very old-fashioned (circa 2010) style of map-based format in which you can't see the available cabs until after you have ordered one. Nobody likes that, guys. The licensed cab industry in Austin might want to try attracting a more up-to-date taxi app such as Flywheel.

Certainly the time to roll out a competitive alternative is now, while the elephants are out of the room. If any of these smaller, more driver and passenger friendly alternatives can take hold before Uber and Lyft come crawling back, Austin could invent the future of e-hailing: locally regulated, and free of surge-pricing.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Golden Gate Avenue in 1911

Golden Gate Avenue in 1911. Detail of SFMTA photo U02934 . SFMTA Photo |
The past and future of transportation history mingle in this great photo of Golden Gate avenue in 1911, from the SFMTA photo archive. I don't just mean the mix of horse-drawn and motorized vehicles in the street: what's most interesting about this photo is the presence of a livery stable, a full-service garage, and a taxicab company, all in the same shot.

At the center, the Santa Clara Stables, one of the great old livery stables of the city. In the 1800s, if you needed to rent a horse or a carriage, or a place to keep a horse and carriage, this was where you came. Like many livery stables, the Santa Clara also ran a small fleet of hacks. Rebuilt after the fire, in 1911 the Santa Clara only had one more year of existence left before it would be shut down and its inventory sold at auction.

In the foreground can be seen the Mission-style facade of the Golden Gate Garage. This beautiful old garage has been described as "surprisingly lyrical" by Mark Kessler, author of an amazing book on The Early Public Garages of San Francisco. Kessler notes that, by adopting an architectural style associated with Southern Pacific railroad stations, the Golden Gate “relies upon a continuity of imagery to assert that the garage is the successor to the train station, and the car is successor to the train.” More obviously, it was the successor to the livery stable up the street. Boasting a lounge for chauffeurs (waiting around the garage while their employers shopped, dined, etc.), the Golden Gate was also involved in the auto livery business, and at one point housed a taxi service. Now a mere parking garage, the building still stands at 64 Golden Gate, somewhat neglected and under-appreciated, like most old garages.

Alco Taxicab Company, 360 Golden Gate. Detail of SFMTA photo U02934. SFMTA Photo |
And in the distance, the sign for the Alco Taxicab Company peeks over a building. This is the kind of cab company that would last out the Twentieth Century, long after livery stables and full-service garages had been forgotten. In this year of 1911, one of Alco's drivers was a young Malcolm Loughead, who would later found the Lockheed corporation with his brother Allen.

(See here for more on livery stables and cab history in San Francisco.)

Alco Taxicab ad, San Francisco Call, 1910. (California Digital Newspaper Collection)