Category Archives: Lyft Driver Realities

When I Was a Newbie

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My last two columns for the S.F. Examiner were interconnected, published in two parts.

The first installment, published last week, describes a ride with two ladies who, when I tell them I’ve only been driving for three years, start calling me a “newb” and offering ridiculous advice on how to become a good horrible cab driver.

“You shouldn’t be so nice, newb,” one of the women says.

“You’re never going to make it as a cab driver with that attitude,” says the other.

Their joint laughter is cut short when I turn left onto Hyde.

“This is us over here on the right.”

I hit the hazards and the overhead light.

“I only have a credit card,” the second woman tells me.

“That’s perfectly fine,” I say, inserting the Square reader into my phone.

“Come on newb!” snaps the first woman. “You’re supposed to say your card reader is broken.”

Yeah, they were drunk and having a laugh, but, in part two, published this week, I write about how the old “cabbie ways,” as glorified by these ladies in jest, are what led to rise of Uber and Lyft. And how, when I actually was a “newb” – that is, a hapless Lyft driver – most of my passengers told me they’d started using these new ride-hail options because of all their bad experiences with taxis in the past…

… most of my passengers had these nightmare experiences dealing with The City’s taxi service that mirrored the ladies’ acerbic suggestions: not accepting credit cards, refusing non-airport rides, talking on the phone incessantly and freaking out if you questioned their route.

It seemed like you weren’t a real San Franciscan unless you had a handful of horror stories about taking taxis. People talked about missing flights, losing jobs, getting stuck in the rain and practically left for dead.

My Lyft passengers were so thrilled to have a ride they didn’t care that I barely knew how to get around. (Or refused to attach that hideous pink mustache to the grill of my Jetta.)

Of course, while Lyft and Uber may have solved some of these problems by busting up the taxi industry’s monopoly and in the process forcing out the bad apples who were only able to thrive in a field without competition that capitalized on the public’s desperate need for transportation, a new breed of sleazy operators was unleashed: Uber/Lyft drivers.

But more on that disreputable lot next week…

[photo by Christian Lewis]

What’s in a Passenger?

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On the Prevalence of Women Drugged Against Their Will in the SF Bay Area and Ending Up in Taxis and Ride-Hails

My column in the S.F. Examiner this week is about transporting a woman who was most likely drugged. As I mention in the column, the frequency of women getting drugged at bars in the San Francisco Bay Area has become way too common.

It’s alarming how many women I encounter who’ve unknowingly had their drinks spiked in bars. No place is immune. Not even the Cat Club, which usually has a very sophisticated clientele.

Recently, I had a long conversation with a bartender who told me, in the 10 years she’s been in San Francisco, she’s been roofied three times.

In the past, I’ve written about dealing with situations like this as an Uber driver.

As a taxi driver I was confronted with a situation out of my control:

A few months ago, a very intoxicated and distraught young lady showed up in the National cab yard. She only had one high-heeled boot on and no idea where she lived, or where her friends went.

A cab driver brought her into the yard out of desperation after picking her up and not knowing what to do with her.

Since the cab yards are in the Bayview, it would have been natural to assume this girl was homeless and/or on drugs, but she was wearing designer jeans, her hair was done up and her nails were manicured.

While she ran around the junk piles and broken down cabs in a hysterical daze, no one knew what to do with her. That’s the problem with a woman in this condition: most men are afraid to intervene because of potentially misperceived impropriety.

But I’m relatively comfortable dealing with super intoxicated women. So I led the girl to the couch in the lounge area and tried to get her to relax. I held her hands between mine and reassured her that she was safe. I encouraged her to focus on her breathing. I reminded her repeatedly that she was going to feel better soon, that this would pass.

Just as I’d finally calmed her down, flashlights lit up the area and three large cops approached. Someone had called the cops.

I got out of their way, but I tried to mention to them that she just needed to go to the emergency room and get a bed with a blanket until whatever drug she was on wore off. But cops being cops, they surround her and begin to question her like a criminal.

When Colin and I left the yard, they had her on McKinnon sitting on the curb.

I guess they were calling an ambulance after giving her the option of going to jail or to the hospital.

That was a hard lesson learned: never call the cops unless you need a gun.

Anyway, the following is my piece on overly intoxicated women passengers , expanded from the original column published in the S.F. Examiner; as it appears in the zine Behind the Wheel 3: The Unexpurgated Columns:

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Not much is happening. Just a boring Thursday night. I pull up to the Cat Club and shoot the shit with Chucky, Liz and John, the stalwarts of the ad hoc cabstand there, until I’m on deck.

As I watch the throng of smokers for a potential fare, I get a Flywheel request for 1190 Folsom: the address of the Cat Club.

Bingo.

A few minutes later, two women approach my cab.

“This is for Gina, right?” one asks me. I nod and she opens the back door, helps the other inside and says, “Make sure she gets home safe.”

I turn around. Gina looks a little rough around the edges.

“Where to?” I ask.

She mumbles something about Battery and Jackson.

As I head towards the Financial, Gina starts to whimper slightly.

“Are you okay?” I ask.

“Sure. I mean… Not really.”

“You wanna talk about it?”

She garbles something. Goes silent.

Guess not.

At each red light, I watch her in the rearview gradually keel over onto the backseat. She seems to be sleeping, even though her eyes are half open.

Since nothing about her indicates she’s consumed enough alcohol to be this wasted, I assume she’s been roofied.

It’s alarming how many women I encounter who’ve unknowingly had their drinks spiked in bars. No place is immune. Not even the Cat Club, which usually has a very sophisticated clientele.

Recently, I had a long conversation with a bartender who told me, in the ten years she’s been in San Francisco, she’s been roofied three times. Once she woke up in a strange bed, in a strange apartment, with no clue how she got there. Turned out a guy found her the night before raving like a lunatic on the median at Van Ness and Union. Since she’d lost her purse and couldn’t remember her address, he took her home, gave up his bed and slept in the office chair at his desk. A fortunate turn of events, we concurred.

Unlike two years ago, when Irina met a friend at Kingfish in Temescal for a couple drinks. After a while, Irina felt sick, went to the bathroom, threw up and walked back to our apartment four blocks away. I came home later that night and she was still asleep. Her friend, however, woke up in the emergency room.

Sadly, I’ve dealt with so many drugged women in my cab I’ve become adept at dealing with the nerve-racking process of getting them out of my taxi and into their homes.

It’s always upsetting and I’m usually paralyzed with fear that something I do may seem or come across inappropriate.

With so many news reports about Uber drivers sexually assaulting passengers, it’s terrifying to be in these vulnerable situations myself. Because I can see how easily temptation arises while transporting extremely young girls, especially when they pass out in the backseat of your car in their tiny skirts, with their legs open, or their tops in disarray and their breasts exposed… For a man with little to no willpower or possessed with an uncontrollable momentary urge, these types of opportunities would be hard to resist.

Whenever girls pass out in my backseat of my cab in a short skirt, I don’t look between their legs. Not just because I’m trying to be a gentleman, or that I’m trying to resist temptation. No, I’m respecting a woman’s body and her right to privacy, even in – especially in – a weakened state.

I keep my eyes up. I turn the lights on and roust them from their slumber. If they come to and are cognizant, I make sure they know my eyes are in the rearview mirror, where I can only see their faces. Or at the least, if they’re completely oblivious, I know in my mind that I’ve done all I can do to protect them when they’re helpless.

It’s my job to get people home safe and sound. And that’s what I do. With as much dignity as possible…

So… when I arrive at Gina’s building, I wake her up and ask if she needs help. Once she gives me permission, I open the back door and extend my arm. She stands up and wobbles, but I hold her steady.

As she gains her balance, she swings around and tries to embrace me, giggling. Sensing her inhibitions due to the drugs, I grab the strap of her shoulder bag and slowly guide her towards the building like a marionette. Along the way, she gets more playful and tries to impede the operation.

“Let’s focus, okay?” I tell her. “You need to get home.”

When we get to the front door, I ask if she has her keys.

“Right here!” She pulls them out joyfully.

I open the door for her, but there’s no way I’m crossing the threshold. “Can you make it to the elevator?”

“I’ll be fine!” she insists, though not very convincingly.

“You’re a pro!” I psych her up to make the final stretch into her apartment. “You got this.”

“I’m a pro!”

“Yeah!”

As she’s about to enter the lobby, she turns around and demands a kiss. Just then, someone emerges from the elevator and I’m able to redirect her advance.

“Quick! Get on the elevator before the doors close!”

Gina careens back inside but doesn’t reach the elevator in time. While she staggers back towards me, laughing hysterically, the girl who got off the elevator stands nearby staring into her phone.

“No! No!” I shout. “Press the button again!”

Gina follows my instructions and, when the doors open, she goes inside. As I wait for them to close, she opens them at the last moment to play peek-a-boo.

“That’s not very pro!” I tell her sternly.

Finally, the doors close and I take off.

Back in my cab, I head to the yard. I’ve had enough excitement for a boring Thursday night.

First photo  by Trevor Johnson. Second photo from Night on Earth, a film about taxi drivers around the wold, directed by Jim Jarmusch.

Behind the Wheel 2: Notes from an Uber/Lyft Zine at LA Zine Fest

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Behind the Wheel 2: Notes from an Uber/Lyft represented at the LA Zine Fest, along with Disrupt the Disrupters stickers. Get a copy here.

Thanks to Sarah Bitely of Pimpkillah for representing Piltdownlad:

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On the Uber Driver Super Bowl Protest

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Market Street has been renamed Dick Drive for Super Bowl 50

On KPFA 94.1 this morning, I discussed the upcoming Uber protest scheduled during the Super Bowl. There’s a lot of speculation on how this organized action will play out–since the scab mentality is a major part of Uber’s rise–but one this is for certain: it will get people’s attention.

Listen to the archived show here. The Uber protest segment begins 8 minutes into the show.

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White Privilege and the Rise of Uber and Lyft

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From my latest jeremiad:

The Children are Running the Nursery

Only a person with boundless privilege would expect their own personal driver to come to their exact location (however erratically), and wait there for an indeterminate time, regardless of how much it may inconvenience the driver or other drivers on the road, since they’re most likely double-parked, until the whim strikes him or her to mosey on down and get into the vehicle they requested.

Only a spoiled brat who’s had mommy and daddy wiping their asses their entire lives would lord a draconian rating system, that’s completely arbitrary, over another human being, like a manacle around their neck, to make sure their needs are properly serviced in a timely fashion, and in a way that fully pleases them… otherwise, it’s one less star.

Only someone with absolutely no sense of personal responsibility would pay someone to resolve their problems at highest standards, but at the lowest cost possible, and not even once consider the possibility the deal they’re getting is negatively impacting the one performing said task.

And yet, these are the new city-dwellers who’ve taken over San Francisco…

Read the entire article…

What It’s Like Driving for Uber & Lyft

The Drivers Panel at Next:Economy 2015

The full video of the driver panel at the Next:Economy conference on November 12, 2015. Courtesy of O’Reilly Media.

Read my coverage of the event here.

From Uber and Lyft to Taxi: A Video Interview

After John Han gets the the camera situated for this interview with me behind the wheel of a cab, a man hails us for a ride. John keeps the camera rolling as I drive the passenger to the Civic Center BART. Turns out, the guy is an insurance broker and offers some insight into the “insurance question” that continues to plague Uber and Lyft drivers.

From there, the interview covers my transition from Uber/Lyft driver to taxi driver.

This interview is an outtake from John Han’s documentary “Driving for Hire,” which can be found here.