Spotted in Fisherman’s Wharf:
Spotted in Fisherman’s Wharf:
On Saturday, The City is abuzz with gaiety. Market Street is like a jugular vein from Civic Center to the Castro. Traffic streams inbound and out. The sidewalks are crowded with partiers who stop at each bar and inquire, “Is this a gay bar?” To which the answer is always, “Yes!”
It is Pride weekend, after all.
People, people everywhere, but not a flag in sight.
In the doldrums, I try to stay optimistic. Around midnight, the phone networks become overloaded, forcing people to wander onto side streets and up 17th to get a connection so they can order their Ubers and Lyfts. Other people jump in taxis.
“Oh, thank you so much for taking me home! I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t been there.”
It feels good to be appreciated, however misguided.
Ugh. This guy.
In my latest column for the S.F. Examiner, I try to focus on the usual shit about my personal life and try to come up with another ribald story that’s fit for print, but as I was working on the column Tuesday night, the news of Kalanick’s resignation broke and I felt compelled to say something.
Sure, his ouster probably means nothing, but… what if a new, kinder, gentler Uber emerged from the rubble of his tyrannical reign? One that followed the law, treated drivers well, established rates that made sense and finally admitted they’re a transportation company and started acting like one?
We’d really be fucked then.
There is a painful typo in paragraph 10 that’s like a dagger in my gut, but what can I say? I live with an infant who recently figured out how to scream at the top of her lungs. Not because she’s upset or mad or in any kind of distress. Just because it’s fun. So uh… yeah. I’m a tad distracted these days.
In San Francisco, New Year’s Eve was the night of the taxi.
Flywheel, the taxi-hailing app, was offering $10 rides (up to $50) from 8PM to 3AM. Luxor Cab was giving away free rides (up to $35) from bars and restaurants to residences during 10PM and 4AM. For once, passengers had plenty of options. The muni was free all night. And the Bart ran until 3AM. So riders who normally take Uber and Lyft would have to be seriously committed to rideshare not to take advantage of those deals.
From everything I saw on the road and read about on Facebook groups and Twitter (I had plenty of time to kill online), Flywheel’s gambit paid off. As I cruised all over town, mostly alone in my car, wasting over a quarter tank of gas in the process, I rarely saw an empty cab. From the Marina to Hayes Valley, from the Mission to the Richmond, I laughed and cried at all those taxis jam-packed with fresh young faces. The kind of folks you usually see in Ubers and Lyfts. I may have even recognized a few. They certainly weren’t getting in my car. I had the worst Wednesday night ever! $60 for over five hours of driving. That is was New Year’s Eve seemed incidental.
I drove for Lyft only because I’d reached my Uber breaking point a few weeks ago. Plus, I owe them $200 for cracking the iPhone 4 they issued me when I first started driving, back when Uber didn’t allow drivers to use the app on their personal phones, charging us $10 a week in rental fees instead. With nights like these, it would take me a week or more to pay off the debt. All the while, forking over what little money I have on gas and car washes.
If I wasn’t really going to bail on Uber, they made the decision easy for me.
So Lyft it was. And Lyft it was not.
It didn’t matter though. Business was just as dead for Uber. Despite claims that this New Year’s Eve was going to be the biggest yet and some bigwigs expecting them to pull in $100 million, the local driver groups on Facebook were inundated with pissed off drivers.
There was no surge!
Some commenters speculated that there must have been too many drivers on the road. But even during events like Outside Lands, when the streets are filled with rideshare cars, there are plenty of rides to go around.
Besides busy taxis, I saw large groups of revelers at bus stops and crowds of people walking the streets too. Especially in the Mission. Could it be that I’m not the only one fed up with Uber’s crap and opted instead to take cabs, the bus, Bart or even just walk?
Besides the near constant backlash against Uber for their unfair business practices, inadequate background checks, surge pricing and tone-deaf responses to the public’s concern, it didn’t help their reputation that a new rape case was just reported on New Year’s Eve. A Chicago driver who was using his wife’s Uber account allegedly abducted an unconscious female passenger and raped her in their home. According to the victim, afterwards he told her, “I made you happy.” This chilling case demonstrates, once again, that there is no accountability to Uber’s grossly lenient onboarding system. Anybody can use another driver’s account or cheat their way onto the system. So how are passengers safe? (I posed this question to Travis Kalanick on Twitter, but even if he did reply, we all know what his canned response would be.)
If you take all the negative aspects of Uber and wrap it into a ball, you’d have a meteorite that could easily wipe out the entire Bay Area. Offer $10 rides as alternative to that impending disaster and you get a surge free New Year’s Eve.
At least in San Francisco.
Of course, there were several reports on Twitter of high fares the day after New Year’s, but with all the brouhaha about Uber’s surge pricing in the media, people who complain about it now should be publicly shamed for being an #UberFool.
Just Another Uber Bait & Switch
After Uber announced that surge pricing was a foregone conclusion, the media followed suit, highlighting outrageously expensive rides in the past. People were looking at the possibility of 10X surge. To encourage their drivers, Lyft, who usually caps their Prime Time pricing at 200%, increased the limit to 500% for New Year’s Eve.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve received multiple emails and texts from Uber and Lyft encouraging me to drive on the big night.
As they were emailing drivers with promises of riches for driving New Year’s Eve, they were sending out emails to riders warning them to avoid taking rides at certain times:
Whether or not they really wanted to create a clusterfuck of confusion, Uber screwed over their drivers with typical flair. Like a perfect representation of how pissed off drivers were, for most of the night, the Uber heat map never went past yellow:
At 7PM, as promised, Lyft initiated a 50% Prime Time in the eastern part of the city. But there were no rides in that area. After dropping off a couple at Bay and Mason, I drove through North Beach, the Marina, Pac Heights, Hayes Valley… all the way to 23rd and Geary, well out of the Prime Time range, before catching another ride.
All my rides were from the Sunset or Richmond. None were charged Prime Time. In fact, around 9:30 PM, the 50% Prime Time went away.
It didn’t come back in full force until after midnight. Uber started surging as well. It got up to an incredible 7x in the North Bay. There was some 3x and 4x in the city and one driver said they got a 200% PT from Lyft. Not much better than a normal rush hour or Saturday Night.
I cut my losses and gave up at 11 pm to watch the fireworks with the Wife from the top of Potrero Hill. Later, I monitored the Facebook groups to get the details. I didn’t miss much.
Taxi’s Night to Shine
It’s obvious that Flywheel’s $10 rides worked like a charm. Over the next few days, I hope to see numerous reports about how FlyWheel gave Uber and Lyft a taste of their own medicine.
And good for them.
I was barely able to break even for the night, after expenses, and will no doubt have to pay late charges on my credit cards because I didn’t make enough money over the slow holiday period, but it was spectacular to witness taxis kicking rideshare to the curb.
They proved to the city of San Francisco, and maybe the world, that Uber’s value is only limited to their perceived dominance. If people have real options, and those options are cheaper, or at least not as deceptive, Uber will become the emperor with no clothes.
Now the question is, will Flywheel and the taxi companies be able to capitalize on their victory?
Let’s hope so.
During the recent hostage crisis in Sydney, due to increased demand, Uber’s surge pricing took effect. Understandably, people wanted to get the hell out of dodge. Fast! Since then, there have been a slew of articles lambasting Uber’s “dynamic pricing” model. Surge pricing, especially during a terrorist threat, always rubs the public the wrong way. And yet, various writers have come to Uber’s defense, arguing that surge pricing is simply an example of supply and demand.
The Daily Beast’s Olivia Nuzzi wrote:
“Uber does not have a responsibility to care about you. Uber is not a government entity, and it is not beholden to the general carless public during an unwelcome drizzle of rain or even a time of great distress.”
Matthew Feeney, with the Cato Institute, the Koch-founded libertarian think tank, wrote on their blog:
“What is great about a pricing system like Uber’s surge pricing is that it allows users who want an Uber ride the most to have it. Prices are a great way of communicating customer preferences.”
Fair enough. In Econ 101, you learn all about supply and demand. On paper, surge pricing makes total sense. But corporate boosters like Feeney are missing some major factors that obviously aren’t apparent from the exalted view of an ivory tower. Namely, Uber isn’t a $40 billion company because it’s the Grey Poupon of urban transportation. Not only do they hope to take the place of traditional taxi service, Uber wants to replace car ownership altogether. How can they do that with part-time drivers whose only incentive to drive is the opportunity to gouge people desperate enough to pay whatever it takes to get home?
The fact is, Uber drivers don’t make shit during regular, non-surge, times. I’ve been driving for Uber long enough to remember when ridesharing was somewhat profitable. Over the course of a year, in order to corner the rideshare market, Uber has maintained a protracted price war with Lyft, Sidecar and even, it would seem, the city bus. Since then, the constant price cuts have made it nearly impossible to earn a decent living as a rideshare driver. Prior to the price wars, I made $800 to $1000 a week driving thirty to thirty-five hours. (Before expenses like gas, tolls, car washes, maintenance, etc.) Now, driving for the same amount of time, it’s more like $400 or $500. If I’m lucky. (Again, before expenses.)
As an Uber driver, you learn quickly that it doesn’t pay to pick up passengers unless prices are surging. There are blogs and even driving coaches who offer to help new drivers figure out the best driving strategies. They all say the same thing: wait for the surge.
Surge pricing is so ingrained into the Uber culture, they are even trying to patent it!
Chasing the Surge
In online forums for drivers, trying to figure out when prices will surge is a regular topic of discussion. So far, the only proven method to ensure getting a ride during a surge is to stay offline and monitor the rider app. Once a part of town lights up, you race there in hopes of getting a higher fare. This is called “chasing the surge.”
Most drivers chase the surge. On Facebook groups, drivers like to post screengrabs of high-ticket fares during price surges. Members click “like” and make comments such as, “Lucky you!” or “I wish I weren’t already in bed or I’d get in my car right now!”
Since surge pricing forces generosity from people who would otherwise not give you a penny more than what the app determines, it’s no wonder drivers revel in it and respond to high fares like they just won the lottery.
By continuing to lower rates, Uber knows the only way drivers can make money is during a surge. When demand is expected to be high or when it spikes, Uber encourages drivers to get behind the wheel by sending texts like this:
The same thing happens during music festivals, sporting events, inclement weather or just a busy Saturday night:
You can’t help but wonder if Sydney drivers received similar texts. “Siege downtown! Expect high demand! Don’t forget to give promo codes to the desperate suckers at bus stops. You’ll make an extra $5!”
From all the comments I’ve seen, most drivers don’t care if passengers have to pay more—or a LOT more—when demand is high. The extra money makes up for all the times people didn’t have to pay much for the luxury of being driven around town, oftentimes receiving water and snacks along the way.
I’ve always been ambivalent about Uber’s surge pricing model. Personally, I’d much rather let the passenger decide how much my service is worth during busier times with a tip. However, despite the extremely vocal complaints of drivers, including protests outside Uber’s offices across the country, Uber will most likely never add a tip option to the app. In fact, this December, Uber added an option for passengers to include a donation to the No Kid Hungry campaign. It was all set up through the app. No disrespect to the No Kid Hungry organization, but if Uber can easily add a feature like this, they could just as easily include a tip option. But they won’t do it because, as they have made it clear over and over, “Being Uber means there is no need to tip drivers with any of our services.”
Regardless of what Uber CEO Travis Kalanick thinks is a better model for transportation, driving is a service-based task. While passengers seem happy to go along with this no-tipping rule, I don’t imagine they would be as comfortable stiffing a bartender or food server on a tip. So why do it to rideshare drivers? It’s not like we’re making more than minimum wage. Unless, of course, the prices are surging.
Why can’t Uber just raise the fares, or lower their cut, and create an incentive for drivers to work all the time? Wouldn’t the supply and demand concept work then as well? On slow nights, when demand is low, most drivers would log out and the diehards would keep driving, thereby leveling out supply.
I may not have an advanced degree in economics, but I know that Uber’s business model is not just unfair to drivers, it’s unfair to riders as well. At some point, most people will realize they’re being exploited. Telling passengers they don’t have to tip their driver and then forcing them to pay more when it’s busy is a seesaw battle of extortion: I screw you when I can and you screw me when you can.
The no-tip aspect may seem like a good idea to the consumer during normal times, but what about when they’re looking at a $100 dollar fare to go a few miles? Suddenly, tossing a few extra bucks to your driver doesn’t seem like that big of a deal anymore.
A Modest Proposal
Last night, I had dinner with a friend and her sister, whom I’d never met before. The topic of Uber came up when I mentioned I drive for Lyft and Uber. My friend’s sister said she really likes taking Uber. She’s a performance artist and often needs to get around the city at night. Before Uber, she was regularly stranded by cabs, which would invariably pick up a street hail on the way to her location, leaving her in the lurch and forced to seek other options. With Uber, she’s never had this problem. She just requests a ride and the car shows up.
Awesome. The only problem is, well… Uber. And the way they’re treating drivers. As I mentioned to her the struggles drivers face when dealing with the lowered fares, the lack of tips and the general unpleasantness of Uber as a company, I began to feel like a dick. There I was, shitting on something that fulfilled a need in her life both personally and professionally. Without Uber, she, like a lot of people in the city, would once again be at a disadvantage. It seems the only thing everybody can agree on when it comes to this new trend in transportation is that cabs suck.
This got me thinking… If I owned a business that made a product people loved — one they loved so much they would be disappointed not to have anymore — why would I lower the price? I’m not business-minded in the least, but it just stands to reason that if somebody really wants your product, you could charge whatever price you wanted for it. So why is Uber continuously lowering fares?
Then it hit me. Fucking Lyft. Lyft is the problem. After all, they are the ones who crafted this insidious brand of transportation, dubbed by the state of California as TNC, or as it’s commonly referred to: “ridesharing,” “ride-hailing,” or “e-hailing.” At some point, maybe everybody will agree on a term before it dissipates in a cloud of litigation. But this idea of regular folks driving other regular folks in their own regular cars for money appealed to Travis Kalanick, Uber’s founder and CEO, so much that he ran with it and created UberX, a pimped out version of ridehsaring without the fuzzy mustaches, the fist bumps or the false sense of community. What Lyft created, Uber perfected and refined. And then charged a rate that was significantly less.
Instead of remaining true to their vision of community and friendship, or focusing on providing a premium experience at a reasonable price that benefited both the consumer and the driver, Lyft took the bait. They had to have heard the rumors that Kalanick isn’t somebody to be trifled with. And yet, Lyft, the quirky kid with bad acne, thick glasses and a pepertual cowlick, walked across the playground and challenged the biggest bully in school by lowering their rates too.
It’s not much a shock that Lyft ended up getting pummeled in the rideshare wars. It’s almost embarrassing how badly Lyft is still losing this David and Goliath showdown. But you can’t feel too badly for them. They asked for it. Unfortunately, the drivers on both platforms are suffering because of Lyft’s feeble attempt to seize more of the rideshare market.
The price wars have been going on for a while. It’s hard to imagine a time when the minimum fare for an UberX ride was $10. But back in 2013, that what the going rate for a ride. Nowadays, in San Francisco, it’s $5. In LA, it’s $4. That’s highway robbery at its very essence. Not to mention how drivers face serious risks with insurance gaps, troublesome passengers, potential health problems, damage to our vehicles and the financial hardships of constant repair and maintenance. On top of all that, with the rating system, we don’t even have job security. Any passenger on a power trip could easily have us deactivated.
I started driving for Lyft in March of 2014. I made decent money. A few months later, to combat Uber’s growing domination of the rideshare market with UberX, Lyft lowered their fares and stopped taking a commission. The price cut was supposed to be a test, like their Happy Hour promotion, where rides where cheaper when demand was lower. Except, around the time they planned to return to the original rates, Uber lowered their rates, forcing Lyft to make their temporary price cut permanent and start collecting commission again, pissing off all but their most loyal drivers.
The Rideshare Wars of 2014
In their calculated, underhanded assault on Lyft, Uber shows no restraint. They even announced UberPool, a carpooling feature that wasn’t active, the day before Lyft announced their own carpooling service, LyftLine, which was ready to launch, effectively stealing their thunder.
Even without public support, Uber is racking up victories. A month ago, when Uber’s Operation Slog was exposed, everybody felt bad for Lyft. But then Lyft lowered prices again and drivers started burning their mustaches.
Before this happened, Uber had started poaching Lyft drivers. I was one. I joined Uber during their $500 sign-up bonus. $500 to take one ride? Where do I sign?! The gimmick was that newly recruited drivers would see how much better Uber was compared to Lyft and switch sides. It worked. As a regular Lyft driver, I was blown away by how much more business I got from driving for Uber. (Lyft tried to get Uber drivers to switch sides, or double down, by making a counteroffer of $500 plus a taco, but just came off looking silly, as usual.)
These are the kinds of tactics that show who is really in charge when it comes to ridesharing: Uber. They may have stolen the idea of ridesharing from Lyft, but at this point, they can easily sell the idea back to Lyft and make a healthy profit. That’s how stupid all this has become. It’s like a Monty Python skit gone awry.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think Uber, with Kalanick at the helm, is an evil, unscrupulous company along the lines of Wal-Mart or Halliburton. Fuck Uber! Seriously, Kalanick comes across as an antisocial, libertarian scumbag who’d stab his own mother in the back to get ahead. He probably has a cum-stained paperback of The Fountainhead under his pillow that he strokes gently as he falls asleep at night. But he’s not stupid. He knows how to run a business. Even if it is at the expense of workers.
Lyft, on the other hand, has yet to display any business acumen. Their entire platform lends itself to mockery.
Look at their signature branding: the pink mustache. While it’s proven to be an effective symbol to get attention, it’s so ugly and goofy and alienating and … shit, the list goes on and on. Most people don’t like the stupid thing and very few drivers have them on their cars anymore. Lyft, realizing this, developed what they call a “cuddlestache,” a smaller version that goes on the dash instead of the grill. But from a distance, it just looks like a pink turd. Another Lyft fail! [UPDATE: Lyft is ditching the ‘stache.]
Where Lyft supposedly excels is through creating a sense of community. I prefer the social aspect of driving for Lyft. It makes for better stories. Driving is more fun when you are free to chat with the passengers. The time goes by so much faster. And Lyft encourages tipping, which is awesome. Uber tells their users the tip is included in the fare. (It’s not.) But the whole “Cult of Lyft” mindset is a niche market at best. In order to fall for it, you have to drink the Kool-Aid. Lyft fanatics are a brutal lot of mustache-waving zealots who will try to stifle any dissent in order to protect the brand. Still, there’s no way they can corner the entire rideshare market based on jingoism alone. In fact, I’m willing to venture that the community aspect hurts Lyft more that it helps. Some people just want to get from point A to point B without making a friend along the way.
Nevertheless, there are folks to whom Lyft’s transportation model is appealing and Lyft needs to cultivate those users. Not the market as a whole. They will never be able to compete with Uber, financially or logistically. Lyft is fighting with a ruthless bully. Their only move at this point is to beg for mercy. Even their cries of “that’s not fair” have fallen on deaf ears. If this were a schoolyard fight, we’d all be standing there with out arms folded going, “Dude, you asked for it.”
Yeah, I know, Uber started the price wars, but that doesn’t even matter anymore. Even if Lyft were out of the picture, it’s not likely the prices go back to what they were at the beginning of the year. It doesn’t even matter that, except for surge pricing, passengers weren’t complaining about the prices before the price war started. What’s done is done. At this point, Uber could charge as much as cabs and still be profitable and control the market.
The Writing on the Wall
Oh sure, there are plenty of problems with ridesharing. Killing Lyft might not fix them all, but the only way to end the price wars is for Lyft to be better than Uber. Or die.
I’m not the only rideshare blogger who’s come to the conclusion that Lyft isn’t going to win. They are perpetuating the price wars in a futile attempt to compete with Uber and yet they’ve lost each battle.
Somebody needs to put a stop to the price wars. Despite what their computers tell them, raising prices would benefit the company and improve the rideshare experience for passengers.
Of course, if Uber and Lyft did raise the prices, the users who take advantage of the five-dollar rides would drop off. And while those short rides are fine for a computer to just add to the ultimate tally, earning those five-dollar rides as a driver is no easy task. The five-dollar rides need to end anyway. The minimum fare for an on-demand ride should be ten dollars. If you can’t afford ten bucks to get from one neighborhood to another, you really shouldn’t be using an on-demand car service. Take the fucking bus like normal people. Why waste an Uber driver’s time by having them spend several minutes driving to you just to take you a few blocks? That’s plain lazy and a waste of everybody’s time. What makes you so special?
It’s time for passengers who want quality transportation options provided by drivers paid a fair wage to expect more than a race to the bottom.
As a driver, the end of Lyft cannot come soon enough. There are very few drivers who are even loyal to Lyft anymore. Lyft is the losing team. All roads lead to Uber. Whether we like it or not, they are going to win the rideshare wars. Anybody who can’t see that is obviously drinking too much Lyft Kool-Aid.
FOLLOW UP: Should We Really Kill Lyft?
Before the Outside Lands festival was even over, numerous articles started popping up on sites like ValleyWag, SF Weekly and SFist about ridiculously high fares due to Uber’s surge pricing. Each night after the event let out surge pricing got up to 5 times the normal rate. Online, everybody freaked out over a couple pics of some pretty high fares. Uber was portrayed as the bad guy, ripping off decent festivalgoers that just wanted to get home.
Yeah, it’s easy to hate on Uber. And plenty of commenters lambasted the spoiled passengers who couldn’t be bothered to take public transportation. Or walk. Or ride a bike. Though if they’d seen the mobs around the bus stops on Geary, they might have held back on some of that criticism. Those poor saps weren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Still, is it better to be a sucker? No. But another factor that’s being overlooked in all this brouhaha is that these high fares were not just the direct result of surge pricing. They are also a consequence of drivers coming into the city to work the event and not knowing how to navigate the streets.
I know that drivers are supposed to stick up for fellow drivers, but if fares are surging even two times the normal rate, do you want somebody behind the wheel who knows how to get you where you’re going in the most efficient, least expensive way possible or a driver who would be completely lost without Waze or Google Maps?
I don’t deny that navigation apps can be useful. But they can only help so much during major traffic jams. Even an app like Waze that updates itself in real time with user input is dependent on the users’ familiarity with the streets they are driving. You don’t need an app to tell you traffic sucks when you can just look outside your window. There are many options when driving through a city. Not just the fastest and the shortest. Experienced drivers know alternate routes and how to avoid traffic from driving the streets regularly.
I had several passengers over the weekend tell me they’d gotten the runaround from out-of-town drivers. One guy told me his previous driver didn’t even know how to get to Golden Gate Park! He tried to direct her but she insisted on using navigation, so they had to find an address that corresponded with the park. Locals know when their drivers are lost, but what about all those thousands of passengers who flew into San Francisco for Outside Lands? They had no clue where they were going and were just as disoriented as their drivers.
In the example above, a driver used the Great Hwy and Sloat to get from the Richmond to Castro/Upper Market. That driver turned a four mile ride into eleven miles. Even if they were trying to avoid traffic, there’s no reason to go that far out of your way. Personally, I’d go through Laurel Heights, Nopa or Anza Vista. I drove all over those areas during Outside Lands and the streets were not that congested. Sure, there are more stop signs on side streets. But is it better to stop and drive or stop and stop and go a few feet then stop again, over and over, all the way out of the Richmond District? Geary, Lincoln, Fulton and the other major boulevards were a sea of red lights. During an event of this caliber, avoiding the major streets and using alternate routes is a no-brainer. But, hey, if drivers are in the city just to squeeze as much out of price surging as possible, then why bother making the rides shorter?
While those drivers taking home hundreds of dollars from this event should be ashamed of themselves if those fares were jacked up due to their own ineptitude as a driver, another important part of the story left out of these articles about price surging is that these inflated fares during Outside Lands were from rides in UberBlack towncars or UberXL SUVs.
Face it: if you want to feel money, you have to pay the price.
But many UberX drivers saw fares in the $90 range. From what I witnessed during the event, these drivers must have been picking up passengers deep in the mess of traffic, during the highest surges. And like UberBlack and UberXL users, those passengers deserve to pay more because they know they’re requesting a car at the worst possible moment. The app tells them as much. It’s stupid for them to complain. The savvy rideshare users were the ones who walked out of the congestion, waited for the surge to go down, or just used Lyft, whose Prime Time never seemed to go past 75%.
I had one group of passengers walk towards me as I drove to their location, making it easier to pick them up without getting too caught up in the traffic near the festival entrance/exit, where the madness had to have been nuts. I have no idea what it was like there because I never ventured close enough. I’m sure it was a clusterfuck of towncars, Uber sedans and mustachioed Lyft cars. Only inexperienced and greedy drivers would attempt to participate in a feeding frenzy like that.
The Outside Lands Gambit
I don’t usually deal with the hassle of festivals in the city, but I thought I’d give Outside Lands a chance. I did Friday and Saturday. I started in the early afternoon and drove until one AM. Financially, it was the worst weekend I’ve had in a while. Even though I never once got stuck in traffic, despite circumventing other rideshare drivers maneuvering the streets like chickens with their heads cut off, the most expensive ride I gave was $37. From mid-Richmond to North Beach.
While the festival was in full-swing, there was very little business in the city. It was only when the festival let out that the requests started coming in. I was in the Richmond during the infamous 5x surge. I waited five minutes with the Uber app open, but I got no requests. I’ve adhered to a simple rule since I started driving for both platforms. If I wait longer than five minutes for a request with only one app open, I turn on the other and take the first request one I get. Seconds after turning on Lyft, I got a request. I drove to the location but nobody was there looking for me. I clicked the “arrive” notification but the app told me I wasn’t at the location. I zoomed in on the map. My GPS blue dot was on top of the passenger icon. I could not have gotten any closer to the pinged location. I clicked arrive again. Still, the app told me I wasn’t there. I started getting service problem alerts. I tried calling the passenger. The app crashed. I opened it back up and canceled the request. As soon I did, I got another request. I tried to accept it but the app kept telling me to wait. I tried to get out of driver mode but the app wouldn’t let me. Another request came in for a location on the other side of the park. There was no way I could get there in a reasonable time so I let it time out and tried to go out of driver mode again. The app still wouldn’t cooperate. So I shut off my phone, did a hard restart and left the area. Drove north, away from the park. After restarting my phone, I opened the app and a request was already coming in. On Lake and 25th. I accepted it and was able to complete the $27.00 ride.
That was about all I could take of Outside Lands for one day.
The second night, during what I thought was a 3x surge, I drove a couple from mid-Richmond to Japantown. I easily avoided traffic jams, I got them to their hotel quickly with a few suggestions for where to grab a decent breakfast in the morning. Turned out the surge was actually 1.25x and the fare was just $13.07.
I spent the rest of the night moving passengers around downtown and the Mission. I’m sure I could have made more money if I’d kept going back to the Richmond or Sunset districts, but the potential higher fares just weren’t worth the headache.
Chasing The Surge
I’ve always been ambivalent about Uber’s surge pricing and Lyft’s prime time. I get the concept of supply and demand, but I’d much rather let the passenger decide how much my service is worth during busy times with a tip. Most drivers chase the surge. There are driver groups on Facebook devoted to posting screengrabs of high-ticket fares during price surges. Posters click “like” and make comments like, “Lucky you!” or “I wish I weren’t already in bed or I’d get in my car right now!”
Surge pricing forces generosity from people who would otherwise not give you a penny more than what is required. And since Uber discourages tipping, that amount is whatever comes up on the app. Surge pricing is the only time drivers get more than what the app determines. So it’s no wonder they revel in it and respond to high fares like they just won the lottery.
While Lyft at least has the option to tip in the app, Uber is sticking to the no-tip rule. They even discourage drivers from accepting cash tips when passengers offer them. There are even some drivers who follow that rule.
Regardless of what Travis Kalanick thinks is a better model for transportation, driving is a service-based task. Only assholes stiff service workers on tips. So who cares if they have to pay more—or a LOT more—when demand is high? Doesn’t the extra money make up for all the times they didn’t have to pay extra for the luxury of being driven around town, oftentimes receiving water and snacks along the way?
Perhaps, but telling riders they don’t have to tip and then forcing them to tip when it’s busy is ass backwards. Why did Uber take tipping out of the equation anyway? It’s not like we’re getting paid more than taxi drivers. You wouldn’t stiff a cab driver on a tip, so why do it to Uber and Lyft drivers?
The no-tip rule is an absurd aspect of Uber’s business model. It may seem like a good idea to the consumer during normal times, but what about when they’re looking at a $400 dollar fare? Tossing a few extra bucks to your driver doesn’t seem like that big of a deal anymore.