Tag Archives: flywheel

A Fool’s Errand

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This column is a continuation of the Flywheel debacle that began with “Pimp my Taximeter.” For a summary of the whole shit fest, go here.

Since last week’s column, I’ve responded to numerous emails and comments from readers worried that continuing to use the Flywheel app was a problem because of the resent unsavory business decisions by the owner, Hansu Kim.

Despite my criticism, let me be perfectly clear:

Keep using Flywheel! Please!

As previously mentioned, Flywheel, or an app like it, is vital for the survival of the San Francisco taxi industry. That is what makes Hansu’s actions so deplorable. Not only is he threatening the livelihoods of taxi drivers, who are already struggling to survive in a market skewed to favor the competition, but he’s also jeopardizing the patronage of the small percentage of San Franciscans who still use cabs by limiting their access to prompt service.

Since removing a large number of drivers off the platform, there have been reports of longer-than-usual wait times. Of course, one benefit of having fewer taxis online is that many drivers are seeing a marked increase in ride requests.

Despite my decision to abandon the app out of solidarity with the drivers who have been unfairly targeted, when Artur offered to reconfigure my Flywheel phone so I can accept orders again, it seemed foolish to resist. And not just because he threatened to smack me around for being an idiot.

Even though I’m still reluctant to go online, boycotting Flywheel only benefits the competition.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

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Disrupting the Disruptors?

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about the recent decision to give the money in the Driver Fund to the cab drivers, app-based transportation and marketing…

It’s hard not to feel like my taxi driving days are numbered. Hell, the entire industry seems doomed. As things continue to go from bad to worse, Green Cab started a GoFundMe campaign this week to crowdfund the $30,000 they need to stay in business, while the SFMTA plans to divvy up $4.7 million among 5,000 cab drivers to the tune of $400 to $900 each, based on seniority.

So what am I going to do with my “windfall?” Pay off my backbook at National? Buy a couple cartons of cigarettes? Wipe my ass with four crisp $100 bills?

Not to be rude, but using the Taxi Driver Fund as a retirement package is shortsighted and stupid. Even if I were to get the same share as a 30-year veteran, my rent is $1,700 a month. It’ll take more than a few hundred dollars to offset my financial problems.

When they mail the checks, they should write in the memo line, “Thanks for nothing, chump!”

Personally, I voted to spend the Driver Fund on advertising. Which may seem just as stupid, since taxis are repeatedly called a “legacy” industry, as if they’re already obsolete. But the only difference between an Uber/Lyft vehicle and a taxi is a color scheme and a phone number painted on the side. Oh, and centralized dispatch.

Uber and Lyft didn’t disrupt taxis, they disrupted the taxi companies that resisted centralized dispatch and made no effort to provide consistently good customer service. Brag about fingerprinting all you want, but if you can’t prevent a driver from kicking an old lady to the curb because she wants to use a credit card, you’re going to lose your customers once a better option is available.

Read the rest here.

The silent us are out there: a letter from a reader

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July 28, 2017

Kelly,

I’ll be brief: I appreciate your columns. I don’t always enjoy them, because some of your experiences push my buttons, good and bad, but I do appreciate them. A long time ago, another cab driver used to post his column, and it also was worth reading. I believe it was called Night Cabbie.

I’ve lived in the Castro for over 20 years. I used to hate waiting for a cab when I needed one, like when I had 4 bags of groceries from Safeway. They didn’t come when called, and in the daytime, they were all parked downtown at the hotels. I knew that my $6 (way back) plus $1-2 tip could not compete. And I resented that I was “second class” behind downtown fares.

And Uber swung the pendulum my way. Any ride, any time. Yippee. But then the reality set in. Uber was mean and aggressive, very un-SF-like. I tried Taxi Magic/Curb, but without a credit card guarantee, they would blow me off too. Finally, Lyft came along. Soon, I noticed that 40% of taxi drivers were “new”. The regulars quit, retired, or started driving for Uber. It bothered me a bit.

Finally, the taxi industry got their shit together and produced an app: Flywheel. Took a while to work the kinks out, but it’s fine now.

I like the experience of taxis. I like that the driver usually knows where I’m going and the best way to get there without relying on “Wayz” app or gps. I like that taxi drivers will pull up in front of my door, get out, and help me with those bags of groceries. I like that the drivers know where and how to flip a U-turn and get it done without whining. I like that I don’t have to worry about surge pricing. And I know that taxis have all the proper certifications and insurance.

I like Flywheel because it levels the playing field for fares, from Yellow Cab and Luxor down to the small independents.

I’m glad that Uber came along. It changed my life for the better in getting a ride. I usually split between Lyft and taxis depending on circumstances, but I want my taxis to stay around.

So you keep writing and keep driving.

The silent us are out there.

David Fusilier
San Francisco, CA

The Slumlord of Haight-Ashbury

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I try not to take it personally, but it’s been over a week since my last Flywheel order. Even though I log in to the app at the start of each shift religiously and stay “available” the whole time, except when I already have a passenger or if I’m unable to accept orders, the Android phone attached to the vent next hasn’t chirped in so long I almost forget it’s there.

So after dropping off my first fare of the day in Cow Hollow and tapping the Flywheel app to go online, I’m not only shocked to get an immediate ride request for Beach and Cervantes, but one with a $9 guaranteed tip! I quickly hit “accept” and head toward the part of the Marina that looks like it was designed by a drunken cartographer.

When I pull up, an older gentleman is outside waiting for me.

“Market and Jones,” he says curtly.

“No problem,” I say, hitting the meter. “By the way, thanks for the $9 tip.”

“That’s to make sure you fuckers show up!” he snaps.

I respond with an audible gulp.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

Take This App and Shove It: On Flywheel’s TaxiOS

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So Flywheel (the app, not the taxi company, though is there really a difference?) has developed a backend app for drivers called TaxiOS, or, what we call a “soft meter.”

Flywheel wants to push the SFMTA to replace traditional taximeters with this app. So instead of the taximeter, hardwired to the tires to determine distance, we would use GPS, which sees the city of San Francisco, based on a map, as flat, when is is anything but.

I cry foul. I’ve worked for app companies before (Uber and Lyft) and prefer the traditional taximeter. I don’t trust apps. Sure, for social media like Facebook or Twitter, but to determine what are essentially my living wages, which are a bare minimum at best?

No thanks.

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Don’t get me wrong, Flywheel, the app, which allows anyone to hail a cap instantly through their phone, is great. If only they’d advertise more so we’d get more business. But no… instead of focusing on getting more users, they are trying to take over the SF taxi industry.

This is the subject of my column this week.

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One App to Rule Them All: On Centralized Taxi Dispatching

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I had a 24 year old kid in my taxi this weekend who asked me the same question I get asked all the fucking time: “Ever thought about driving for Uber or Lyft?”

I always respond the same way, as I try to deflect the question and change the subject: “Don’t own a car.”

Further inquiry usually ends there, although some people know it’s possible to easily acquire a car to drive for Uber and Lyft, as these companies continue to make it incredibly simple for anyone with a pulse and halfway decent background history to drive for hire.

Well, this kid didn’t know about leasing options that Uber provide, thankfully, but he went on to tell me, in his opinion as a resident of Concord, how the San Francisco taxi industry failed and how, if they’d had an app early on, Uber and Lyft wouldn’t have bankrupted the cab companies.

I point out that Cabulous, which became Flywheel, predates UberX, which didn’t launch until Summer 2012. So, yes, taxis had apps even before Uber.

“Think about it…” I say to the guy. “Everyone’s trying to come up with ideas for apps… hailing a cab isn’t that original, especially in a city like San Francisco, where, as any longtime resident can tell you ad nauseam, it was next to impossible to get a cab. So coming up with an app to summon a taxi in San Francisco is kind of a no-brainer, right?”

The argument that taxis have failed to adopt to technology is crap. It was the cab companies who resisted both centralized dispatching and app-based dispatching out of pure greed and lack of foresight.

The drivers themselves, obviously determined to maximize their profits, have been experimenting with apps from the beginning.

Drivers use every ride-hailing app available, to varying degrees of happiness, and will no doubt praise and criticize any others that come down the road.

Drivers who don’t want to use their cab company’s Veriphone credit card processing get Square instead.

Drivers are also so determined to cross color schemes, several hundred us use the GroupMe app to communicate with each other in real time. Throughout our shifts, we post updates on when events are breaking and to let each other know where demand is high, which is similar to Uber’s heat maps or Lyft’s weekly email of upcoming events, except the information in the SF Hackers group is based on actual eyes-on-the-street reports and an actual comprehensive listing of all concerts and events provided by one of the members, who also happens to be a dispatcher.

Undeterred, to prove that taxis are the cause of their own demise, he brings up the price difference between taxis and Uber/Lyft, even though I immediately counter with the fact that when UberX and Lyft both started, they cost more than taxis and have only lowered prices to compete in a race to the bottom. And anyway, in the end, we all know Uber is only interested in logistics.

“But…” he goes on.

Whatever…

The issue is moot.

I guess Cabulous/Flywheel, Taxi Magic, Summon and all the other taxi-hailing apps, which could have provided San Francisco’s much needed centralized dispatch, just weren’t as sexy as the “Uber-iquitous” U symbol everyone has come to love and/or hate.

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Anyway, this week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about centralized dispatching.

Read it here.

Photos by Trevor Johnson.

A Fare in the Backseat is Worth Two on the Street

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National Cab yard closed for Christmas

This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about the frustrations of app-based transportation and an exploration of the many reasons why a cab might pass up a fare…

When passengers tell me they were never able to order a cab, I usually ask which company they’d call. Almost always it was Yellow. Or Luxor. Or DeSoto. The three cab companies with the largest fleets. But what about the smaller companies? National’s motto is “We answer the phone!”

Read the rest here.