Tag Archives: flywheel

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.

Night of the Living Taxi: The Epic Rideshare Fail of NYE 2015

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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.

nye_lyft_driver_promotionI 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 conclusionthe 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.

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.