Tag Archives: lyft confessions

The Cult of Lyft: Inside the Pacific Driver Lounge

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[This post originally appeared on Medium in July 2014. Lyft has since dissolved the driver lounges.]

Lyft sees itself differently from other car services because the passenger rides up front. Like a friend. Drivers are supposed to greet passengers with a fist bump. Like they would, conceivably, with a friend. Drivers play music and engage the passenger in conversation. Since that’s what friends do.

I knew this much from taking Lyft cars in the past. But when I signed up to be a driver, I was enrolled in a Facebook group for Lyft drivers called the Pacific Driver Lounge. It was in the Lounge that I learned there was more to the Lyft Experience than just pink mustaches and fist bumps. Lyft wants to cultivate a community between drivers and passengers. But only the drivers seem to be interested in participating in that community, creating what’s best described as the Cult of Lyft.

In the Lounge, the faithful worship the pink mustache. They post selfies with their mustaches and even travel with small versions called cuddlestaches, which they photograph in distant lands. They wax poetic about the difference they’re making in the world by driving for Lyft. Many drivers post screen grabs of their daily and weekly summaries, showing off how much money they earned, highlighting long drives with Prime Time tips added (“Score!”) and favorable comments from passengers. All of which are followed by hashtags like #fistbumps or #lyftlove.

There are numerous pictures of tricked-out cars. Since Lyft encourages a quirky and fun vibe, many drivers come up with themes for their cars. One guy put a mirror ball in his car and became the DiscoLyft. Another put a karaoke machine in his car and decked out the ceiling with Christmas lights. This is the Caraoke. Then there’s the RocknRollLyft, where the driver has a guitar and portable amp in the back for passengers to shred on. Or the BatmanLyft. The PirateLyft. The ReptileLyft. The MomLyft. There’s the GameLyft, where the driver has an iPad for his passengers to play Flappy Bird while en route to their destination. While it may not be officially called the PornoLyft, I have heard of a driver who keeps Hustlers and Playboys in the back seat of his car. Maybe one day there will be a StipLyft, where the driver has to remove a piece of clothing each time he takes a wrong turn.

Drivers go this extra mile, at their own expense, for higher ratings, but also to have fun and be part of the Lyft community. This is what differentiates Lyft from other rideshare services. Community.

In the Lounge, Uber is referred to as “the dark side.”

Cabbies are the enemy.

The state legislature is comprised of a bunch of bullies out to take away our fun.

The worst thing you could do in the Lounge is malign the Lyft brand. You will soon be facing a cyber lynch mob.

Like all internet forums, the Driver Lounge is a cesspool of glad-handers, gossip hounds, chicken-littles and a chorus of kool-aid drinking cheerleaders; clueless consumers lapping up a marketing ploy and defending their faith to the bitter end. A handful of participants do 75 percent of the talking. They maintain the party line and make sure it’s all Lyft, all the time. Some of these regular posters are not full-time drivers. They do Lyft to supplement day jobs. So they have the time to waste posting and commenting and making sure the reputation of Lyft is preserved.

While other drivers occasionally use the Lounge to complain about Lyft policies, problems with the app and difficult passengers, more than half of the posts and subsequent comments glorify Lyft and all the wonderful things it stands for.

Since the Lounge is an official Lyft group, Lyft controls it. But it’s mostly self-governed. There are moderators or “mentors” from Lyft HQ who patrol the discussions. Posts get deleted if they aren’t up to snuff. People get banned for posting inappropriate or non-Lyft related items. (Anything to do with Uber is generally verboten.)

Sometimes discussions get heated and everyone gets upset. People start blocking each other. Discussions can get downright nasty.

This is all highly entertaining to me.

Over the past few months, I’ve become obsessed with the Lounge. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion. I check for new posts daily. I’m not proud of it. But I’m not ashamed either. My fascination with the online chatter of other drivers is akin to some folks’ dedication to reality television. We all like to watch people behave without self-awareness.

The Lounge is my Honey Boo Boo.

I have gained some useful information about the driving process by lurking in the group. It’s a good place to check the pulse of the city when I’m on the fence about driving into the city from Oakland to Lyft. Plus, there are so many confusing aspects to being a Lyft driver. The Lyft FAQ can be atrociously vague at times. In the Lounge, however, when these nebulous topics are discussed, you can easily get a consensus or find a few kindred drivers who share your opinion on the matter. Like whether or not it’s a requirement to display the mustache, the legality of accepting cash tips, traffic laws and the never-ending speculation on the insurance question, which is still up in the air.

My favorite posts in the Lounge are the ones where drivers complain about passengers cussing, being drunk, having dogs, smelling like pot or slamming doors. Some drivers even suggest kicking out passengers they don’t like. I always want to point out that in their blind hatred towards cabbies, they are missing the point of creating an alternative form of transportation. If many of these gung-ho drivers actually listened to why passengers prefer Lyft and Uber, they’d know it’s because cabbies are assholes. But watching these taxi-hating Lyfters slowly morph into cabbies themselves, it only makes sense that after driving people around for a while, cabbies would have figured out how to deal with passengers. It’s not easy. Every request you accept is a roll of the dice. You never know who’s going to get in your car. But hey, trying to appreciate the struggles of the other team requires more self-awareness than you can expect from the faithful in the Lounge.

Another amusing subplot in the Lounge ensues when a driver is “off-boarded” and removed from the Lounge. Only active Lyft drivers can participate in the Lounge, so drivers who are involved in accidents or altercations are deactivated from the Lyft system and thus removed from the Lounge. This is especially problematic because the most important thing any driver wants to know is what happens after an accident. That is, what happens with our insurance? What is covered and what isn’t? Do we pay a deductible? Will our insurance company drop us when they find out we’ve been ridesharing? Since a regular car insurance policy does not cover commercial activity, we are technically uninsured while driving for Lyft. Lyft supposedly carries a million dollar policy when we have a passenger in the car, but we rarely get any further details of how that coverage plays out after an accident.

Lyft assures us they will take car of everything, as long as the collision is not our fault. But without first hand knowledge, how are we supposed to be certain? While the Lyft faithful may dominate the discourse, when the shit hits the fan, the doubters emerge from the shadows and all hell breaks loose.

Not knowing all the facts leads to a lot of conjecture. Which is ironic because the official word from HQ is that drivers are removed from the lounge to prevent rumors and speculation. Don’t they understand it’s human nature to want to know the entire story and fill any holes with make-believe?

All it takes for one of the Lyft cheerleaders in the Lounge to have an accident, get deactivated and disappear for the rest of the flock to start asking questions. And maybe slowly realize they are taking too much a risk for a company that is only interested in making money.

Like the mustache, the Lounge is another great Lyft marketing scheme: placate your workers by convincing them they are part of a team so that whatever benefits Lyft, benefits them as well because they are all on the same team.

Rah! Rah! Rah!

You have to wonder if Lyft really has it in them to succeed in the rideshare racket. With all this emphasis on being friendly and fun, they seem to be missing the most obvious component of transportation.

Based on the responses of passengers I’ve talked to, your average Lyft user is not looking for some quirky experience. They just want to get to their destination, quickly and safely. Perhaps with some decent tunes playing. Maybe a friendly person to chat with along the way. If they’re in the mood. Otherwise, they’d prefer to not deal with a chatty driver. Or one who talks on the phone during the whole ride, for that matter — cabbies, I’m talking to you.

More than anything else, though, people just want to be able to request a car, have it show up in a timely fashion and not have to deal with a cash transaction. This excludes most taxi companies, or at least the cabbies who frequently tell passengers their credit card machines are broken.

It’s that simple. This is all you have to provide to succeed as a rideshare company. Get people where they want to go without bringing cash into the equation.

Uber, who doesn’t have a social media forum for their drivers, has figured that much out. If only they knew how to placate their own drivers, who are known to protest outside Uber HQ.

Providing a community for drivers is great. The Lyft Pacific Driver Lounge makes a lot of drivers feel special and appreciated. That’s cool. Let them show their team spirit, make friends with each other and proselytize for the Cult of Lyft all they want. Just leave the passengers out of it.

[artwork by Irina Dessaint]

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Uber & Lyft Drivers Are This Year’s Surge Price Whiners

lyft_nye_jackpotIt’s New Year’s Day. When pissed off Uber passengers usually storm Twitter to express their outrage at surge pricing and post ridiculously high fare summaries from their rides the night before. But this year, it’s the drivers who are doing all the complaining. Sure, some folks around the country got hit with some high ticket rides, but at this point, we all know they were asking for it. These people also probably complain about every aspect of their unfortunate lives on Twitter. So fuck them.

The drivers, on the other hand, dutifully went out last night, encouraged by Uber and Lyft with promises of high ticket fares, and they were left hanging. Of course, the fact that Uber also sent messages to passengers basically telling them not to take rides, proves, once again, that Uber and Lyft do not know what the fuck they are doing. Yeah, they know how to make apps and utilize unbridled ambition to push their way through government regulation. But they have no clue how to perform like a company that actually wants to perform a service.

(Read my full NYE coverage here.)

These are mostly from Bay Area and LA drivers. Click on any image to view as sideshow:

A Day in the Life of an Uber/Lyft Driver in San Francisco

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(an excerpt from the zine Behind the Wheel 2: Notes from an Uber/Lyft)

Most days, I wake up around noon. Usually hung-over. My first thought is always the same: probably should’ve skipped that last drink. At the time, though, it felt absolutely necessary. Vodka has a way of alleviating some of the physical stress from driving a car all night. At least temporarily.

After several months of driving for Lyft and Uber, my neck is like an open wound. The muscles that run from my shoulder to my jaw are steel rods. I have very little radius when I turn my head left or right. The tension never goes away. It makes my teeth ache. There is a real possibility that I have some dislocated vertebrae. My joints hurt. My right ankle has a creak in it. And I have a chronic case of hemorrhoids. No matter how much ointment I apply, they remain perpetually enflamed. Old age has not only crept up on me, it has run past me and turned around to taunt me.

Besides the physical exhaustion of driving a car in the city, there is also the psychological toll. It’s one thing to maintain a diligent eye on my blind spots, the other cars on the road, speeding bicyclists and cavalier pedestrians, but I also have to project a sunny disposition and be accommodating to my passengers. Or risk a negative rating. Not an easy task when I’d rather be committing murder. And yet, with enough Ativan and caffeine in my system, somehow I make it through another shift. Like when the endorphins kick in after a boot to the nut sack, these superficial interactions with complete strangers have a numbing effect after awhile. As long as it’s busy and I have enough rides to keep my mind off the grueling process. The slow nights can be torture and I can’t wait to get home so I can pummel my brain with alcohol, pills and weed until I stop obsessing over the streets of San Francisco, their order and how they intersect with each of the forty-seven neighborhoods.

Read More

Behind the Wheel 2: Notes from an Uber/Lyft – The New Zine

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From the trenches of San Francisco’s sharing economy: another rideshare confessional zine

Behind the Wheel 2 includes more insight into the day-to-day travails of a rideshare driver in San Francisco, more stories about driving drunks, switching from Lyft to Uber, a visit to Uber HQ, self-entitled douchebags, talk of gentrification and displacement, the tech boom, public debauchery, emotional breakdowns, police activity and the constant threat of pukers.


56pp. | Wraparound cover | Illustrated | Staple bound | $5.00 postpaid

Order the print version through Etsy or PayPal.

A PDF or ePub Download is available for 99 cents through Etsy!

(For PayPal, click here.)



EXCERPTS:

To Uber Or Not To Uber

A Day in the Life of a Rideshare Driver

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Table of Contents:
Emperor Caveat
To Uber or Not to Uber
A Day in the Life of a Rideshare Driver (PDF)
The Wrong Bush and Mason
Gun on the Street
Infinite Douchebaggery
The Polk Gulch Vortex
Another Wasted Night
The Leather Man

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What is a zine?

A zine (/ˈziːn/ zeen; an abbreviation of fanzine, or magazine) is most commonly a small circulation self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images usually reproduced via photocopier. — via Wikipedia

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Behind the Wheel 2 debuted at the East Bay Alternative Book and Zine Fest:

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My Rating Weighs A Ton

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As an Uber/Lyft driver, you live and die by the rating system, which is, at best, dysfunctional. We are constantly at the whim of passengers who may or may not be in their right minds when asked to select a number of stars. When it comes to the late night drunkies, we can only hope they wait until morning to finish the transaction. But in the middle of the day, somebody pissed off at the world could easily shift frustration to a driver. Bad day at work? That’s a star. Not getting along with the girlfriend/boyfriend? Another star. Lost the high score on the that new video game? Sayonara star. Boss being a jerk? One star for you!

I usually know when I’m about to get hit with a bad rating. Like this Thursday night a few weeks ago…

I pick up a guy from a burger joint in the Marina. He’s carrying a take-out bag. Drive him to Pac Heights. Nice dude. But the smell of his crappy fast food is nauseating. I love a cheap, greasy burger, except trapped inside a car the smell seems to metastasize until my head is swimming in a toxic stew. I have these Febreeze air freshener cartridges that clip onto the vents. I hit recirculate to help mask the odor.

After dropping him off, I roll down the windows. Immediately, I get another request. Drive back towards the Marina worrying about the stench lodged in my olfactory nerves like an act of shame. I’m certain my next passengers will think I’m the one who reeked up the car.

To my surprise, the pinned location is Roam, an artisan burger restaurant on Union. What luck!

Two girls get in the back. I tell the one who requested the ride, “I just picked up this guy from another burger joint and was trying to air my car out. I’m so relieved you’re at a burger place too!”

“Sorry,” she says snidely.

Uhhh… “No, it’s a good thing.”

She grunts. Obviously wasted. The stench of secondhand alcohol merges with the lingering cheap burger stink to create a noxious miasma of putridness. And it’s only 9:30! I stopped driving the late shift a month ago because I was sick of dealing with the drunkie shit show. And the subsequent hits to my rating.

“Alhambra and Pierce. Take Fillmore.”

“Alright.” I take off but hesitate before starting the ride on the app. Sometimes I wait until I’m sure the passenger is not going to be a problem. I’d rather lose a fare than risk a low rating.

During the short drive, she talks to her friend about some interpersonal bullshit that makes no sense to me. Drunken advice. The worst kind of advice. How the girl should do this and not do that. But the girl doesn’t take too kindly to the counseling. They start arguing. When I pull up to the apartment building at Alhambra and Pierce, they’re calling each other bitches.

I try to be cool and end the ride with my usual, “Have a good night.” And then, in the most sincere tone I can muster, “Take care now.”

That “take care now” is my standard closer. It’s proven to be an effective way to leave things with passengers. Especially the silent ones. My way of exuding respect and bonhomie. But I can tell from her repugnant snort that it misses its mark this time. She chases after her friend who is careening down the street.

“Where the fuck are you going, bitch?”

I get out of there fast. Wonder what I could have done differently… I know she was in a foul mood when I first interacted with her. I probably shouldn’t have said anything, but how could I have known? There’s just no telling with people…

An hour later, just as I suspected, my rating goes down a hundredth of a decimal point. Yeah, not that big of a deal, but those four star ratings can really add up fast. It sucks. I performed my job without a glitch and yet I’m penalized because this girl was having a bad night?

I do a lot to keep my rating high. I clean my Jetta weekly and spot clean it the rest of the time. I use Armor-All on the leather seats. Before the price cuts, I went to a hand wash place here in Oakland. After that, I did it myself at a self-serve. Then I found a drive-thru car wash that only charges eight bucks. They have a parking area with vacuums. There are usually plenty of towncars and taxis around.

One thing I’ve learned about ridesharing is to always look for the cab drivers. They know the best spots to get gas, where to piss late at night and which streets to drive. If I’m on a street and there are no cabs, I’m on the wrong street. I have nothing but respect for cab drivers. All drivers should respect cab drivers. Just don’t drive like one. That’s not what the rideshare passenger wants. They want to feel baller. And there’s nothing baller about recklessly turning corners and laying on the horn whenever another car is going too slow.

I drive with purpose. I keep a close watch on my blind spots, errant pedestrians and speeding bicyclists. I take my corners easy. Use my lower gears to get up hills. Maintain the speed limit. Come to full and complete stops. And when faced with an idiot behind the wheel, I use my high beams. Way more annoying than a horn, I think. I flash them real fast, like strobe lights. Freaks the tourists out. Big time.

I try to be accommodating to my passengers, but I don’t open doors. I don’t give out candy or water. And I don’t try to come off as anything I am not. I wear short sleeve t-shirts that expose my tattoos. I keep my hair down. I play punk, post-punk and hard rock with the speakers faded to the front. I have a built-in iPod jack and no auxiliary port. If passengers want to listen to the radio, I’ll fiddle with the dial a little.

Although I never force an interaction, I refuse to be treated like an invisible servant. I talk to myself while I drive. I tap the steering wheel. I make comments about traffic. If passengers are chatting to each other about a topic and I feel like interjecting, I don’t hesitate to make my presence known. I may look like a stoner metalhead, but if somebody needs advice or an opinion, I’m not afraid to offer my services.

When it comes to high ratings, what matters most is how you drive. And I drive like a motherfucker. I know the streets. I know short cuts and alternate routes. I don’t rely on navigation and only use Waze if traffic is really bad or I’m going to the suburbs. Though I usually just make passengers direct me.

I keep my eyes on the road at all times. Even when my passengers talk to me. At stoplights I’ll glance in the rear view, but I’ve had full-on conversations with people I only looked in the eye when I said goodbye.

I know the city. Its history. Hot spots. I know the hotels and how to access their driveways so the valets can open the doors for my passengers. I know most of the bars and as many restaurants as I can remember with what’s left of my feeble mind. Sometimes I need my memory jogged, but that just gives me an opportunity to crack a joke about being old and feeble minded. Maybe start a conversation.

I make a point of letting my passengers know right away that I’m one of the good guys.

I always keep my cool. No matter how long a passenger makes me wait, jerks me around or acts self-entitled. I don’t let it get to me.

I accept all requests. Even if the passenger’s rating is 4.4. I believe in second chances.

I cancel requests all the time. If I don’t like where somebody wants to be picked up, I cancel. If they request again, I accept and cancel a second time. If I’m not fighting traffic, I’ll text them, “Bad pick-up location.” And then cancel. Eventually they’ll figure it out.

Rideshare passengers are not dumb. They tend to be assholes, but they’re not dumb.

The trick is maintaining authority. From the moment I start dealing with a passenger I exert control. Otherwise they walk all over you. But I also know that exerting control sometimes means letting the passenger think they are the ones in control.

I learn from my rides. I try to never make the same mistake twice.

What I don’t know I pretend to know.

Every day I figure out more about the city streets. I suggest routes to passengers. I tell them how the app wants me to go and offer an alternative. Most of the time, when asked, they tell me which way they prefer to go. Even if they give me bad directions, I go where they want. The passenger is always right. Especially when they’re wrong. The way I figure it, I’m going to be driving no matter what way we go.

I never chase the surge. And when I have a passenger who has been hit with a higher rate, I’ll end the ride a few blocks from their destination. To “offset the surge a little,” I tell them. It’s not much, but it makes the passenger feel better about being gouged.

I know which side of the street has even numbers and which side has the odd numbers. Or at least I think I do.

I know I don’t know enough.

I yield to pedestrians, joggers, bicyclists, jaywalkers, taxis, town cars, Ubers, Lyfts, buses, raccoons and suicidal pigeons. But confused tourists are fair game.

I refer to the turn by turn in the app, but I tend to deviate. The passenger can see that blue line on the screen of your iPhone. And if they’re going home or to work, every driver before me has used the same route. So I switch it up, based on what I’ve learned about the neighborhood.

My attitude is always the same: sit down, relax and leave the driving to me.

I never take the freeway unless I’m going to the airport or the southern quadrants. I stick to the streets. Particularly the brightly like ones.

When I drive a girl alone, I suggest the most illuminated direction and let her decide how she wants to get there.

I tell passengers, when they ask, that I like to drive. And I’m not lying. If they ask whether I like Uber or Lyft, I tell them, “I like driving.”

Fair enough?

I can’t count how many times passengers have told me, “You’re the best Uber/Lyft driver I’ve ever had!”

Or, “You’re like a New York cab driver!”

Or, “I can’t believe you know where to go with just the cross streets.”

Or, they get out of my car and mention to their companions, “Now that was a five star driver.”

You get the point…

I wish I didn’t have such a high rating. It’s too much pressure. A high rating is untenable. One day I will inevitably deal with a passenger who rates me low for no particular reason. Maybe even one-stars me, sending my rating down more than a hundredth of a decimal point. And it’ll bum me out to no end. I’d be lying if I said otherwise.

Until then, all I can do is keep driving like I always do.

Like a motherfucker.

Trick or Treat: Lyft Wants ME to Be a Mentor?

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I have to say, I’m somewhat flattered that Lyft took the time to email me the morning after Halloween with an invitation to be a Mentor. On what was supposed to be the busiest night of the year for ridesharing, Lyft had to deal with a server outage that caused snafus for drivers and passengers alike. Then there was the Sacramento passenger who died in a wreck on the freeway. This is Lyft’s first fatality. And the first rideshare passenger killed during a ride.

It was a hell of a night for Uber too. Their servers also went down worldwide. And they had to fend off the usual criticism for surge pricing.

On top of all that, both Lyft and Uber were offering drivers an hourly guarantee. In San Francisco, it was forty bucks.

Despite the guarantee, I stayed home and watched slasher flicks with the Wife. We did Halloween, Halloween 2, Scream and Scream 2.

The next morning, the Facebook groups were inundated with screenshots of extremely high fares. Once the server issues were sorted out, prices surged 5x in San Francisco and LA. In other cities, they went as high as 9x. Drivers who powered through the glitches took home some serious treats. While several passengers were just tricked.

I felt a mild pang of disappointment that I missed out on the shit show, but the email from Lyft certainly raised my spirits. In fact, I laughed my ass off. I have to assume it was another server error. I mean, really… They want ME to be a Mentor? Me? The person who continuously trashes their brand? Who made fun of the Pacific Driver Lounge? And who wrote a scathing post that sent all the Lyft loyalists into such a tizzy? Me?

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Are they completely out of their fucking minds?

I’m tempted to accept the invitation just to see if they would actually approve me. And if they did… Well, that would only validate my theory that Lyft and Uber don’t give two shits what you say about them online. Regardless of what many think, we work for a computer. All that matters is how well you drive. And as far as Lyft’s algorithm is concerned, I’m good enough to be a Lyft Mentor.

Me!