Tag Archives: lyft drivers

Do You Remember Peer-to-Peer Transportation?

lyft-glowstache-cab-window-san-francisco

Remember when UberX and Lyft were referred to as peer-to-peer transportation? Or what about Lyft’s former motto: “your friend with a car?”

When I first started driving for Lyft in February of 2014, it was all about pink mustaches and fistbumps. That’s long gone. Now it’s “rides in minutes.” Although they still refer to their drivers as being part of a community, we know that’s bullshit. Lyft has grown up. It’s no longer about competing with Uber and taxis, but also the bus, with their discounted LyftLine service.

Uber, which was never one to be confused with anything remotely associated with a community, refers to itself clearly and succinctly on their website as “on demand” transportation. Enough said.

But this rampant forms of convenience doesn’t stop with cheap rides in other people’s cars. There are the bus lines like Bauer’s, who bill themselves as “intelligent transportation.”

And there’s Chariot, the private shuttle service who uses the tagline: “Your commute, solved.” Apparently, Chariot offers riders the ability to crowd source the routes you want. And who doesn’t love crowdsourcing?

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.

Lyft vs. Taxi Thunderdome – The Medium Online Debate

1*m0ibulyEYcw8kT5WEjVw-Q.png

Since Driver 8 and I had so much fun discussing the pros and cons of driving Lyft and taxis at the Next:Economy conference last month, we went to Medium’s offices and did a live debate on their Backchannel site.

Things got ugly fast:

strangle2

And even uglier:

 

When Will We Finally Hit Peak Uber/Lyft?

lyft-mustache-garbage-truck-san-francisco

Originally appeared on Broke-Ass Stuart’s Goddamn Website

The hardest part of driving a cab in San Francisco is dealing with all the Uber/Lyft cars clogging the streets.  I’m willing to venture at least ninety percent of these freshly minted drivers don’t know what the hell they’re doing.  They double-park with reckless abandon, jamming up arterial thoroughfares and high traffic streets like Polk, Valencia and Castro.  They rely on navigation to get around, which means they’re staring at their phones when they should be watching the road.  They turn left off Market, take rights from left lanes and flip U-turns wherever they feel the need.  They infringe on taxi lanes and stands.  And when you try to correct them, they become violent.

At the front of almost any traffic clusterfuck is an Uber/Lyft car.  It doesn’t matter what time of day or which part of the city, if there’s a backup of cars, chances are, an Uber/Lyft driver is to blame.

photo-28

Willie Brown recently brought up the proliferation of Uber/Lyft cars in his column as he related a conversation with Dianne Feinstein:

Feinstein brought up all the “ride-share” services from buses to cars that have flooded the city, all without much of anything in the way of rules or regulations. She’s seen the numbers showing there are 4,000 to 6,000 ride-share cars operating in San Francisco, most of which seem to be tooling around in the core of the city.

It’s clear that City Hall is not paying attention to what’s happening on the streets. It doesn’t even seem to care. There are no attempts at better traffic control, no crackdowns on double-parked service cars dropping off and picking up fares.

Remember when Lyft and Uber kept telling us they were helping take cars off the road?  That was one of their selling points.  Along with safetyreliability and all the other claims we now know are bullshit.  In the year that I’ve been driving the streets of San Francisco, I’ve seen traffic get worse each month.  In fact, the Bay Area now has the second worst traffic in the country.

To further solidify this correlation, Uber just announced they have 20,000 active “partners” in the Bay Area.  And while a huge majority of Uber drivers also run the Lyft app, there are plenty of Lyft drivers who don’t drive for Uber, which jacks up the number of private vehicles for hire in the region.

photo-26

Compare those figures with the 1900 taxi medallions issued by the SFMTA.  Which, despite all the gross misinformation about the medallion system, simply means there can only be 1900 cabs in service at any given time.

Sometimes it seems like every four-door sedan on the road has a U placard in their window or a glowing pink mustache on their dashboard.  Or both.  And yet, Uber still emails me every day, reminding me of their bonuses for referring new drivers.  Lyft continues to recruit drivers as well, including a recent campaign that offered a thousand dollars to existing drivers and their friends who signed up to drive.  As you can imagine, it set off a feeding frenzy that comically blew up in everybody’s face.

Since Uber and Lyft seem committed to flooding the city’s streets with even more untrained and underinsured drivers to satisfy San Franciscans unquenchable need for frictionless transportation, you can’t help but ponder the unforeseen consequences.  Beyond the traffic jams. Beyond the gridlock.  Beyond the pyramid schemes.  Beyond the tragedy of the commons.

10426673_10204957636833558_292236756395403542_n

Charm Pays in a Cab: The Taxi vs. Uber/Lyft Money Post

san-francisco-taxi-cab-tip-taximeter

Originally appeared on Broke-Ass Stuart’s Goddamn Website

Ok, let’s talk about the money…

There is a common misconception that being an Uber/Lyft driver is more profitable than traditional taxi drivingThe media likes to publicize reportsusually supplied by Uber and Lyft, that taxis are on the brink of becoming obsolete as these new app-based ride services continue to grow in popularity and take a larger share of the market. But if the taxi industry is really doomed, why am I making more money behind the wheel of a cab than I ever did with Uber and Lyft?

For over a year now, I’ve been driving the streets of San Francisco for hire. During that time, I saw my income go from around $800 a week (before expenses) when I first started driving for Lyft back in March of 2014 to $600 (again, before expenses) after Lyft and Uber went to war that summer and began enacting a series of price cuts. By the fall, my earnings had dropped to $500 a week (yes, before expenses).

All the while, Uber and Lyft kept sending me emails that claimed I was making more money than ever. I’m no mathematical wiz, but isn’t there a limit to how many rides a driver can even complete in a given time period? And if I’m giving more rides per hour while my expenses stay the same and, due to all the extra five-dollar rides, the wear and tear on my car increases, aren’t I really making significantly less in the long run? (Answer: yes.)

It was like being a factory worker in some dystopian nightmare where the foreman sped up the assembly line and initiated quotas. Then denied anything had changed.

“You just need to work smarter,” the company lackeys insist. “Not harder.” But how the fuck do you do that when the game is rigged against you?

uber-referral-pyramid-scheme

Eventually, it got to the point that I only drove on Friday and Saturday nights. Sometimes Thursdays. The rest of the time it just wasn’t worth the effort of cleaning my car, driving across the bridge from Oakland and dealing with traffic for a bunch of five-dollar rides. I felt like I was losing money. Before the price cuts and massive recruitment campaigns, I made around $150 driving for six hours on a Wednesday. Afterwards, I was lucky to clear $50. Yes, before expenses.

The only way Uber/Lyft drivers make decent money is rider referrals (AKA, the bizarro pyramid scheme) and surge pricing. Some drivers are always trying to figure out how to hornswoggle the app to generate a false surge. It’s almost comical how devoted they are to gouging passengers, like funny little cartoon villains with pink mustaches.

As Johnny Rotten said that time he was in San Francisco, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”

uber-driver-surge-game

Since I’ve been driving a cab, my earnings have increased from $700 a week when I first started to $900 a week after just three months of driving forty hours a week. That’s AFTER my gate fees, gas and greasing the palms of the window guy to get a decent cab. The only other expense I have is my annual A card permit. But get this, I’m still learning how to drive a cab. Cab driving is an entirely different beast from the Uber/Lyft experience, where fares only come from one place: the apps. In a taxi, they come from a multitude of sources: street hails, dispatch calls, voucher accounts, cab stands, the airport, regular clients and yes, even apps.

I guess I did start driving smarter and not harder: I stopped driving for Uber and Lyft!

So far, I’ve learned that a successful taxi driver does not just keep warm bodies in the seats.  They get their fares to where they’re going as efficiently as possible and avoid traffic and other hazards of the road at the same time, all the while providing a pleasant customer experience along the way. I do this with aplomb. Always have. When I was a Uber/Lyft driver, I had a 4.9 rating with both. But positive ratings—even with glowing comments—weren’t going to pay my rent. Or cover my power bill. Shit, they couldn’t even support my daily cup of Philz coffee.

Now that I’ve taken my customer service skills to taxi, though, I get something much better than five star ratings: cold hard cash.

charm-pays-in-a-taxicab

Tips make up at least 30-40% of my income. It’s not unusual to get a twenty-dollar bill for a ten-dollar ride. This happens multiple times each night. Even at standard tipping rates, a seven-dollar ride is a ten-dollar ride when the deal is done. And a ten-dollar ride easily becomes a fifteen-dollar ride. Once you get into the $30-$40 range, the bare minimum of 20% bumps up fares significantly. And there’s always the chance you’ll get a big spender who drops a C note on a $25 ride. (Yes, the lead picture is real. It happened during my third week as a cab driver.)

Occasionally, there are some passengers who don’t tip at all. Foreign tourists are notorious for not understanding American tipping culture. But over the past three months, I’ve only been stiffed a few times. The most egregious case was an older guy from the Midwest who gave me a twenty-dollar bill and a dime on a $10.10 fare. Confused, I asked how much he wanted back and he replied indignantly, “Ten dollars.” It didn’t occur to me until I drove away that I should have returned the dime with a snotty comment like, “You probably need this more than me.” But that’s not my style. Although, to be honest, I wish I could be more of an asshole sometimes.

When it comes to Uber and Lyft, it doesn’t matter how well you drive, how friendly you are or how accommodating you are to passengers, there is no expectation of a tip. Since Uber doesn’t allow tipping through the app, unless somebody hands you cash—which is extremely rare—you don’t get anything beyond the price of the ride. Lyft, on the other hand, has the option to tip, but very few people actually tip. And those who do tip maybe give you a dollar or two. You certainly never get enough to cover Lyft’s 20% commission. Never.

Out of desperation, some Uber drivers have been experimenting with putting tip jars in the backseat. Or taping signs to their cars. Or starting online petitions.

uber-drivers-beg-for-tips

Without a doubt, most people who take Lyft and Uber are cheapskates. They only use these ride services because they don’t want to take the bus or pay for a real cab. (Or they just really hate taxis.) So what if they have to wait ten minutes for a driver to show up? Who cares if the driver has no clue how to get from the Mission to the Castro? It’s all about cheap rides. And if they’re using Lyft Line or Uber Pool, they’re only paying a few dollars more than the bus. Unless it surges. And then they just get in a cab.

“But my drivers tell me they’re happy all the time!” you might exclaim when confronted with the reality that Uber/Lyft drivers actually have needs too.

Well, I hate to break it to you, but they only say that because they don’t want a bad rating. Uber/Lyft drivers live in constant fear of deactivation. No matter what you tell yourself to feel better about supporting an exploitative business model, when you ride with Uber and Lyft, you are encouraging a system that takes advantage of people so desperate for money they are willing to use their personal vehicles as taxicabs. At half the price! And no tip!

tweet-uber-drivers-are-happy

When I was an Uber/Lyft driver, I joined all the Facebook groups for drivers. I’m still a member of most, although I had to unfollow them after a while because I got tired of practicing my gag reflexes as the posts showed up on my wall. I still occasionally drop in to see what’s going on in Uber/Lyft land. Not much ever changes. Ratings are always on the top of drivers’ minds. Drivers seek sympathy for low ratings and post screengrabs of the positive comments they get in an email from Lyft each week. It’s kinda pathetic.

scared-happy-lyft-drivers-bad-good-ratings

Money is the second biggest topic. And how to make it. Few seem to know what they’re doing. They just turn on the app and hope for the best. But there are some drivers who like to brag about making the big bucks. They claim to earn $1000 a week in 40 hours. This figure, of course, doesn’t factor in expenses, particularly unforeseen costs like major car repairs that not only require money but also time, during which they aren’t earning money. They also assume major insurance risks that could cost them thousands of dollars, and they deal with an unfair rating system that could end their ability to use the system. It takes just one self-entitled asshole on a power trip. And let’s not forget about Uncle Sam. He’s gonna want a cut too.

Meanwhile, a beginning taxi driver like myself who also works forty hours a week is making $900. Which is straight profit. Money in my pocket. (Minus taxes, of course… though with all that cash floating around, it’s hard to keep track of it all…) And as I get better at driving a cab, I expect my income to continue rising. Hell, baseball season just started this week. Summer is on the way. Tourists! Oh, bless the tourists and their cab-taking ways!

The way I figure it, if I can make $900 a week during the off-season, despite the alleged dominance of Uber, the future is looking bright for me in a cab. Plus, no insurance risks, no rating system and no car maintenance. And I get to use taxi lanes and cab stands, I can make left turns where it’s most strategic and I can cruise straight down Market Street like I’m a la-di-fucking-da…

So yeah… go ahead and believe the hype that Uber and Lyft are destroying the taxi industry. The propagation of lies is the only sustainable component of their business model. And they need all the suckers they can get.

uber-x-driver-on-the-skids

My Uber Breaking Point

fuck_uber_HQ

Originally appeared on Disinfo.com.

 

Hello Lyft, My Old Friend

It’s Wednesday afternoon. The sky is pissing rain. I’m swerving through the Marina on my way to pick up Tina, trying to avoid crater lakes and double-parkers. Turn onto Van Ness. With rush hour traffic from Lombard on my back, I pull into a driveway a few doors down from the pinned location. Tap the arrive bar on the Lyft app and tap again to confirm that I’ve actually arrived. Ian Dury comes on the stereo. While I wait for Tina, I bang my fingers against the steering wheel along to the beat.

Just as the song ends, a girl emerges from the high-rise apartment building and dashes through the downpour towards my car. I turn down the music as she jumps in the front seat.

“I tried to get as close as I could,” I say. “But this was the only driveway.”

“That’s alright.” She slides the seat all the way back with authority and props her Uggs on the dashboard.

“So we’re going to…?” I ask.

She doesn’t respond.

“Oh, right.” This is a Lyft. I’ve gotten so used to driving for Uber the past few months, I keep forgetting how the Lyft app works. Passengers generally input their address when requesting a ride. I close out another window. Expand the map screen to figure out her destination. “SoMa?”

Still nothing.

“Okay then…” I reverse slowly, watching traffic through the windows of a parked car.

I’ve just started driving for the day. Tina is my second ride. Despite loading up on Philz coffee when I began my shift, I haven’t got my head into the game of moving folks around the congested city yet. As aggravating as it may be, I usually drive rush hour. The traffic is horrible, but at some point, surge pricing, or prime time, in Lyft parlance, usually kicks in, which is the only time you’re guaranteed to make more than the bare minimum.

I decide to follow the suggested route in the app. Although I can’t read the street names underneath the thick red lines on the map, I can tell the app wants me to go down Broadway to The Embarcadero. Not my preferred route to SoMa from Russian Hill during rush hour, but I follow the app’s advice anyway. Lyft passengers always seem to want you to follow the in-app navigation. Even if it’s the less efficient route. Whatever. It’s their $1.35 a mile.

Tina coughs and snorts. I glance in her direction. Yoga pants, hoodie, thick sweater and a scarf wrapped around her face like a fashion-conscious anarchist. She stares into her phone, which erupts with a woman’s voice enthusiastically describing how to melt butter for the quickest fudge recipe on the internet. Then she watches another step-by-step video recipe. In between videos, she snorts, coughs and hacks.

“Are you okay?” I ask.

“I’m sick.” Hacks. “Sorry.”

As I approach The Embarcadero, I immediately regret following the directions in the Lyft app. What was I thinking? Rush hour is bad enough. Throw some rain in the mix and it’s a clusterfuck. Traffic is completely gridlocked. We’re barely moving. At twenty-seven cents per minute, I’m wasting both my time and Tina’s time. With the Bay on my left, the only way out of this mess is to take a right on Washington. But I’d still have to traverse the Financial District, where the streets are no doubt backed up as well. Fuck! I should have known better than to follow the directions in the app. Had I taken Hyde, even if it were just as clogged, I’d at least have a few more options. Now that I’ve screwed myself, I can only push through until I get to Mission Street.

Besides her constant coughing, hacking and sneezing, Tina is silent as she continues to watch recipe videos, send texts, write emails and listen to her voicemail. She makes a few phone calls on speakerphone so I can hear every word of her inane conversations. Apparently, a coworker smells funny. Her roommate leaves dirty dishes in the sink. A client doesn’t know how to use the print function on his MacBook.

I want to blow my brains out.

Why is this girl in the front seat anyway? Didn’t Lyft recently send out a press release telling users if they don’t want to interact with their drivers, they can just sit in the back seat? I guess she didn’t get the memo. It never ceases to amaze me how easily people will conform to the traditions of a gypsy cab service just to avoid taking the bus. Or paying a taxi fare.

Fuck, I hate Lyft. As I sit in suspended awkwardness next to Tina, feeling like we’re both going to explode from the tension, I begin to wonder if I really have reached my Uber breaking point. I thought I had, but now I’m not so sure… This isn’t the first time I’ve bailed on Uber. Except in the past, I’d do a couple Lyft rides, realize how exhausting it is pretending to give a shit about the people I drive for even less money and quickly flip-flop back to Uber. This time, though, I don’t have a choice.

As much as I’d like to say I quit driving for Uber because of their lies, the inability to protect passengers from physical and sexual assault while insisting that their background checks are superior to taxis (a claim that is being challenged by prosecutors in Los Angeles and San Francisco), the false promises to be a kinder Uberthe threats to journaliststhe disdain for the disabledthe mistreatment of drivers or the general douchebaggery of their libertarian, cut-throat business practices, Uber made it easy for me to stick to my convictions by charging me $200 for a cracked iPhone 4S.

Back when I first signed up, Uber didn’t allow drivers to use the “partner” app on our personal phones. Instead, they issued us iPhones that ran the app (and only the app). And charged us $10 a week in rental fees. Whether we drove that week or not. Eventually they released a version we could download. Most drivers quickly returned the Uber-issued phones to avoid the rental fees. I was ready to send my phone back too, but I’d accidentally cracked the screen. One night, when I got home from driving, I left the phone on the bed and somehow managed to shatter the screen between my ass and the pillow top mattress. It was mind-boggling. I mean, I’ve dropped phones on concrete before and only ended up with a few scratches. Yet this one couldn’t withstand a little pressure?

Fucking Uber and their janky ass phones!

I posted a few queries on Facebook groups for drivers and emailed Uber asking what to do about the damaged phone. But as with all emails to Uber support, the response was as vague and uninformative as the opinions of other drivers on Facebook. I didn’t know what to do: take the chance and return the useless phone or spend eighty bucks and get it fixed myself?

With those ten-dollar charges rapidly adding up, the Wife was pissed to no end. She hates Uber. She hates their entire predatory business model. She hates worrying that we’ll have to declare bankruptcy if I get into an accident. She hates their exploitation of foreigners (which is rarely, if ever, discussed in the media — journalists prefer to focus on the part-time, middle class workers of the on-demand economy). She hates the Uber passengers who scuff up the interior of our car as they drunkenly climb in and out. She hates the plastic sleeve on the windshield that holds the Uber placard. And she especially hates their crappy phones.

Whenever she saw the thing with its screen smashed into a splintered web of disappointment gathering dust on my nightstand, she reminded me, with increasing annoyance, that I shouldn’t be paying $10 a week for something I didn’t use. “Fix the damn thing or send it back already!” When the nagging got to be too much—Er, I mean, when I realized she was right, as always—I returned the phone to Uber. Cracked screen and all. Fuck it.

That weekend, disgusted by how Uber is handling the Sophia Liu case, now that the driver has been charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, I made one of my many grand declarations to never drive for Uber again. I was done! How could I affiliate myself with a company that refused to accept even a shred of responsibility for the death of a six-year-old child? With all those billions and billions, they can’t break off some for a little girl’s life? Yeah, I know it would set a precedent and they’d be on the hook for all the other misdeeds perpetrated by Uber drivers. And yeah, the guy fucked up. He wasn’t paying attention to where he was going. On those congested Tenderloin streets, you need to keep your eyes on the road. But the way an Uber spokesperson said the driver had no business even looking at his phone when the accident occurred, since he was in between fares, rubbed me the wrong way. As any Uber or Lyft driver knows, the entire process is about looking at a phone. You look at the screen for requests. You look at the heat maps to see where it’s surging. You look at the phone to make sure you’re online when you go a few minutes without a ride.

As devastating as the situation is, Uber makes it worse by doing everything they can to distance themselves from what they created: an app-based taxi service for non-professional, unregulated and underinsured drivers. It’s obvious Uber doesn’t care about anything but world domination at the expense of whatever or whoever gets in their way. Whether it be state and local lawsprotesting drivers or small children. They are barely concerned with their passengers, much less the public at large. And they don’t give one iota of a shit about the drivers.

I just couldn’t be a part of their rapacious practices anymore. After putting off the inevitable for too long already, it was time to implement my exit strategy and move on to driving a taxi. As soon as I earned enough money for taxi school, I would finally be done with Lyft and Uber. Then it’s the cabbie’s life for me!

In the meantime, I started driving for Lyft again. Which wasn’t an easy sacrifice to make. At least with Uber there’s no expectation of conviviality. The Lyft experience is so pedestrian. Lyft tries to hold your hand the whole time. It’s excruciating when you know what you’re doing and just want to get the job done. That’s why Uber is killing Lyft in the ride-hail wars. They are the bridge between taxis and limos. A premium service at a cut-rate price.

With Uber, there are no illusions. Unless you’re an idiot — or believe corporate shills like The Rideshare Guy — you enter the life of an Uber driver knowing damn well you’re going to get fucked up the ass. Lyft, on the other hand, is all about a false sense of community and inclusiveness. As long as you play by their rules. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a more jingoistic, flag-waving group of kool-aid drinking cheerleaders before I discovered the loyal drivers in Lyft’s Facebook driver lounges. These private groups have since been disbanded, as if John Zimmer, the CEO, happened upon them one night and, after perusing the infinite flow of asinine comments by a chorus of gossip hounds and glad-handers, murmured into the glow of his computer screen, “Exterminate the brutes.”

Lyft may portray themselves as fun and quirky and the “friendly” alternative, but they’re just like Uber. Except when they cut rates and tell drivers it’s for their own good, they never fail to mention how we’re part of a a community. Which makes their version of ass-rape so appalling.

I like my evil pure and uncut, thank you very much.

Of course, community comes in handy when you get in an accident and you’re forced to crowdsource the $2,500 deductible to get your car fixed. Cause you know, in the “sharing” economy, money if just another underutilized resource. (Seriously, search “Lyft” on GoFundMe and be prepared to feel disgusted by what “ridesharing” has wrought.)

GoFundMe might as well be a subsidiary of Lyft. Since you don’t get as many rides as you do with Uber, you don’t make as much money. Yeah, it’s great passengers can leave a tip through the app—unlike Uber, which strictly forbids tipping. But hardly anybody tips. And those who do tip maybe add a buck or two to their total. At the most. Occasionally, you get somebody who leaves more than twenty percent. But that’s rare. It’s demoralizing to receive my Lyft totals the next morning and see how little I’ve made and how much more I could have made if I got at least twenty percent in tips to offset Lyft’s twenty percent cut of my meager profits.

Each time I get into my car to drive for Lyft, I have to suspend the disbelief that it’s a viable occupation. I never feel like I’m really doing something productive. More like participating in a newfangled pyramid scheme.

Sure, there are some great moments with cool and interesting passengers, but that happens with Uber too. The majority of my passengers talk to me. I think my long hair, tattoos and glasses put people at ease. I’m chill and articulate. Everybody assumes I’m a student. I love to bullshit and discuss San Francisco history and lore. I’ve had some great conversations while driving for Uber and Lyft. Unfortunately, confabulation doesn’t translate to a living wage.

Yet.

When it comes to Uber and Lyft, charm doesn’t pay. But I hope that once I get behind the wheel of a bonafide taxi, a charismatic personality will be an asset. And I can unshackle the reins of a tyrranical rating system. It’s exhausting trying to make people happy so you can get those five stars.

Based on what I’ve noticed at the Whole Foods on California, despite the strain of losing fares to these apps, taxi drivers seem more relaxed. Unlike ride-hail drivers, who always look squirrelly and overworked. Maybe all that flexibility isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. As Uber and Lyft lower their ratesclaiming this tactic will lead to more ridesdrivers are working harder than ever to make up the difference.

And compared to Uber, Lyft is way more labor intensive. It’s all about Lyft Line these days, the cheaper service where different passengers share the same ride going in similar directions. About seventy-five percent of my rides are Lyft Lines. Which means I’m driving more, doing more pick-ups and more drop-offs, all the while making less than if I were just giving one decent Uber ride. While Uber wants to compete with taxis, Lyft seems to be competing with the bus. It’s a race to the bottom. And drivers are rats on a sinking ship.

After a few days of doing non-stop Lyft Lines, I began to feel like a soccer mom: Pick up one passenger here. Pick up the second over there. Drop off one. Then the other. Repeat. Over and over… The process is rarely easy. The algorithms that determine who gets dropped off first don’t always make sense. And despite choosing to use Lyft Line, riders can be impatient with the procedure. I had one woman tell me when she got in my car that she was running late to catch the Caltrain. As she sweated me about it all the way to pick up the next passenger, I pointed out that she really shouldn’t be using Lyft Line when she’s in a hurry. Another night, this bossy girl insisted I pull over on Kearney and call the guy I was supposed to pick up next and ask him to walk three blocks to meet us because she didn’t want to drive into Union Square. Granted, it would have been a nightmare — this was during Christmas — but while on the phone with him, I got the sense he didn’t know his way around the city very well. Sure enough, he got lost. While we idled in a tow-away zone for twenty minutes waiting for him to find us, the girl kept saying, “Why doesn’t he just use the navigation in his phone?”

As annoying as Lyft Line is, the Lyft app is the worst aspect of driving for Lyft. I can’t believe some commenters think the Uber and Lyft apps function the same. They do not! Uber has the superior app. If there’s one thing Uber is willing to spend their billions on other than marketing and lawyers, it’s app development.

When it comes to interacting with the app, Lyft is like a needy child. You have to tap when you arrive at the pinged location, tap again to confirm you’ve arrived, tap when the passenger gets in the car, tap to find out the destination, tap once you’ve reached their destination, tap to end the ride, tap to rate the passenger, tap to go back into driver mode… Tap, tap, tap… All the while dealing with passengers and traffic. The Uber app is a little more intuitive. There’s still a lot of tapping, but the process feels simpler.

During my second week driving exclusively for Lyft, I complained about the app to a passenger who happened to work as a software engineer for Lyft. He seemed to be soliciting a critique, so I pointed out all the things I found problematic. His defensive response was typical of how most people who work at Lyft respond to criticism. If anybody wonders how Lyft manages to stay in the ride-hail game, despite Uber’s dominance, it’s their cult-like stubbornness to admit they are doing anything but the “Lord’s Work.”

Later that night, when I finally got sick of the Lyft Lines and the shitty app, I switched over to Uber. It was like putting my aching feet into a pair of worn-in slippers. I was able to see where I needed to go easily on the map, which is larger and has translucent lines over the boldly labeled streets. The passengers sit in back. Interaction is minimal and mostly respectful. Hardly anybody uses UberPool, their version of shared rides. And when people do request a ride through UberPool, nine times out of ten, they aren’t matched with another rider.

I only gave a few rides with Uber that night, including one to SFO, but the following week I didn’t get a payment summary. I went onto their website and blanched when I noticed my account was negative $168.00. I emailed support and, after five or six exchanges, was finally informed I was being charged a “deposit” on the cracked phone. Plus a few rental charges from the weeks I didn’t drive before I returned the phone.

That was the deal breaker.

At the current rates, it would take me several days to pay off the debt. All the while, shelling out what little cash I have left for gas, car washes and bridge tolls. There was just no way I could justify the expense. I kept thinking of all the things I could buy with $200. Like a couple used tires to replace my bald Michelins. Or a cheap break job before I have to fix the rotors as well. Both of which I desperately need. The squeaking is getting louder each day. And I’m one particularly sharp rock away from a blowout on the rugged streets of San Francisco. What I make from driving for Uber and Lyft, with the constantly diminishing rates, barely covers my bills, much less necessary maintenance on my car so I can keep driving for Uber and Lyft.

When the Wife found out Uber was charging me $200 for a piece of shit iPhone 4 (which goes for about $80 on eBay), she was livid. Absolutely forbade me from driving for Uber again. I swore up and down that I wasn’t that stupid. But stuck in the car on The Embarcadero during a torrential downpour with Tight-Lipped Tina sulking in my passenger seat, I have to admit the thought crossed my mind.

After a grueling fifteen minutes, I’m $3.20 richer, but no closer to her destination. I notice a few taxis go by in the far right lane. I get behind a Yellow cab like a running back following a linesman towards a first down and hope for the best. I learned long ago to always follow cab drivers. If I’m on a street and there are no taxis, I know I’m on the wrong street.

Eventually other cars get hip to the possibility of escape and we continue crawling past Market. As soon as I can, I weave into the right turn lane and head down Mission. Fight my way onto Beale Street, trying not to get stuck in the middle of the intersection. In my infinite list of grievances with Bay Area drivers, the tendency to block intersections should be a crime punishable by public flogging in Union Square. And yet, here I am, my front end past the crosswalk as the light turns yellow and the car in front of me has nowhere to go. Not to be a hypocritical asshole, I drive straight and flip a bitch in the middle of the block. Crowd my way back to the corner. After four green lights, I finally make the turn. I get into the left lane so I can bypass the freeway traffic.

In between phone calls, tweets and Facebook updates, Tina keeps coughing and hacking. As I head down a glorified alley under the Bay Bridge, she starts making groaning sounds.

“Are you okay?” I ask.

“I haven’t eaten today. I’m a little nauseous.”

“Sorry. I’ll try not to drive so fast.” But what can I do? I cut through Bayside Village to Brannan. Then down a side street to Townsend. I take the turns easy, but all the other cars on the road are being aggressive. A dickhead in a BMW rides my ass. I have no choice but to fight to make it through the lights. I just want to get this girl out of my car!

When I finally reach her destination and she dashes out into the drizzle, I take a deep breath. End the ride. But Lyft’s having server problems. The ride won’t close out.

Fucking Lyft! I curse the app as I keep clicking the “wait” button until the command finally goes through. Certain I’ll get a low rating from Tina, since I didn’t have the Moses-like ability to part traffic, I rate her three stars. Go back into driver mode. Instantly, I get another request. 5th and Townsend. Postmates HQ, the delivery startup that used to be in a second floor walk-up on Valencia before moving to a slick new office space across from Caltrain. As bad as it is to be an Uber or Lyft driver, from what I’ve read, driving for Postmates is worse. There seems to be no end in sight to the exploitative business models of the emerging peer-to-peer economy. Or suckers to participate in their mercenary schemes.

Tom is just as reticent as Tina. He sits up front too.

Kudos to Lyft for effectively brainwashing these kids into acting like they’re really supposed to be friends with their drivers. But they’re all just so… awkward. I wonder if they even have friends in the real world. Maybe if we were communicating through FaceTime it would be easier.

In my never-ending plight to neutralize awkward situations, I fancy myself a bit of a techie whisperer. I ease Tom into a conversation.

“My company has a deal with Lyft,” he tells me, in response to my query about whether he also uses Uber. “We get a certain amount of free rides each week.”

Lyft emailed me about this new program called Lyft for Work when it launched, in case I worked for a company that would benefit from the service. Oh sure… Like I would drive for Lyft if I had a real job to fall back on! But I guess in the so-called “sharing” economy, we’re all supposed to be rubbing each other’s backs. Only problem is, these days, I’m steady rubbing backs and there’s nobody to rub mine.

Traffic through SoMa is as bad as it was on The Embarcadero. But the rain is letting up. I weave my way over to 7th Street. Cross Market and head through the Tenderloin. Tom lives in Nob Hill. Stopped at the light on Bush and Taylor, a block and a half from his destination, I suggest he might want to walk the rest of the way.

“That’s alright,” he mumbles

Whatever. Twenty-seven cents a minute is better than nothing, I guess.

I ask Tom about the pizza place on the corner. I’ve always wondered about Uncle Vito’s. “It looks legit,” I say. “Do you order from there?”

“No,” he tells me. “They’re not on Eat24 or Postmates.”

“But the number’s right there on the window. It says, ‘For delivery call.’ You should just put it in your phone.”

“Yeah. I guess.” He makes no effort to take his phone out.

“Man, that’s the kind of place you don’t even look up on Yelp first,” I declare after a few minutes of silence.

Tom grunts. Between us, there is only a gear shifter and a center console. But the distance is wider than the San Francisco Bay.

Several green lights later, he finally says, “I think I’ll walk the rest of the way.”

“Might as well,” I say with a slight chuckle. “I’m not going anywhere any time soon.”

I end the ride. Fortunately, Lyft isn’t having server issues this time. And hey, I scored 25% prime time on top of the regular fare! I give Tom five stars. Now I just have to hope he doesn’t rate me low because of the added charge… or the traffic… or talking… or the weather… or for any of the other reasons Lyft passengers rate their drivers low.

I stay out of driver mode since I’m stuck in traffic. No point in trying to pick up a passenger until I can actually move.

At least the rain has let up.

For the next several green lights, parked in front of Uncle Vito’s, I watch the pie maker toss dough and bang my fingers on the steering wheel along to the Cramps. Turn up the volume and hope there’ll still be some prime time left once I get out of this traffic jam. 

Top  photo by the author, taken on my way to the Bart station after passing the New Taxi Driver exam. Since Uber HQ is next door to the SFMTA, I couldn’t resist a little homage to Ai Wei Wei.