Tag Archives: regulation

Taxi vs. Uber: How to Level the Playing Field

top-light-taxi-crusty-ragged-christian-lewisJohn Han recently interviewed several San Francisco taxi industry leaders and taxi drivers about how to level the playing field with Uber and compiled the video below.

Of course it all comes down to regulation.

The fact is, taxi drivers CHOOSE to follow the rules, even though there is no one to enforce the laws.

TNC drivers, on the other hand, are encouraged by the Uber and Lyft to embrace the arrogance of “disruptive” culture and break the law. While they may actually think they are doing something worthwhile, they are nothing but scofflaws.

If TNCs were to compete with taxis on the same playing field, the results would be embarrassing and they would expose Uber and Lyft users as the hypocritical assholes they are.

[top image by Christian Lewis]

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Being Uber Ain’t Easy: Why All Rideshare Drivers Should Support Regulation

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Originally appeared on Disinfo.com:

The global pushback against Uber domination continues to gain momentum. Over the past few weeks, the ride-hailing app was banned in IndiaThailand and Francesuspended in Spain and challenged in BelgiumGermanythe Netherlands and South Korea. Across the US, local governments in OregonArizonaNevadaTexasPennsylvania and California are cracking down on the San Francisco-based behemoth, as well as its smaller rival, Lyft. Every day there are more and more articles in major news outlets documenting the growing rideshare backlash.

Uber responds to the lawsuits and rampant criticism with aplomb, holding the ship steady amid a tempest of dissent. They are always quick to fire back. When they’re not threatening journalists, they accuse city councils of subjecting them to unfair burdens. They claim their model of ridesharing is under attack by government overregulation. Since they profess to be a technology and not a transportation company, they argue they’re immune to the same laws that taxi companies must adhere to. They demand special treatment because they are disrupting the evil “taxi cartel” and bringing quality service to the masses. They hire lobbyists and ask their supporters – both drivers and passengers – to sign petitions and join rallies. They set up web pages to make it easy for customers to contact their representatives.

Being Uber means you never have to take your face out of an iPhone. Click a button, get an Uber ride. Click another, support the Uber cause.

As an Uber/Lyft driver, I’ve received dozens of emails and texts encouraging me to resist government meddling. I may drive for these companies, but I’m not stupid. Just broke and desperate. Which is why I use my own car as an unlicensed taxicab, despite the risks associated with transporting drunk and impatient people through crowded urban streets. I know I’m not protected from misfortune. When something goes wrong, whether it be car-maintenance or worse, I’m on the hook. My personal insurance policy is completely invalid when driving for-hire. If I get in an accident, I’ll be at the mercy of the offshore insurance company Uber uses to cover their drivers. From everything I’ve read about the experiences of other drivers, Uber won’t be clamoring to come to my aid. There isn’t even a number to call in case of an emergency. I could have bodies splattered all over the asphalt and still only be able to submit a support ticket through Uber’s website. And hope for the best. Even though drivers make these companies billions of dollars, we are entirely alone out on the streets.

Being Uber means never thinking about the consequences of being Uber.

So why support a system that puts the underemployed at such an extreme disadvantage? It makes sense Uber customers would oppose regulation. Until something goes wrong. They just want cheap, efficient rides and a cashless payment system. But a regulated Uber and Lyft are in drivers’ best interests. After all, we are the ones with everything at stake.

Maybe I am kind of stupid.

Safety Not Guaranteed 

Regulation is all about insurance and background checks. Taxi companies are required to provide adequate insurance and use Live Scan background checks to properly vet their drivers. So what’s the big deal? Uber was just valued at $40 billion. Why can’t they provide adequate insurance and fork over the cash for industry-standard background checks? They have no problem writing code that makes hailing a car as easy as touching the screen of a smart phone, but when faced with a little bureaucratic paperwork, suddenly they don’t have the resources?

It’s almost impressive how far Uber will go to avoid regulation. Shawn Marquez, the acting director of Arizona’s Department of Weights and Measures, which regulates cabs in the state, recently pointed out, “Some areas regulate how many cars you can have, their color, their year, how much the price is. In Arizona we don’t do any of that. You can have purple cars with stars and stripes as long as you have the insurance.” (Arizona continues to crack down on Uber and Lyft.)

Instead of playing by the rules, Uber just plows into cities across the world and sets up shop. They figure after getting public support for their service, they can argue they’re providing an invaluable service that consumers would suffer without. When the regulators come calling, they cry injustice and rally the legal teams. It’s a gambit that seems to be paying off. Even with several pending lawsuitsincluding PortlandSan Francisco and Los Angeles, they are still operating in those cities. Las Vegas seems to be the only municipality able to fend them off. (Though Portland is trying their damnedest to rout Uber’s advance into the Rose City.)

Being Uber means never taking “no” for an answer.

Lyft, on the other hand, is pulling out of places where regulation doesn’t bode with their model. In November, when the Houston city council approved regulations for rideshare services, they shut down operations, claiming background checks, increased insurance and safety exams create an undue burden for drivers. A few weeks ago, they ceased operations in Tacoma, Washington, after the city council passed regulations there. Since most people moonlight as Lyft and Uber drivers to supplement income, they don’t have time during the day, the argument goes, when they are supposedly at regular jobs, to sit around government offices waiting to get legal. (Never mind the fact that, as these companies squeeze the taxi industry, hordes of former cabbies are moving into rideshare.)

Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death

Uber and Lyft promote convenience. For passengers and drivers. They know people are lazy. If drivers had to get their fingerprints taken, pee in a cup and spend a day or two attending a class, they wouldn’t be as likely to sign-up. Or keep driving.

Where would the so-called sharing economy be without this ease of participation? Especially for the folks providing these peer-to-peer services? Why go through the hassle of setting up your house as a legitimate bed and breakfast when you can just list empty rooms on Airbnb? Why polish a resume and apply to temp agencies when you can post your services on TaskRabbit?

For the Average Joe, the idea of using his personal car to transport drunks may seem like a fun way to earn some extra money. That it requires very little effort makes it even more appealing. Taking time out of your day to get a license in order to be legit… well, that sounds like a total drag. Nobody enjoys going to government offices like the DMV. (When will there be an app to solve that hassle?)

Uber and Lyft know prospective drivers won’t take the extra steps to become legal. In a recent article on SFGate.com, Lyft’s vice president of government relations said as much: “Most people would sign up for Lyft if they could do it standing at line in the grocery store and spend five minutes.” The entire business model of ridesharing is based on a never-ending supply of moonlighters.

Need some extra money to pay off credit cards? Drive for Uber.

Bored at home and sick of watching TV on weekend nights? Turn on the Lyft app. Look, there’s surge pricing!

To become a Lyft driver, I just ran my thumb along a slider in the app. Filled out my personal information and provided my social security number, driver’s license and the make and model of my car. It was a breeze. The only obstacle was waiting for a response. But a week later, I was giving rides and making money.

With Uber, the process was just as simple. Except I never received the Uber-issued iPhone 5 required to access their app in the mail. I had to wait in line at Uber HQ. Which was a slightly harrowing experience. But the majority of drivers get their phones and placards shipped to them. They start driving without ever once looking an Uber representative in the face.

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The Uber Bait-and-Switch

This effortless process of onboarding is what pushes the ridesharing revolution. Anybody can get signed up without a hitch. But once you start driving, it’s a different story. From that point on, the experience becomes increasingly difficult.

Driving a car in a city like San Francisco is no cake-walk. When a request comes in, you have to deal with the app while negotiating traffic. You only have ten seconds to accept the ride. (Miss too many requests and you face deactivation.) Once you figure out where you’re going, you drive to the location and, invariably, wait in traffic with your hazards on for the person to saunter outside and get in the car. From there, the app tells you where the passenger wants to go and how to get there. But there’s still traffic to contend with. And along the way, you have to keep a careful eye on errant cars, belligerent cabbies and suicidal pedestrians. All the while maintaining a sunny disposition. It’s important to be accommodating to your passengers. Or risk a low rating. (If your rating gets too low, they deactivate you.)

Pro tip: When passengers ask if you like driving for Uber, always say you LOVE driving for Uber. Being Uber means not being afraid to tell a lie or two.

On the road, issues often arise that have to be dealt with, like unruly passengers, drunks, picking up the wrong personlost items that have to be returned, physical and mental stress, low rates that keep getting lower and an unfair rating system that allows riders upset about surge pricing and app glitches to take their frustrations out on drivers.

I’ve been driving Uber and Lyft for ten months. I’m not going to make it much longer. I don’t earn enough driving for Lyft and Uber to afford to keep driving for Lyft and Uber. My car is trashed and the only way I can make the kind of money to maintain it anymore is by driving ten to twelve hours a day. Which would only rag my car out even more. And hey, isn’t that the cabbie’s life? And what rideshare is ostensibly trying to disrupt?

Hell, I’d rather be a cabbie. They have it much better. They don’t have to use their own cars. Or shell out the big bucks for car maintenance. Or provide their own insurance. Or pay a deductible if they get in a no-fault accident. They don’t have to deal with the demands of self-entitled kids accustomed to getting the world handed to them on a silver platter and expecting premium service at a cut-rate price. (I’d take the tourist trade over the start-up crowd anyday!) Cabbies actually have their own businesses in the form of repeat customers. Charm and quality service don’t pay when you’re an Uber driver. But cabbies get tips. On top of all the other indignities Uber drivers suffer, we are also denied tips! According to Uber’s official policy, “Being Uber means there is no need to tip drivers with any of our services.”

So yeah…

Being Uber isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Not for drivers. When you think about it, sitting in the waiting room of a government agency for a few hours to ensure you’re protected from the evil machinations of a corporation bent on world domination doesn’t seem that bad. In fact, it sounds kind of like a vacation.

For more insight into rideshare from a driver’s mostly altered perspective, check out my blog Behind the Wheel. Follow me on twitter

(Top photo taken by the author of artwork by Mansur. Second photo from a driver protest outside the Uber offices.) 

The Rideshare Paradox

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Friends with Benefits

Uber must think Lyft drivers are all BFFs. It’s an understandable assumption, seeing as how Lyft promotes their brand of ridesharing as a community where drivers and passengers fistbump their way to everlasting friendship. Every day I get texts and emails from Uber telling me to bring my Lyft friends down to the office on Vermont street so they can sign up to drive for Uber. As always, it seems, they’re offering a $500 sign-up bonus and a $500 referral bonus. Plus lunch. And, as an added incentive, during the first month, new drivers are guaranteed to make either forty bucks an hour or $1000 a week, depending on the market.

If I had any Lyft friends, I’d tell them to take the money and run. $500 is a nice chunk of change. And I’ve seen the meals they give out at the Uber office. You get a sandwich, a bag of chips, some pasta salad and a soda. Not a bad spread. But alas, I have no friends in the Lyft “community.” I was removed from the Pacific Driver Lounge, Lyft’s official Facebook group for drivers, months ago for writing a blog post called The Cult of Lyft that poked fun of the jingoistic tendencies of the Lyft faithful. After that, I got kicked out of a group set up by Lyft drivers in the Bay Area. And then some Lyfters on a group for Uber Drivers had me kicked out of there. I guess what they say is true: “I am the most hated person in the world of Lyft.”

I’m actually surprised Lyft hasn’t deactivated me yet. I guess they’re afraid I’d make too much a stink if they sent me packing. Not that I’d be upset about it or anything. If you want to be part of the Lyft community, you need to drink a lot of Kool-Aid. Otherwise, you’re not welcome. And I’ve never felt welcome.

Still, it’s too bad I don’t know any Lyfters who aren’t already driving for Uber. I could definitely use the $500 referral bonus. After seven months of driving mostly fulltime for Lyft and Uber, I’m broke as hell. My credit cards are all maxed out, my bank account is overdrawn, I have a painful toothache I can’t afford to fix and the Wife’s always pissed cause I’m out driving late every weekend. As it is, I figure I have about two months until my car needs new brakes and tires. And when that day comes, my rideshare days are over. I just don’t make enough from driving for Uber and Lyft to afford to fix my car so I can keep driving for Uber and Lyft.

Now, I know it’s my own damn fault. I bought into the empty promise of ridesharing as an alternative source of income with a good amount of freedom. The ability to set your own hours can’t be overestimated for a creative type like myself. In fact, on Uber’s sign-up page, there are numerous quotes from drivers extolling the greatness of Uber because you can be your own boss. And who doesn’t want to be their own boss? I know I do. That’s one of the reasons I signed up in the first place. I was in between jobs and had an underutilized car. But as the harsh realities of being a rideshare driver became clearer, I should have moved on before the price wars went nuclear. Because all that freedom they talk about doesn’t come cheap.

Uber and Lyft have always been desperate for new drivers. But these days, they need them more than ever. As ridesharing becomes more popular, drivers will be quitting due to expensive car repairs or getting into accidents and not being able to afford the $2,500 deductible from the insurance companies that Uber and Lyft rely on to keep us safe. Or they’ll just bail after coming to the inevitable conclusion that ridesharing is not sustainable as anything more than a part-time gig.

The Long Con

In its current configuration, ridesharing, à la Uber and Lyft, is a conveyor belt to oblivion. Their goal is to take down “Big Taxi” with an endless stream of drivers using their personal cars as unregulated cabs. Uber and Lyft like to portray cab companies as monopolies that are bad for the public. They claim that government regulation will strangle innovation. But it’s all a smokescreen to disguise their true motives: replacing cab companies and their fleets of cars with tech start-ups who con regular folks into thinking they’re part of some “disruption” of a failed transportation system. And then rake in the cash.

Hey, it’s the American way!

You can’t blame Uber and Lyft for their eagerness to exploit the underemployed. It’s an effective business model that’s benefited countless fast-food joints and made the Walton family filthy rich. Low paid workers cycle through crap jobs all the time without much concern from the general public. But it’s one thing to have a stoned, pimply kid flip your burgers or ring up your discounted housewares. It’s quite another to trust them to transport you and your loved ones through city traffic in their own car for a few dollars. Chances are, they don’t even know how to get around the city without a navigation system. And even background checks can’t prevent bad seeds from easily finding their way onto the platform.

Not that it matters. Rideshare users, the very people who should be alarmed by these safety concerns, are absolutely clueless. They pay next to nothing for a ride and expect to be treated like royalty. Uber tells them they don’t need to tip and they accept that lie without hesitation. They just want the convenience and they want it for the lowest possible price. They blindly go along with the exploitative model of the gig economy without a second thought.

Unlike flipping burgers or running a register, though, Uber and Lyft drivers are supposed to perform a luxury service that’s superior to cabs. Despite getting paid less than cab drivers. Uber and Lyft are able to keep lowing the rates, of course, because they don’t have to own or maintain a single vehicle. They pass that discount onto to the drivers by forcing us to work for less and less each month.

I would much rather drive a cab. At least taxi drivers who lease their cars from a company don’t have to pay to fix them. If something goes wrong with their vehicle, they get a new one. A rideshare driver, on the other hand, shoulders all the risk and responsibility for their cars, as well as insurance and their health. We are subsidizing the entire industry so people can have an alternative to cabs. And what do we get in return? A few lousy bucks and a four-star rating at best.

As more drivers eventually realize they’re being exploited, Uber and Lyft will have to recruit new drivers to replace the ones who wise up. And these new drivers might make it a month or two before wandering off to another dead-end job. Some post comments in Facebook groups as they leave. But very few drivers will ever make a stink about how unfair the rideshare system is for drivers. Because the underemployed are used to being exploited.

Meet the new boss (and no, he’s not the same as the old boss)

I’ve had countless shitty jobs in my life. And each one came with a shitty boss. If I had ever had a boss that hired me at, say, $25 an hour and then a month later told me they were now going to pay me $15 an hour, I would tell that boss to fuck the fucking fuck off. Who wouldn’t, right? And yet, as a rideshare driver, I went along with a thirty percent pay cut. It happened so suddenly, I didn’t know how to react. And I didn’t feel like I had much a choice. Jobs don’t grow on job trees anymore. Those drivers who did have options dropped off like flies. The rest of us plodded along at the reduced wage. And then Uber and Lyft lowered the rates again. Sure, they claim that the new rates increase rides. But I was plenty busy before the price cuts. And I can only do so many rides an hour. Especially when passengers make me wait ten minutes to come outside or input the wrong location and I have to drive around looking for them. Then there’s traffic, unforeseen circumstances, driving to far off locations where you’re not likely to get a ride… the list goes on and on. It’s another lie. But we go along with it because we’re desperate. Or stupid. I don’t know which. Maybe both? (Of course, there are still Lyfters who are loyal to the brand. Bless their hearts.)

So how is not having a boss working out for us? Personally, I’d rather have the old boss. I don’t like the new boss. It’s like having a girlfriend or boyfriend who doesn’t want to put a “label” on things. You kind of suspect they’re two-timing you, but they’re just so cute. You can’t meet their friends. They always come to your house. Eat your food. Hog the comforter at night. And you can’t call them anytime you want. Oh, no. You have to wait for them to call you. And if you ever say, Hey, I need a commitment, they give you a million reasons why this relationship works best for YOU. And it sounds so convincing and you begin to think that maybe they do have your best interests at heart. They’re trying to protect you. So you go along with it because every once in a while, they’re just so fantastic. And you feel so loved. But deep down, you know the desperation has turned you blind to your own best interests. And one day, you’ll wake up and realize they don’t actually give two shits about you. You’re just one fool in a long line of fools who fall for their crap. You’re just somebody to keep them from being lonely on a Saturday night.

The day will come when all rideshare drivers have a similar revelation. And like that guy with the thick black book, Uber and Lyft need to keep enough irons in the fire so they never have to spend a Saturday night alone.

That’s the new boss.

I miss the old boss.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: ridesharing is a racket. There’s no way to win. Unless you want to join a cult or run your car into the ground. Then it’s a great way to make a few extra bucks a week. Just don’t think about what might happen if you get in an accident or need new brakes or what you’re going to do when it comes time to pay Uncle Sam. Whatever you do, do not think about that.