Tag Archives: surge pricing

The Scourge of Outside Lands

outside-lands-sf-examiner-Jessica-Christian

Part One

It never fails.

Whenever I work large events like Outside Lands, I always end up with a pack of drunken millennials in my taxi who are so accustomed to geographically-challenged Uber/Lyft drivers that they will try, despite the haze of alcohol, weed and molly, to micromanage my attempt to navigate the congestion.

Of all the tragedies that have resulted from the rise of Uber and Lyft, this assumption that a driver for hire has no clue how to reach the simplest destinations is really, as our commander-in-chief would put it, sad.

The other day, I pick up this guy at the Grand Hyatt. As he tips the doorman for flagging him a cab, I hear the guy say his phone had died and he wasn’t able to order an Uber.

“Where to?” I ask.

“Pac Heights.”

Okay. “Where in Pac Heights?”

“Geary and Laguna.”

“What?” I respond, somewhat confused.

“Lower Pac Heights. Close to Japantown.”

Brother, there is no Lower Pac Heights, I want to say. Geary and Laguna is Japantown. But I let it go. He’s either a tourist or has just moved here.

As I’m about to cross Van Ness, I ask where he’s going at Laguna and Geary.

He leans forward and says, “Oh, uhh, keep going two more blocks.”

“I know where Laguna is,” I reply. “Where are you going at Geary and Laguna? Are you on Geary? Laguna? Am I going right or left? It’s a big street with lots of turn restrictions.”

“Left on Laguna,” he says. “You’ll uhhh… probably have to make a U-turn.”

“Yeah, at Webster,” I mumble. So his cross streets are actually Ellis and Laguna, which would enable me to access the street he actually lives on: Cleary Court.

And regardless of what his real estate agent told him, he lives in motherfucking Western Addition!

It’s always the clueless passengers who tell you how to get somewhere, and they usually end up lost or going the longest route possible…

Anyway, this is my fourth year working Outside Lands. And even though I’m steeling myself for the inevitable shit show, I am hopeful this year might be different…

An unforeseen benefit of Uber and Lyft is that the number of millennials I pick up has dwindled to the point that, when they do end up in my cab, it’s usually memorable.

Like the four bros who surprised me at Davies Symphony Hall a few months back…

Drunk off their asses and wearing white tuxedos, they pile into my cab and demand to be taken to Emperor Norton’s.

“Do you know where that is?” one asks.

I respond affirmatively several times over the next few blocks, while the three guys in back continue to question whether I’m going the right way since I didn’t put the location into my phone and the guy up front incessantly nags me about playing the radio.

“Look!” I finally snap. “The bar is only five blocks away. I think you can go that long without music. Don’t you?”

*

On Friday, the first night of Outside Lands, things were astonishingly calm and uneventful.

That is, free of millennials.

I take two guys to Brass Tacks.

“Do you mind if we do garbage cocaine?” the one on the right asks me.

After several key bumps, the guy spends the rest of the ride complaining about the shitty blow in San Francisco.

My second ride is a young couple who’d just met. They spend the ride to Club Deluxe bonding over their pets. When I pull up to the bar, the guy hands me a $20 bill and refuses change on the $12.30 fare.

“For going out of your way to pick us up,” he says, exiting curbside.

Day two starts out smooth enough.

Since I stopped working Saturday nights, I don’t have my regular cab. So I’m driving Veterans 327. Late Night Larry’s cab.

As I venture out to the park on Fulton while the sun is still in the sky, I’m impressed with how the PCOs are controlling the streets and making sure all vehicles are able to get through the area. That same is true on Lincoln. Even though the SFMTA had promised us taxi stands, there are no designated staging areas. But it isn’t that much of a hassle.

When Metallica stops playing later that night, though, there’s little chance for any kind order in the ensuing chaos…

Read Part Two here.

[photo by Jessica Christian]

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

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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?

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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?”

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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. 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, 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 exclusively for Lyft only because I’d reached my Uber breaking point a few weeks ago and owe them $200 for cracking the iPhone 4 they issued me when signing up, back when Uber didn’t allow drivers to use the app on their personal phones, charging us $10 a week in rental fees instead. If I wasn’t already 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. Because there was no surge!

Some commenters speculated there were too many drivers on the road. But during events like Outside Lands, when the streets are filled with Uber/Lyfts, 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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Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 5.34.30 PM

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 Irina from 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?

Gouge Away: Uber’s Surge Pricing from a Driver’s Perspective

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Originally appeared on Disinfo.com

 

During the recent hostage crisis in Sydney, due to increased demand, Uber’s surge pricing took effect. Understandably, people wanted to get the hell out of dodge. Fast! Since then, there have been a slew of articles lambasting Uber’s “dynamic pricing” model. Surge pricing, especially during a terrorist threat, always rubs the public the wrong way. And yet, various writers have come to Uber’s defense, arguing that surge pricing is simply an example of supply and demand.

The Daily Beast’s Olivia Nuzzi wrote:

“Uber does not have a responsibility to care about you. Uber is not a government entity, and it is not beholden to the general carless public during an unwelcome drizzle of rain or even a time of great distress.”

Matthew Feeney, with the Cato Institute, the Koch-founded libertarian think tank, wrote on their blog:

“What is great about a pricing system like Uber’s surge pricing is that it allows users who want an Uber ride the most to have it. Prices are a great way of communicating customer preferences.”

Fair enough. In Econ 101, you learn all about supply and demand. On paper, surge pricing makes total sense. But corporate boosters like Feeney are missing some major factors that obviously aren’t apparent from the exalted view of an ivory tower. Namely, Uber isn’t a $40 billion company because it’s the Grey Poupon of urban transportation. Not only do they hope to take the place of traditional taxi service, Uber wants to replace car ownership altogether. How can they do that with part-time drivers whose only incentive to drive is the opportunity to gouge people desperate enough to pay whatever it takes to get home?

The fact is, Uber drivers don’t make shit during regular, non-surge, times. I’ve been driving for Uber long enough to remember when ridesharing was somewhat profitable. Over the course of a year, in order to corner the rideshare market, Uber has maintained a protracted price war with Lyft, Sidecar and even, it would seem, the city bus. Since then, the constant price cuts have made it nearly impossible to earn a decent living as a rideshare driver. Prior to the price wars, I made $800 to $1000 a week driving thirty to thirty-five hours. (Before expenses like gas, tolls, car washes, maintenance, etc.) Now, driving for the same amount of time, it’s more like $400 or $500. If I’m lucky. (Again, before expenses.)

As an Uber driver, you learn quickly that it doesn’t pay to pick up passengers unless prices are surging. There are blogs and even driving coaches who offer to help new drivers figure out the best driving strategies. They all say the same thing: wait for the surge.

Surge pricing is so ingrained into the Uber culture, they are even trying to patent it!

Chasing the Surge

In online forums for drivers, trying to figure out when prices will surge is a regular topic of discussion. So far, the only proven method to ensure getting a ride during a surge is to stay offline and monitor the rider app. Once a part of town lights up, you race there in hopes of getting a higher fare. This is called “chasing the surge.”

Most drivers chase the surge. On Facebook groups, drivers like to post screengrabs of high-ticket fares during price surges. Members click “like” and make comments such as, “Lucky you!” or “I wish I weren’t already in bed or I’d get in my car right now!”

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Since surge pricing forces generosity from people who would otherwise not give you a penny more than what the app determines, it’s no wonder drivers revel in it and respond to high fares like they just won the lottery.

By continuing to lower rates, Uber knows the only way drivers can make money is during a surge. When demand is expected to be high or when it spikes, Uber encourages drivers to get behind the wheel by sending texts like this:

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The same thing happens during music festivals, sporting events, inclement weather or just a busy Saturday night:

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You can’t help but wonder if Sydney drivers received similar texts. “Siege downtown! Expect high demand! Don’t forget to give promo codes to the desperate suckers at bus stops. You’ll make an extra $5!”

From all the comments I’ve seen, most drivers don’t care if passengers have to pay more—or a LOT more—when demand is high. The extra money makes up for all the times people didn’t have to pay much for the luxury of being driven around town, oftentimes receiving water and snacks along the way.

I’ve always been ambivalent about Uber’s surge pricing model. Personally, I’d much rather let the passenger decide how much my service is worth during busier times with a tip. However, despite the extremely vocal complaints of drivers, including protests outside Uber’s offices across the country, Uber will most likely never add a tip option to the app. In fact, this December, Uber added an option for passengers to include a donation to the No Kid Hungry campaignIt was all set up through the app. No disrespect to the No Kid Hungry organization, but if Uber can easily add a feature like this, they could just as easily include a tip option. But they won’t do it because, as they have made it clear over and over, “Being Uber means there is no need to tip drivers with any of our services.”

Regardless of what Uber CEO Travis Kalanick thinks is a better model for transportation, driving is a service-based task. While passengers seem happy to go along with this no-tipping rule, I don’t imagine they would be as comfortable stiffing a bartender or food server on a tip. So why do it to rideshare drivers? It’s not like we’re making more than minimum wage. Unless, of course, the prices are surging.

Why can’t Uber just raise the fares, or lower their cut, and create an incentive for drivers to work all the time? Wouldn’t the supply and demand concept work then as well? On slow nights, when demand is low, most drivers would log out and the diehards would keep driving, thereby leveling out supply.

I may not have an advanced degree in economics, but I know that Uber’s business model is not just unfair to drivers, it’s unfair to riders as well. At some point, most people will realize they’re being exploited. Telling passengers they don’t have to tip their driver and then forcing them to pay more when it’s busy is a seesaw battle of extortion: I screw you when I can and you screw me when you can.

The no-tip aspect may seem like a good idea to the consumer during normal times, but what about when they’re looking at a $100 dollar fare to go a few miles? Suddenly, tossing a few extra bucks to your driver doesn’t seem like that big of a deal anymore.

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My highest fare… from downtown to the Richmond District in the the rain with 3.4 surge. During non-surge, this ride would normally be around $15.00.

For more nitty-gritty details on the life of an Uber/Lyft driver, check out my blog. Or follow me on twitter.

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?

uber_halloween

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?

lyft_mentor_invitation

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!

Ten Consequences of Driving for Uber and Lyft

After seven months of driving full time for Lyft and Uber, these are ten things that make me dread going into driver mode:

1. Vehicle Depreciation

1wearandtear

Besides passengers slamming my doors, which has caused a mysterious rattle, scuffing my interior, leaving behind trash and generally making the kinds of messes you’d expect from a two year old, there is also mechanical wear and tear. The more I drive, the more things go wrong with my car. I figure I have about two more months until I need new brakes and tires. And then my rideshare days are over. I just don’t make enough from driving for Uber and Lyft to afford to keep driving for Uber and Lyft.

2. Boot Malfunction

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My right boot is more worn than the left. To be fair, this may have more to do with my bony heels, but it’s not something I ever noticed until I had to keep my foot on the gas and brake pedals for hours at a time.

3. Physical Discomfort

3pain

My neck is like an open wound. No doubt from glancing over my shoulder as I switch lanes in traffic all night long, always diligent to keep an eye on my blind spots, as well as the other cars on the road, speeding bicyclists, impatient cab drivers and cavalier pedestrians. As a result, the muscles that run along my jaw are steel rods. I have very little radius when I turn my head left or right. The tension never goes away. There is a real possibility that I may 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. I noticed once, when I was a Lyft passenger, that my driver had a hemorrhoid pillow on his seat. I may need to acquire one of those in the near future…

4. Spousal Neglect

4pissed_off_spouse

Since I’m out late driving on the weekends, the Wife’s home alone. And she’s not happy about it. I’ve tried driving during the weekdays, but the gridlocked traffic makes getting anywhere in the city a chore. It’s not worth the frustration. I spend more time driving to the pinned locations than I do taking passengers where they need to go. And the only time you can get surge pricing is on weekend nights. And holidays. Or special events. So…

5. Fear of Deactivation

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Nobody enjoys being judged. But constantly feeling threatened with “deactivation” is downright humiliating. The rating system employed by Lyft and Uber focuses on only one aspect of a driver’s performance: passenger satisfaction. And it’s not easy making people happy. Even when the ride has gone perfectly, there’s never a guarantee the passenger is satisfied. All it takes is one drunk passenger on a power trip and you’re deactivated.

6. Erratic Sleep

6erraticsleep

I work late and come home late. But I can’t sleep late because my head is filled with dreams about my Lyft summary, which is the only way to find out what I made the day before and what’s happened to my rating. Sometimes the summary is in my inbox before I wake up. Other days the email doesn’t arrive until the afternoon. With Uber you know, for the most part, what you’ve made at the end of each ride. And your rating is updated in the app as feedback is left. So at least you’re disappointed in real time.

7. Misanthropic Tendencies

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After a while, you really start to hate people. I’ve met some really great folks in my car, but I’ve also encountered a lot of stinkers. People that I’d rather see under my front tire than in my front seat. But I have to maintain a sunny disposition and be accommodating to my passengers or risk a negative rating. Not an easy task when some passengers are just straight up assholes. They input the wrong location. They make you wait. They ignore you. They talk down to you. They say racist and sexist things in your car. Your only retaliation is to rate THEM low. Which doesn’t amount to much since it’s unlikely Uber or Lyft would ever deactivate a passenger’s account. I guess we should just be grateful our passengers act like self-entitled douchebags rather than punching us or holding guns to our heads.

8. Paranoia

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Every time I go out to drive, I say a prayer that nothing bad happens. I can’t shake the nagging sensation that if something goes wrong, I’ll be fucked. Uber and Lyft tells us to use our personal insurance in the event of an accident. But our insurance won’t cover any damages since we’re engaged in commercial activity. So what’s the point of having personal insurance to do rideshare? Not that things would be better with the insurance companies Uber and Lyft use. I’ve read numerous reports from drivers who’ve been in accidents and had to crowd source funds to get their cars fixed. Or just being left in the lurch. We are hardly protected under normal circumstances, but what if we’re at fault? Oh, the horror… And with Uber, there’s no support number. We can only email them afterwards. On top of all that, both Uber and Lyft charge us a deductible. So if we are covered, we still pay out of pocket, even if we aren’t at fault.

9. Monetary Deficiencies

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Because of the price wars, as Uber and Lyft fight it out to determine who will be the preeminent rideshare platform, drivers are getting squeezed more and more. The rates just keep going down. As it is, I’m broke as hell. My credit cards are all maxed out, most of the time my bank account is overdrawn and I have a painful toothache I can’t afford to fix. Not to mention taxes… I don’t want to even think about what I’m going to do when it’s time to pay taxes.

10. Self-loathing

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If you’ve made it this far on my list of rideshare consequences, you might be wondering why I don’t just quit. I know it’s stupid to complain about something you can’t control. And I know it’s my own damn fault. I bought into the promise of ridesharing as an alternative source of income with a good amount of freedom and it turned out to be a lie. I fell for the classic switcheroo. I’m an idiot. So why don’t I just get on with my life? Well, that day is coming. Without a doubt. For now, the hell I know is better than the one I don’t. And I like driving. I like meeting people. I like exploring the streets of San Francisco. But there’s no future in ridesharing for drivers. Hell, the way things are going, there won’t be a future for taxi drivers either.