The App Is Watching You

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Wheels in the Head: Ridesharing as Monitored Performance

Ridesharing services offer on-demand rides much like taxicabs, but distinguish themselves from cabs by emphasizing the friendly, social aspect of the in-car interaction. Crucial to the ability of these companies to distinguish themselves from cabs has been the insertion of smartphones as “social interfaces” between drivers and passengers, restructuring social interaction through an allegorithm the productive co-deployment of a socially relevant allegorical script and a software-mediated algorithm). Much of the affective labor of ridesharing drivers consists in maintaining this affective framing and internalizing the logic by which their performances are monitored. In this article the writings of three ridesharing drivers will be drawn on to illustrate the ways drivers develop and evaluate their own performances as ridesharing drivers.

This scholarly article in Surveillance and Society (available as a free PDF) by Donald Nathan Anderson explores the “social interface” as part of driving for Uber and Lyft, and how the companies utilize algorithms to remotely monitor – and ultimately control – the behaviors of drivers and passengers.

The author references the first two issues of Behind the Wheel, as well as early I Drive SF blog posts, to elucidate the Uber/Lyft experience from a driver’s perspective.

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‘Tis the Season to Go Old School

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My column for the S.F. Examiner published on Dec. 13, 2018 is about avoiding the debauchery of SantaCon while transporting revelers stranded at company holiday parties in remote parts of the city …

With the holidays fast approaching, there are certain things a taxi driver can count on: Union Square will be packed with shoppers and families enjoying the festive atmosphere, which means gridlocked traffic; most of the event spaces around town will host company-sponsored Christmas parties; and thousands of revelers will don red velvet suits and wreak havoc throughout The City during SantaCon.

In years past, I’d venture into the sloshed fields to document the annual bar crawl out of journalistic responsibility. But now that there’s a toddler in my life, I deal with enough bodily fluids. So last Saturday, with SantaCon happening, I avoid the roving bands of Santas, sexy Santas, elves and reindeer altogether and focus on more profitable, and less disorderly, opportunities. Like the Facebook bash at the Palace of Fine Arts …

Normally, I wouldn’t have even thought to look for fares in the Marina, given its proximity to a plethora of SantaCon-friendly bars, had Loco not mentioned the event on the Hackers message board. And I still wouldn’t have ventured north of Broadway if I didn’t get a fare to Sacramento and Broderick. But seeing as how the Marina isn’t too much of a schlep from Laurel Heights, I follow Loco’s advice and take Divisadero to Lombard, go around the Palace of Fine Arts to Marina Boulevard and join a long procession of Ubers and Lyfts waiting to enter a quasi cattle corral that winds through a parking lot towards the front of the museum, where several hundred people are waiting for rides.

Read the rest here.

 

The Golden Age of the Passenger

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My column for The S.F. Examiner published on Dec. 6, 2018 …

In a city where over 50 percent of the population relies on some form of public transportation, having wheels can make you rather popular. Especially among friends eager to avoid Muni and BART, those who get off work after midnight and ones who are just lazy.

It seems like someone is always looking for a ride. Naturally, as a taxi driver, I’m used to carting people around. Even on my days off, I often give rides in my Jetta. Free, of course. Since there’s not a taximeter mounted on the dash. And I’m not an Uber or Lyft. On that latter point, I tend to be a bit touchy.

Back when I first started driving for Lyft, it annoyed me when passengers wouldn’t sit up front. Dudes in particular. After switching to Uber, everyone rode in back and I quickly began to feel like a servant — or an underpaid taxi driver. That was one of the main reasons I decided to go to taxi school.

If you’re going to be treated like a taxi driver, I figured, you might as well get paid like one.

In the normal way of the world, the protocol for riding in someone’s personal car is to sit up front. Before the advent of Uber and Lyft, the idea of sitting behind the driver when the front seat is readily available was absurd. Anyone who did that would have been considered a total douchebag. Like, who do you think you are, the King of England?

Not that long ago, riding shotgun was the next best thing to being at the wheel. In high school, a typical after class ritual was to race to your friend’s car in order to get dibs on the front seat, otherwise you’d be relegated to the back, usually reserved for fast food wrappers and empty soda cans.

Now that we’re in the golden age of the passenger, the traditional methods of riding in cars are all topsy-turvy. These days, it’s perfectly normal to see two grown men squeezed together in the back of an unmarked Kia while the front seat remains empty.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]

Wherever the Taxi Winds May Blow

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My column for The S.F. Examiner published on Nov. 29, 2018 …

Not all rides are equal. Even if they start at the same point, destinations vary

so drastically — and financially — that entire shifts can hang in the balance of one arbitrary decision.

In my early days of driving a taxi, I approached each intersection with a quandary: What’ll happen if I turn right? Will I hit pay dirt by taking a left instead? Or does my fortune lie straight ahead?

After a while, I realized there’s nothing certain about taxi driving, every move is a gamble and the only way to avoid going insane is by letting fate determine your trajectory.

Nowadays, when I leave the National yard, my usual thought is, So… where are the taxi winds going to take me tonight?

Even though getting Zen about cab driving may lead to warm and fuzzy feelings, there are hundreds of taxi drivers on the streets, who are all in direct competition with each other and couldn’t care less about your inner serenity.

It’s only a matter of time before your phlegm is put to the test.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

Driving into the Apocalypse

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My column for The S.F. Examiner published on Nov. 22, 2018 …

My day begins under an apocalyptic sky. Due to the deadly Camp fire up north, the atmosphere in Oakland is polluted with tragedy and a thick haze of smoke.

It’s been 10 days since we’ve had a breath of fresh air. The lack of oxygen is really bothering me. As much as I’d like to just stay home, my taxi is parked outside. So I say goodbye to the wife and kid, jumpstart Veterans 233 and begin the long slog across the Bay into a blood red sunset.

On the bridge, visibility is poor. Yerba Buena Island is just a blur and the skyline is blotted out by smog.

I take the Fifth Street exit. At the light, one of the panhandlers has a sign that reads, “Need $ for an N-95.”

Downtown, the streets are practically deserted. Although most people seem to have heeded the authority’s advice to stay indoors, the majority of folks who decided to brave the elements are wearing respirators or surgical masks.

After driving down Market, I turn onto New Montgomery and cruise past The Palace, where Local 2 has been on strike for over a month. Some picketers attempt to make a commotion, clanging on buckets and other percussive instruments, while trying to stay warm as the evening temperature drops rapidly.

Even before the fire, there was a heavy dystopian vibe in San Francisco, as if we’re living a sci-fi novel set in a universe divided by massive income disparity, where crime and violence run rampant and evil corporations develop tools that allow a totalitarian regime to assume control of the government.

While those who’ve read the “Big Three,” along with Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut and Anthony Burgess, might have an idea how this story will end, it seems as though the people developing technology these days are too blinded by hubris and greed to realize they’re bringing us closer to the end of times.

Now that we have the worst air quality in the world, it feels even more like the future is here. And it’s just as terrifying as Orwell and Huxley predicted. But as long as we have enough gadgets to desensitize us to the consequences, there’s no reason to freak out …

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

An Ambassador on Wheels

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My column for The S.F. Examiner published on Nov. 15, 2018 …

Outside the Hyatt Regency, an Amtrak Thruway Coach idles in the bus stop, leaving just enough room for me to pull into the cabstand. A few seconds later, an elderly man approaches my cab.

“We need a taxi,” he tells me. “Can you drive us?”

In the side mirror, I notice suitcases. With a Thruway Coach on the scene, though, it’s unlikely they’re going to the airport.

While stowing the luggage, I ask for their destination.

“Travelodge. 1707 Market.”

The husband and wife are from a small town in New Jersey and plan to spend a week in San Francisco. To see the sights. But mostly to shop.

As we roll down Market Street, they stare out of the windows, marveling at the grandeur of The City. I go into tour guide mode.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]

NEW ZINE: Behind the Wheel 4: The Thin Checkered Line

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“The Thin Checkered Line” is the fourth installment in the Behind the Wheel series – a week in the life of a San Francisco taxi driver, erstwhile Angeleno living in Oakland, newly minted father and newspaper columnist who’s always on the prowl for a good ride and an even better story …

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

Pt. 1 – The Way of the Taxi

Pt. 2 – A Story with Wheels

Pt. 3 – Navigating the Uber Effect

Pt. 4 – The Death of Cab Culture

Pt. 5 – San Francisco Ain’t Never Been What It Used to Be

Over the course of these five narrative essays, I document the rides that were too risqué for The Examinerand chronicle the gritty details of four 12-hour taxi shifts while exploring the rapidly changing landscape of San Francisco during the latest tech boom.

As I attempt to explain how the taxi system works, I answer the eternal question: why I drive a taxi, and describe what it’s like driving a taxi in the age of Uber and Lyft …

Along the way, I also speculate on the future of transportation and wonder where the hell we’re going, and whether or not the destination is going to be meter and a half …

This half-sized, staple-bound zine features a wraparound cover and sixty-four pages of text, illustrated with b&w images of San Francisco street scenes from behind the wheel. Also includes a “taxi driving is not a crime” bumper sticker.”  

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The price is $7.00 postpaid in the US. 


ORDER HERE:

Behind the Wheel 4: The Thin Checkered Line

“The Thin Checkered Line” is the fourth installment in the Behind the Wheel series – a week in the life of a San Francisco taxi drive. This half-sized, staple-bound zine features a wraparound cover and sixty-four pages of text, illustrated with b&w images of San Francisco street scenes from behind the wheel. Includes a "taxi driving is not a crime" bumper sticker. The price is $7.00 postpaid in the US.

$7.00


Also available from the Piltdownlad Etsy store.