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.
I 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 conclusion, the 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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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?