Category Archives: The Cult of Lyft

The Cult of Lyft: Inside the Pacific Driver Lounge

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[This post originally appeared on Medium in July 2014. Lyft has since dissolved the driver lounges.]

Lyft sees itself differently from other car services because the passenger rides up front. Like a friend. Drivers are supposed to greet passengers with a fist bump. Like they would, conceivably, with a friend. Drivers play music and engage the passenger in conversation. Since that’s what friends do.

I knew this much from taking Lyft cars in the past. But when I signed up to be a driver, I was enrolled in a Facebook group for Lyft drivers called the Pacific Driver Lounge. It was in the Lounge that I learned there was more to the Lyft Experience than just pink mustaches and fist bumps. Lyft wants to cultivate a community between drivers and passengers. But only the drivers seem to be interested in participating in that community, creating what’s best described as the Cult of Lyft.

In the Lounge, the faithful worship the pink mustache. They post selfies with their mustaches and even travel with small versions called cuddlestaches, which they photograph in distant lands. They wax poetic about the difference they’re making in the world by driving for Lyft. Many drivers post screen grabs of their daily and weekly summaries, showing off how much money they earned, highlighting long drives with Prime Time tips added (“Score!”) and favorable comments from passengers. All of which are followed by hashtags like #fistbumps or #lyftlove.

There are numerous pictures of tricked-out cars. Since Lyft encourages a quirky and fun vibe, many drivers come up with themes for their cars. One guy put a mirror ball in his car and became the DiscoLyft. Another put a karaoke machine in his car and decked out the ceiling with Christmas lights. This is the Caraoke. Then there’s the RocknRollLyft, where the driver has a guitar and portable amp in the back for passengers to shred on. Or the BatmanLyft. The PirateLyft. The ReptileLyft. The MomLyft. There’s the GameLyft, where the driver has an iPad for his passengers to play Flappy Bird while en route to their destination. While it may not be officially called the PornoLyft, I have heard of a driver who keeps Hustlers and Playboys in the back seat of his car. Maybe one day there will be a StipLyft, where the driver has to remove a piece of clothing each time he takes a wrong turn.

Drivers go this extra mile, at their own expense, for higher ratings, but also to have fun and be part of the Lyft community. This is what differentiates Lyft from other rideshare services. Community.

In the Lounge, Uber is referred to as “the dark side.”

Cabbies are the enemy.

The state legislature is comprised of a bunch of bullies out to take away our fun.

The worst thing you could do in the Lounge is malign the Lyft brand. You will soon be facing a cyber lynch mob.

Like all internet forums, the Driver Lounge is a cesspool of glad-handers, gossip hounds, chicken-littles and a chorus of kool-aid drinking cheerleaders; clueless consumers lapping up a marketing ploy and defending their faith to the bitter end. A handful of participants do 75 percent of the talking. They maintain the party line and make sure it’s all Lyft, all the time. Some of these regular posters are not full-time drivers. They do Lyft to supplement day jobs. So they have the time to waste posting and commenting and making sure the reputation of Lyft is preserved.

While other drivers occasionally use the Lounge to complain about Lyft policies, problems with the app and difficult passengers, more than half of the posts and subsequent comments glorify Lyft and all the wonderful things it stands for.

Since the Lounge is an official Lyft group, Lyft controls it. But it’s mostly self-governed. There are moderators or “mentors” from Lyft HQ who patrol the discussions. Posts get deleted if they aren’t up to snuff. People get banned for posting inappropriate or non-Lyft related items. (Anything to do with Uber is generally verboten.)

Sometimes discussions get heated and everyone gets upset. People start blocking each other. Discussions can get downright nasty.

This is all highly entertaining to me.

Over the past few months, I’ve become obsessed with the Lounge. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion. I check for new posts daily. I’m not proud of it. But I’m not ashamed either. My fascination with the online chatter of other drivers is akin to some folks’ dedication to reality television. We all like to watch people behave without self-awareness.

The Lounge is my Honey Boo Boo.

I have gained some useful information about the driving process by lurking in the group. It’s a good place to check the pulse of the city when I’m on the fence about driving into the city from Oakland to Lyft. Plus, there are so many confusing aspects to being a Lyft driver. The Lyft FAQ can be atrociously vague at times. In the Lounge, however, when these nebulous topics are discussed, you can easily get a consensus or find a few kindred drivers who share your opinion on the matter. Like whether or not it’s a requirement to display the mustache, the legality of accepting cash tips, traffic laws and the never-ending speculation on the insurance question, which is still up in the air.

My favorite posts in the Lounge are the ones where drivers complain about passengers cussing, being drunk, having dogs, smelling like pot or slamming doors. Some drivers even suggest kicking out passengers they don’t like. I always want to point out that in their blind hatred towards cabbies, they are missing the point of creating an alternative form of transportation. If many of these gung-ho drivers actually listened to why passengers prefer Lyft and Uber, they’d know it’s because cabbies are assholes. But watching these taxi-hating Lyfters slowly morph into cabbies themselves, it only makes sense that after driving people around for a while, cabbies would have figured out how to deal with passengers. It’s not easy. Every request you accept is a roll of the dice. You never know who’s going to get in your car. But hey, trying to appreciate the struggles of the other team requires more self-awareness than you can expect from the faithful in the Lounge.

Another amusing subplot in the Lounge ensues when a driver is “off-boarded” and removed from the Lounge. Only active Lyft drivers can participate in the Lounge, so drivers who are involved in accidents or altercations are deactivated from the Lyft system and thus removed from the Lounge. This is especially problematic because the most important thing any driver wants to know is what happens after an accident. That is, what happens with our insurance? What is covered and what isn’t? Do we pay a deductible? Will our insurance company drop us when they find out we’ve been ridesharing? Since a regular car insurance policy does not cover commercial activity, we are technically uninsured while driving for Lyft. Lyft supposedly carries a million dollar policy when we have a passenger in the car, but we rarely get any further details of how that coverage plays out after an accident.

Lyft assures us they will take car of everything, as long as the collision is not our fault. But without first hand knowledge, how are we supposed to be certain? While the Lyft faithful may dominate the discourse, when the shit hits the fan, the doubters emerge from the shadows and all hell breaks loose.

Not knowing all the facts leads to a lot of conjecture. Which is ironic because the official word from HQ is that drivers are removed from the lounge to prevent rumors and speculation. Don’t they understand it’s human nature to want to know the entire story and fill any holes with make-believe?

All it takes for one of the Lyft cheerleaders in the Lounge to have an accident, get deactivated and disappear for the rest of the flock to start asking questions. And maybe slowly realize they are taking too much a risk for a company that is only interested in making money.

Like the mustache, the Lounge is another great Lyft marketing scheme: placate your workers by convincing them they are part of a team so that whatever benefits Lyft, benefits them as well because they are all on the same team.

Rah! Rah! Rah!

You have to wonder if Lyft really has it in them to succeed in the rideshare racket. With all this emphasis on being friendly and fun, they seem to be missing the most obvious component of transportation.

Based on the responses of passengers I’ve talked to, your average Lyft user is not looking for some quirky experience. They just want to get to their destination, quickly and safely. Perhaps with some decent tunes playing. Maybe a friendly person to chat with along the way. If they’re in the mood. Otherwise, they’d prefer to not deal with a chatty driver. Or one who talks on the phone during the whole ride, for that matter — cabbies, I’m talking to you.

More than anything else, though, people just want to be able to request a car, have it show up in a timely fashion and not have to deal with a cash transaction. This excludes most taxi companies, or at least the cabbies who frequently tell passengers their credit card machines are broken.

It’s that simple. This is all you have to provide to succeed as a rideshare company. Get people where they want to go without bringing cash into the equation.

Uber, who doesn’t have a social media forum for their drivers, has figured that much out. If only they knew how to placate their own drivers, who are known to protest outside Uber HQ.

Providing a community for drivers is great. The Lyft Pacific Driver Lounge makes a lot of drivers feel special and appreciated. That’s cool. Let them show their team spirit, make friends with each other and proselytize for the Cult of Lyft all they want. Just leave the passengers out of it.

[artwork by Irina Dessaint]

Trick or Treat: Lyft Wants ME to Be a Mentor?

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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?

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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!

Should We Really Kill Lyft?

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A few weeks ago, when I posted the cockeyed, ad hominem attack piece How to Fix Ridesharing: Kill Lyft, I knew it was going to be an incendiary post. Lyft loyalists responded with their usual derision over anything they perceive as anti-Lyft. Commenters were quick to label me a disgruntled ex-driver and an idiot, calling my logic primitive, retarded and stupid. Others pointed out that I understood nothing about how to run a business and that I was missing “a key part of the equation.”

Now, I’m the first to admit I’m no businessman. I’m certainly not the sharpest crayon in the box. And I’ve never claimed to be an authority on the subject of ridesharing other than being a current driver with a 4.9 rating who pathologically reads every article on the subject that crosses my Facebook dashboard and Twitter feed. I also pay close attention to the posts and comments on all the Facebook driver groups that I haven’t been kicked out of yet. I know how easily offended the Lyft faithful are. So I wasn’t surprised by the vitriol my post received.

But in their ardent support of the Lyft brand, my detractors failed to grasp that I was actually championing Lyft’s main tenets. I prefer driving for Lyft. I think they are a much better company than Uber. Which is a common refrain among drivers. Ride.Share.News recently did a survey and found that the majority of drivers prefer Lyft. Which makes sense. Unlike Uber, the Lyft app has many features designed with the driver in mind. The app automatically notifies the passenger when you’re getting close to their pinned location, as well as when you’ve arrived. It even starts the ride within a few minutes of waiting, which addresses one of the biggest frustrations of dealing with passengers: the wait.

Another frequent gripe about driving is being ignored and treated like a servant. Lyft’s “friend with a car” slogan is not only in the true spirit of ridesharing, and what most of us signed up for, it also makes for an enjoyable ride. But the greatest aspect of being a Lyft driver, of course, is the ability for passengers to leave a tip. As a regular Uber driver, I know that without this option in the app, 99.9% of passengers do not leave a tip. They signed up for a service so they wouldn’t have to worry about having cash on hand, so it’s understandable. Albeit unfortunate.

Of course, not knowing what you’ve made until the next day, the overall demanding attitude of Lyft passengers (no, I’m not your fucking DJ and no, I don’t have any candy for you), that stupid pink mustache and the forced homogeny make driving for Lyft less appealing to me, but for others that’s the main draw.

So… do I really think Lyft should be killed off?

Yes. I think Lyft and Uber should both die. I think these two companies have ruined the entire concept, and the potential, of ridesharing with their rampant greed. I hate them both, but I hate Lyft more. Why? Because, as I pointed out in the original post, by taking on Uber, they’re making things worse for everybody. There’s really no way they are ever going to beat Uber at their own game. Not with a pink mustache. Not by creating a “community” of drivers. And not with a quirky, fun vibe.

Lyft wants to compete with Uber because they want to be worth billions of dollars like Uber. You can’t really blame them. We all love money. But how can Lyft expect to corner the national rideshare market and make billions of dollars without becoming a generic service like Uber?

Based on my observations over the past seven months as a fulltime driver for Lyft and Uber, the vast majority of passengers aren’t that interested in an unconventional experience. Just a safe one. They want to request a ride from their phones, have the car show up and not deal with cash. Sure, there are plenty of people who buy into the Lyft experience, but instead of cultivating those users, in their ignominious attempt to get a larger share of the rideshare market, Lyft is not the Lyft of old. They are diluting the one thing that distinguishes them from Uber.

This isn’t my crackpot theory. A friend of mine who began using Lyft three months after the app was first released in San Francisco told me recently how disappointed she’s become with Lyft. She’s uncomfortable sitting up front next to creepy dudes. One driver even harassed her a few weeks ago. She says she no longer feels safe using Lyft and has moved on to UberX, where she can at least sit in the back. I told her she could easily sit in back with Lyft but she doesn’t see the point of using Lyft if she isn’t participating in the culture of Lyft.

Sound familiar?

Other bloggers and plenty of drivers have said the same thing.

And I’m not the only one who thinks that Lyft will lose the rideshare wars. We all know, once the dust settles in the rideshare wars, Uber will dominate the market. And no, I don’t think that’s a good thing at all. But it’s inevitable. If Lyft wants to be like Uber, then Lyft should die and let Uber do Uber. They don’t need Lyft’s help.

Killing Lyft off now would be an act of mercy. Let’s put them out of their misery so we can focus on protesting Uber, creating a TNC union, figuring out the insurance question, getting regulated and trying to increase fares. There are many people doing all these things right now. And current lawsuits against Uber may potentially change the game and take them to task for mislabeling drivers as independent contractors. There is legal precedence that by determining our rates and how we maintain our vehicles as well as limiting our ability to accept tips, they are actually our employers. Uber is fighting this classification tooth and nail because they won’t be able to shirk responsibilities for the assaults, sexual harassment and death caused by drivers. They also know the day is coming when they will be forced to assume the role of a transportation company. This can’t happen soon enough.

There is only one way to ensure the ability for anybody to make money in a car: regulation.

Of course regulation means the death of ridesharing. Because it will no longer be about individuals using their personal cars as vehicles-for-hire to make a few extra bucks on the side. If drivers are required to have permits for themselves and their cars, how many current rideshare drivers would go through that process to continue driving? Very little, I imagine.

Ridesharing is barely in its infancy. And yet it’s already doomed. Why? Because only two companies dominate the field. If Uber and Lyft continue to be the primary players and keep fighting each other for the national market, ridesharing will not advance. The only way to make ridesharing work is to create smaller companies based in individual cites. The technology is there, somebody just needs to build the apps. I think smaller companies could easily gain wide-acceptance in cities by advertising themselves as a local rideshare. Create a cool logo that’s unique to that city, pass out referral cards for free rides at all the bars and clubs, slap a magnet sign onto the side doors, place an emblem in the window and get noticed. It’s not hard to get attention these days. Look at a company like Black Crown Car Service in Seattle. Yeah, I know they’re a black car service, but they’ve proven that starting a car company at a local level can be accomplished. Just don’t expect to become valued at a billion dollars. Or take on Uber.

And yeah, I know SideCar is still a formidable player in the rideshare game. It seems like they’re poised to step into Lyft’s shoes once Uber finally crushes them, or take over entirely if Uber and Lyft do each other in. Their recent deal with SFO shows they are being strategic rather than blatantly fighting regulation and trying to destroy traditional taxi service.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who wins the rideshare wars. If either one becomes victorious, we’ll be right back where we started. In their efforts to destroy “Big Taxi,” Uber or Lyft will eventually become the very thing they aimed to disrupt: taxis. But with a twist: less regulation. So why not open up the market and start more rideshare companies to keep the disruption going?

Lyft and Uber have turned ridesharing into a racket. We use our own cars and assume all the risks and responsibilities to make these companies rich, all the while making less and less each month. And when we fuck up, or when our cars give out, we are cast aside. Neither Lyft nor Uber have any loyalty to us drivers. We are part of a social experiment that will fail. And when it does, the bigwigs at these companies will just walk away with golden payouts and form other companies. Or invest in somebody else’s start-up.

And the drivers? Some will get their TCP permits and go pro. The rest will move onto another side gig. Maybe they’ll have positive memories of their rideshare experiences. But I’m sure plenty will look back with regret.

The ones I really feel sorry for are the Lyft faithful. It’s going to really hurt when they have nothing left from their rideshare experience except a beat-to-shit car, a faded pink mustache and the harsh realization that a corporation they worshiped had just used them up and spit them out.

(photo courtesy of Gabriel Zamora)

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.

How to Fix Ridesharing: Kill Lyft

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A Modest Proposal

Last night, I had dinner with a friend and her sister, whom I’d never met before. The topic of Uber came up when I mentioned I drive for Lyft and Uber. My friend’s sister said she really likes taking Uber. She’s a performance artist and often needs to get around the city at night. Before Uber, she was regularly stranded by cabs, which would invariably pick up a street hail on the way to her location, leaving her in the lurch and forced to seek other options. With Uber, she’s never had this problem. She just requests a ride and the car shows up.

Awesome. The only problem is, well… Uber. And the way they’re treating drivers. As I mentioned to her the struggles drivers face when dealing with the lowered fares, the lack of tips and the general unpleasantness of Uber as a company, I began to feel like a dick. There I was, shitting on something that fulfilled a need in her life both personally and professionally. Without Uber, she, like a lot of people in the city, would once again be at a disadvantage. It seems the only thing everybody can agree on when it comes to this new trend in transportation is that cabs suck.

This got me thinking… If I owned a business that made a product people loved — one they loved so much they would be disappointed not to have anymore — why would I lower the price? I’m not business-minded in the least, but it just stands to reason that if somebody really wants your product, you could charge whatever price you wanted for it. So why is Uber continuously lowering fares?

Then it hit me. Fucking Lyft. Lyft is the problem. After all, they are the ones who crafted this insidious brand of transportation, dubbed by the state of California as TNC, or as it’s commonly referred to: “ridesharing,” “ride-hailing,” or “e-hailing.” At some point, maybe everybody will agree on a term before it dissipates in a cloud of litigation. But this idea of regular folks driving other regular folks in their own regular cars for money appealed to Travis Kalanick, Uber’s founder and CEO, so much that he ran with it and created UberX, a pimped out version of ridehsaring without the fuzzy mustaches, the fist bumps or the false sense of community. What Lyft created, Uber perfected and refined. And then charged a rate that was significantly less.

Instead of remaining true to their vision of community and friendship, or focusing on providing a premium experience at a reasonable price that benefited both the consumer and the driver, Lyft took the bait. They had to have heard the rumors that Kalanick isn’t somebody to be trifled with. And yet, Lyft, the quirky kid with bad acne, thick glasses and a pepertual cowlick, walked across the playground and challenged the biggest bully in school by lowering their rates too.

It’s not much a shock that Lyft ended up getting pummeled in the rideshare wars. It’s almost embarrassing how badly Lyft is still losing this David and Goliath showdown. But you can’t feel too badly for them. They asked for it. Unfortunately, the drivers on both platforms are suffering because of Lyft’s feeble attempt to seize more of the rideshare market.

The price wars have been going on for a while. It’s hard to imagine a time when the minimum fare for an UberX ride was $10. But back in 2013, that what the going rate for a ride. Nowadays, in San Francisco, it’s $5. In LA, it’s $4. That’s highway robbery at its very essence. Not to mention how drivers face serious risks with insurance gaps, troublesome passengers, potential health problems, damage to our vehicles and the financial hardships of constant repair and maintenance. On top of all that, with the rating system, we don’t even have job security. Any passenger on a power trip could easily have us deactivated.

I started driving for Lyft in March of 2014. I made decent money. A few months later, to combat Uber’s growing domination of the rideshare market with UberX, Lyft lowered their fares and stopped taking a commission. The price cut was supposed to be a test, like their Happy Hour promotion, where rides where cheaper when demand was lower. Except, around the time they planned to return to the original rates, Uber lowered their rates, forcing Lyft to make their temporary price cut permanent and start collecting commission again, pissing off all but their most loyal drivers.

The Rideshare Wars of 2014

In their calculated, underhanded assault on Lyft, Uber shows no restraint. They even announced UberPool, a carpooling feature that wasn’t active, the day before Lyft announced their own carpooling service, LyftLine, which was ready to launch, effectively stealing their thunder.

Even without public support, Uber is racking up victories. A month ago, when Uber’s Operation Slog was exposed, everybody felt bad for Lyft. But then Lyft lowered prices again and drivers started burning their mustaches.

Before this happened, Uber had started poaching Lyft drivers. I was one. I joined Uber during their $500 sign-up bonus. $500 to take one ride? Where do I sign?! The gimmick was that newly recruited drivers would see how much better Uber was compared to Lyft and switch sides. It worked. As a regular Lyft driver, I was blown away by how much more business I got from driving for Uber. (Lyft tried to get Uber drivers to switch sides, or double down, by making a counteroffer of $500 plus a taco, but just came off looking silly, as usual.)

These are the kinds of tactics that show who is really in charge when it comes to ridesharing: Uber. They may have stolen the idea of ridesharing from Lyft, but at this point, they can easily sell the idea back to Lyft and make a healthy profit. That’s how stupid all this has become. It’s like a Monty Python skit gone awry.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think Uber, with Kalanick at the helm, is an evil, unscrupulous company along the lines of Wal-Mart or Halliburton. Fuck Uber! Seriously, Kalanick comes across as an antisocial, libertarian scumbag who’d stab his own mother in the back to get ahead. He probably has a cum-stained paperback of The Fountainhead under his pillow that he strokes gently as he falls asleep at night. But he’s not stupid. He knows how to run a business. Even if it is at the expense of workers.

Lyft, on the other hand, has yet to display any business acumen. Their entire platform lends itself to mockery.

Look at their signature branding: the pink mustache. While it’s proven to be an effective symbol to get attention, it’s so ugly and goofy and alienating and … shit, the list goes on and on. Most people don’t like the stupid thing and very few drivers have them on their cars anymore. Lyft, realizing this, developed what they call a “cuddlestache,” a smaller version that goes on the dash instead of the grill. But from a distance, it just looks like a pink turd. Another Lyft fail! [UPDATE: Lyft is ditching the ‘stache.]

Where Lyft supposedly excels is through creating a sense of community. I prefer the social aspect of driving for Lyft. It makes for better stories. Driving is more fun when you are free to chat with the passengers. The time goes by so much faster. And Lyft encourages tipping, which is awesome. Uber tells their users the tip is included in the fare. (It’s not.) But the whole “Cult of Lyft” mindset is a niche market at best. In order to fall for it, you have to drink the Kool-Aid. Lyft fanatics are a brutal lot of mustache-waving zealots who will try to stifle any dissent in order to protect the brand. Still, there’s no way they can corner the entire rideshare market based on jingoism alone. In fact, I’m willing to venture that the community aspect hurts Lyft more that it helps. Some people just want to get from point A to point B without making a friend along the way.

Nevertheless, there are folks to whom Lyft’s transportation model is appealing and Lyft needs to cultivate those users. Not the market as a whole. They will never be able to compete with Uber, financially or logistically. Lyft is fighting with a ruthless bully. Their only move at this point is to beg for mercy. Even their cries of “that’s not fair” have fallen on deaf ears. If this were a schoolyard fight, we’d all be standing there with out arms folded going, “Dude, you asked for it.”

Yeah, I know, Uber started the price wars, but that doesn’t even matter anymore. Even if Lyft were out of the picture, it’s not likely the prices go back to what they were at the beginning of the year. It doesn’t even matter that, except for surge pricing, passengers weren’t complaining about the prices before the price war started. What’s done is done. At this point, Uber could charge as much as cabs and still be profitable and control the market.

The Writing on the Wall

Oh sure, there are plenty of problems with ridesharing. Killing Lyft might not fix them all, but the only way to end the price wars is for Lyft to be better than Uber. Or die.

I’m not the only rideshare blogger who’s come to the conclusion that Lyft isn’t going to win. They are perpetuating the price wars in a futile attempt to compete with Uber and yet they’ve lost each battle.

Somebody needs to put a stop to the price wars. Despite what their computers tell them, raising prices would benefit the company and improve the rideshare experience for passengers.

Of course, if Uber and Lyft did raise the prices, the users who take advantage of the five-dollar rides would drop off. And while those short rides are fine for a computer to just add to the ultimate tally, earning those five-dollar rides as a driver is no easy task. The five-dollar rides need to end anyway. The minimum fare for an on-demand ride should be ten dollars. If you can’t afford ten bucks to get from one neighborhood to another, you really shouldn’t be using an on-demand car service. Take the fucking bus like normal people. Why waste an Uber driver’s time by having them spend several minutes driving to you just to take you a few blocks? That’s plain lazy and a waste of everybody’s time. What makes you so special?

It’s time for passengers who want quality transportation options provided by drivers paid a fair wage to expect more than a race to the bottom.

As a driver, the end of Lyft cannot come soon enough. There are very few drivers who are even loyal to Lyft anymore. Lyft is the losing team. All roads lead to Uber. Whether we like it or not, they are going to win the rideshare wars. Anybody who can’t see that is obviously drinking too much Lyft Kool-Aid.

FOLLOW UP: Should We Really Kill Lyft?

How to Get Kicked Out of a Lyft Driver Lounge: Write a Blog Post

inside_the_lyft_lounge

I started driving for Lyft in March of 2014. From the beginning, since I fancy myself a writer and publish the occasional book and/or zine, I planned to keep a “driver’s log” of my experiences as a Lyft driver.

In July, I published a zine called Behind the Wheel: A Lyft Driver’s Log.

Some of the material I’d written for the zine didn’t make the cut. For whatever reason… perhaps it wasn’t good enough or maybe it was too technical… who knows. (Just don’t ask the Wife about it… she a brutal critic.)

Anyway, for the hell of it, I posted several outtakes on my Medium page, including a very ad hominem take on the fanaticism of Lyft drivers:

The Cult of Lyft: Inside the Pacific Driver Lounge

A few weeks later, in a late night, pot- and alcohol-induced flurry of impulsivity, I posted a link to the piece on a Facebook group for rideshare drivers called Uber, SideCar, Lyft Drivers Community. Not expecting much but a few page views (who doesn’t love clicks), I woke up the next morning to a shit storm. Somebody from the community forum had posted it on the official Lyft driver page, the Pacific Driver lounge.

Other drivers reposted it on the official Lounges for their cities.

Not only were Lyft drivers reposting the story, Uber drivers were propagating it as well.

The response was overwhelming. People laughed, people got upset, people talked smack, people did all the things people do on Facebook… I don’t think I’ve ever been insulted so much in such a short amount of time before, even though I used to start flame wars on the internet under the handle DiarrheaPunk.

It was hilarious that people would get so upset over a half-baked rant written on my iPhone as I was passing out from a hard night of Lyfting in the city (and a few stupefacients when I got home).

Some of the comments were pretty funny so I collected a bunch and posted them on my blog:

Lyft’s Pacific Driver Lounge is my Honey Boo Boo

Since it seemed germane to the group, I posted a link on the Uber, SideCar, Lyft Drivers Community forum. I tweeted a link to it as well. Which isn’t saying much. I only have 190 followers.

Shortly after that, Matt Jensen, a community outreach person for Lyft, or something called a “Lounge mentor” (if anybody can clarify his position, please leave a comment), tweeted at me asking for suggestions to improve the Lyft experience.

matt_twitter_response

I posted this constructive and very earnest — at least in my mind — response:

An Open Letter to Lyft: Since you asked…

After posting links, I was no longer able to access the Pacific Driver Lounge.

Not that I was surprised. After all, I collected all the comments because I figured I would be kicked out. I knew, from being a member of the Lounge that people got expelled from the Lounge all the time. And not just for getting in an accident, but for the silliest of offenses, like talking bad about Lyft.

C’est la vie. No more Honey Boo Boo for me.

About two weeks later, I found a personal message from Matt Jensen about being removed from the Lounge in my “other” inbox on Facebook. (Why do we need an “other” inbox anyway?) It was rife with paranoia, suggesting I shared “lounge details” with Uber. As if I had some connection to Uber, besides taking $500 from them for that one ride deal they offered back in May. (More on that later…)

so_long_from_lyft

Even though I had been feeling a little offended that I never received a real email letting me know that I was banned from the Lounge, sending a Facebook message that he had to know would go to my “other” folder on Facebook since we weren’t friends was a little… unfriendly. Still, I was nice to get some communication about it. I took a screengrab and posted it on my blog:

My Official Removal from the Lyft Pacific Driver Lounge Notice

So that about wraps it up.

Well, not exactly.

Recently, a lawyer contacted me about a case she was working on for another driver who was kicked out of the Lounge. Something about unlawful retaliation in the workplace or discrimination in the workplace… Wanted me to discuss my experience with Lyft and the Lounge… I wrote this blogpost instead.

I don’t know, man… lawsuits are a bit of a stretch. If you’re able to sift through all this social media/blogpost nonsense, it’s obvious I was toying with Lyft. They made a play, I countered and they cried foul.

Wah.

The Lyft folks are a bunch of big babies. Somebody needs to call them a wahbulance.

The only downside to all this tomfoolery is that I got kicked out of the Lounge. Which sucks. Not only is the Lounge a place for drivers to get information about changes to Lyft policies and the driving experience in San Francisco, it’s also extremely entertaining. Is there anything better than gawking at a collective lack of self-awareness?

Lyft, please let back into the Pacific Driver Lounge.

I miss my Honey Boo Boo!