[Part Four of a preliminary discussion between Driver 8, a former taxi driver turned Lyft driver, and Kelly Dessaint, former Lyft driver turned taxi driver, moderated by Lauren Smiley in November 2015, before the Lyft vs. Taxi Thunderdome live debate on Backchannel. Read the backstory here.]
A NUTCASE AND A TRAITOR
Lauren: Kelly, do you think Driver 8 is a traitor for switching to Lyft?
Kelly: Not at all, I think Driver 8 made a valid point in his last Medium post. That was a very powerful statement and one that echoes the sentiments of many cab drivers I’ve spoken to who have switched to the TNC model. Everyone has their breaking point. I had mine with Uber and Lyft and that’s why I switched to taxi. But when I drove for Uber and Lyft, I knew I was a scab. I knew I was doing something wrong. I was a rat, so I drove like one. My goal was to never have an encounter with a cab driver, to never seem like a Lyft or Uber car on the road. I never used the “trade dress,” the pink mustache or the U placard, and cringed any time somebody got in the back, which happened so much with Uber. Because then it would be obvious I was an Uber driver.
While I have a level of pragmatism about the situation, to most cab drivers, Driver 8 is definitely a traitor. When I posted his latest column in a Facebook group for cab drivers in SF, the vitriol was astounding. Even through the internet, you can just see the spit flying from their mouths as they type.
Lauren: Driver 8, do you think Kelly is a nutcase for switching to cabs?
Driver 8: Hey, to each his own. As I said in my first piece on Medium, driving a cab was the first job I ever truly loved, so I can understand the appeal. People make decisions about tech every day – choosing a book over a Kindle, a bar over Tinder, vinyl over digital, or a written letter over a Facebook post for example. Like many young cab drivers, Kelly may not be as concerned with the long-term viability of the job, and can be satisfied with what it offers him today. Now, if he were to consider plunking down $250,000 to buy a taxi medallion, then yes, I would start to question his sanity.
About his time as a Lyft/Uber driver, Kelly wrote he knew he was a rat, and most cab drivers think I’m a traitor. Yet, when asked directly if he thinks I’m a traitor, he replied, “Not at all.” That’s disingenuous at best. I don’t buy it. Why did he feel the need to post my Medium column in the Facebook group for SF cab drivers? Why intentionally draw the attention of my ex- coworkers, employers, and friends, to something that he knew would raise their ire towards me? The act felt malicious. I further submit that it demonstrates his real feelings about my decision, and a personal resentment towards me.
Kelly: Or it could be that I’m just a troublemaker.
You wrote your name at the end of your latest post. Your name was advertised with the conference. I had no sense you wanted to remain anonymous. It would have ended up on Facebook anyway. I certainly didn’t post it out of resentment. Why should I resent you? What stake do I have in all this? I drive a cab to pay my bills, like anyone else, although perhaps I have more options than other people who end up in this industry. I could work at Trader Joe’s. As I wrote in one of my columns, I stumbled into this transportation war. And as a writer, I was inclined to document it. That’s all I’m doing.
Driver 8: It’s one thing to choose to give up my anonymity, however, it’s another thing to go directly to the city’s cab drivers, as a group, and hold me up to them as a target. Do you really think that, if even one of them agreed with just one thing I wrote, they’d be willing to say so, and to face the same scorn being leveled upon me? Intentionally or not, posting my piece on THEIR Facebook page invited a group-think, mob mentality, and created an “us vs. him” dynamic. You mentioned “the spit flying from their mouths.” Were you surprised, or did you anticipate this reaction? Let me tell you, I have a whole new appreciation for cyber bullying after this experience.
Kelly: The drivers in the group disagree with each other all the time on these issues. Just yesterday, a woman cab driver was complaining about those stickers that say, “Lyft and Uber: finally a job for sexual offenders.” A few people ganged up on her and I was quick to side with her because I do agree that those stickers, including the ones about getting hammered, are distasteful, petty and reinforce every negative stereotype people have against cab drivers.
Still, another driver who had switched to Lyft and then came back to taxi was commenting the other day about how much fun it was and that he used to make decent money. The responses were very antagonistic, naturally, and he defended himself by saying that he was speaking the truth. And he’s right. Lyft driving was fun, until the fares went so low it was impossible to justify it anymore. I thought about chiming in and admitting it was fun too, but I didn’t want to face the same scorn. So I understand where you’re coming from. But hey, it’s Facebook. I just don’t take it as seriously as some, I guess. I get attacked all the time. It’s the nature of the game, though. If you’re going to put yourself out there as a writer, you will be judged. I’m sorry, but that is just the cold hard reality of writing. You set yourself up for criticism and rejection. And scorn. And with the internet, you are subjected to some of the meanest things people can say. I avoid Reddit, for instance, because that’s where the lowest scum in the world lurk.
I’m sorry you didn’t appreciate that I shared your post, but it got people reading your work and that’s what really matters. Unless it’s not. But then, why do it?
For a little taste of what I experienced, which is very similar to what you happened, you can read this Medium piece about what happened when someone, unconnected to me, posted my very first Medium article, criticizing and making fun of Lyft drivers, on a Lyft driver group.
Personally, I think all cab drivers need to stop longing for the old days or complaining that if the industry had only been run better they wouldn’t be in this mess. Things are changing rapidly. Whether it’s for the better or the worse, that remains to be seen. We are, after all, dealing with a corrupt city government that has no problem selling out its citizens to tech companies through tax breaks, not protecting the most vulnerable people from being evicted by greedy landlords, letting Silicon Valley companies, who are in a different county, utilize our vastly limited resources (i.e., Google buses on crowded streets) and seemingly making civic decisions either by shrugging their shoulders (“Why the hell not?”) or based on who brings the fattest envelope to the table. So why should they care about a bunch of cab drivers? Without a doubt, though, less regulation of transportation is NOT the answer.