Tag Archives: uber

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]

Listen: Crashing the Tech Industry on the Two Paychecks Podcast

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A few months ago I was a guest on the Two Paychecks Podcast, an anarchist podcast out of the Pacific Northwest.

We talk about my gonzo adventures documenting the Uber/Lyft experience before going pro as a bonafide taxi driver. From recording the vapid attitudes of the new urbanites to going full-on Jerry Springer on a panel at a tech conference, this rambling exchange covers a lot of ground.

Check it out on SoundCloud or listen below:

The Two Paychecks Podcast is also available on iTunes.


 

Uber/Lyft Drivers Are Committing Insurance Fraud

VIDEO: Short clip from an interview with Kelly Dessaint, filmed by John Han, about the insurance question when driving for Uber and Lyft.

An outtake from Han’s full-length Uber/Lyft/Taxi documentary “Driving for Hire.”

Watch the entire interview here.


 

Uber/Lyft Drivers Behaving Badly: Blocking Traffic

VIDEO: In this first video, we have an Uber/Lyft driver doubleparked on Van Ness Ave (Hwy 101) waiting for his passenger to arrive. Nothing new there, but this driver is next to a massive open parking space, in which two Priuses could fit. Why doesn’t he pull to the curb instead of inconveniencing other drivers? Because what they’re doing is obviously more important than what anyone else needs to do.

In this second video, the passenger has finally arrived and gets into the backseat, but the driver continues to block traffic, obviously screwing around with the GPS. Since they’ve already been blocking a lane of traffic on one of the most congested streets in the city for several minutes, why stop now? As anyone who drives in San Francisco knows, that’s the Uber/Lyft way. You’re just not a true Uber/Lyft driver unless you’re inconveniencing as many people as possible while doing your “job.”

While the Prius in this third video looks identical to the previous one, it’s actually a second Uber/Lyft driver following in their equally inept footsteps. Except this one has pulled slightly into the open parking space. Not enough to actually allow vehicles access that lane of traffic – again, on Van Ness, a major artery in the city – but you know… I guess it’s the thought that counts.

All this happened within a few minutes, after I’d grabbed a coffee at the Philz on Van Ness, between Turk and Eddy.

Uber/Lyft Drivers Behaving Badly: The Safeway Sleeping Lot

VIDEO: Everybody knows that Uber/Lyft drivers come to San Francisco far off locations like Sacramento and even Los Angeles. This particular impact of the “gig economy” has been covered extensively, from Bloomberg to The SF Chronicle and Business Insider, as well as discussed at length in this Uber/Lyft driver forum.

Due to an oversaturated market, drivers need to work long hours to make decent money. So instead of making the long commute back home, only to turn right back around, they sleep in their cars.

One morning, around 4 a.m., I’d just dropped a fare at Geary and Webster when I happened upon this scene. The Safeway parking lot was full of Uber/Lyft vehicles, many of which had sunshades or towels covering the windows.

I’ve seen this situation elsewhere, in other Safeway parking lots, as well at the rest area on 280, just outside the city. It seems that wherever there’s a place to park, there’s a place to sleep.

All Roads Lead to Uber

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about discussing Uber in the cab, and in the column…

The other night, after a long 14-hour shift, I’m standing outside the dispatch office at National, smoking a cigarette with a couple of drivers and complaining about the latest injustice to our livelihoods: management is raising the gates on 24-hour leases from $103 to $123 per day.

As one driver disappears into the night and another arrives to take his place, conversation fluctuates between outrage and indignation until someone brings up my column, much to my chagrin. He wants to know why I don’t use the forum to blast our adversaries.

Since this is such a common inquiry, especially among taxi drivers, I’ve become adept at brushing it off with offhanded comments like, “Because Uber and Lyft are boring.” Or, “I’m under doctor’s orders not to discuss Uber.”

This time I went with, “Nobody cares about this stuff except taxi drivers.”

My response isn’t good enough, though, and the guy tells me I’m wasting a perfectly good opportunity to help the industry resist the onslaught of the ridehail companies.

“Tell me,” I respond, taking a drag from my American Spirit. “Do you guys actually read the column?”

“Uhhh,” the first guy stutters. “I’ve read it before. In the past.”

The second guy shrugs, while the third guy just smiles.

“So how do you know what I write about, then?” I laugh. “Whatever. If I wrote the column just for taxi drivers, nobody else would read it.” With that, I take a final drag, pitch the butt and walk away.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

A Wild Night for the Wildlife at Outside Lands

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This week’s column for the S.F. Examiner is about working Outside Lands…

“Taxi! Taxi!”

Before I can figure out where the shouting is coming from, there are hands reaching for my back door.

“Can you drive us?” The guy’s voice is rife with desperation.

“Yeah,” I say, stating the obvious. “Get in.”

“Thank you so much,” the girl exclaims. “We’re so lucky we found you!”

“Cool. Uh, where ya heading?”

Once I get their destination, I carve my own route out of the Avenues, zigzagging from Balboa to Anza to Clement, and even up to Lake, trying to avoid the gridlock.

“I don’t do traffic,” I tell my passengers nonchalantly, for effect.

Since this is my fifth year working Outside Lands, I can be a little cocky.

I head to the park around 9 p.m., after steeling myself for the inevitable shitshow and getting my accouterments in order. Energy drink: check. Square reader: check. Gary Numan CD: check.

Unlike in the past, attendees of the music festival this year seem to realize that using Uber or Lyft to get out of the park when the music ends is an exercise in futility. Besides the inevitable surge pricing, anyone with eyes can see the congestion. Well, almost anyone.

“Hey! Taxi!”

On my second foray to the park, a girl frantically waves me down on the corner of 18th and Balboa.

“C’mon! Let’s go!” she tells her friend, standing a few feet away.

“But they’ll charge me five dollars,” her friend whines, holding up her phone.

“I’ll Venmo you the five dollars! Come on!”

“But…”

I hit the gas. This is no time for indecision.

Read the rest here.