Tag Archives: uber

Kelly Dessaint on the “Drinks with Tony” Podcast


I was a guest on Tony DuShane’s eponymous podcast/radio show, Drinks with Tony. We discuss the craft writing, how I ended up driving a taxi, my experiences with Lyft and Uber, how I landed a gig writing a column for the S.F. Examiner, the pandemic and how a little bit of success can lead to a whole lot of despair.

I think. We talked for a while, and I kinda hoping he edited a bunch of stuff out…

Anyway. Not sure what Tony was drinking, but I had a seltzer on ice.

Check out the podcast here.


That Time I Was a Lyft Driver for Halloween

Ah, the memories… Even if I try to forget, Facebook always reminds me of the stupid shit I did in the past… And wrote columns about…

The increasingly blurry lines of driving for hire

By Kelly Dessaint 

published on Nov 6, 2015

I was a Lyft driver for Halloween.

The idea came to me at last week’s barbeque. For some reason, driving around San Francisco, picking up fares with Lyft’s iconic trade dress on my cab, seemed like an absolutely hilarious prank. Even if I just caused confusion, at the very least it would be a noteworthy social experiment.

So that Saturday, once it got dark, I fastened the fluffy pink Carstache Lyft sent me when I first signed up to the grill of National 182 and attached the Glowstache I’d received as a top-rated driver to the dash.

I created a Pandora station around The Cramps, Misfits and Ramones.

To augment my trickery, I planned to tell my passengers I didn’t know where I was going and that it was 200 percent Prime Time all night.

I figured everyone would laugh and throw piles of money at me for having such a clever costume.

On 16th Street, a girl dressed as a spider flagged me down.

“Can you take me to Geary and Fillmore, please?”

“Sorry, I’m a Lyft driver,” I said merrily. “I don’t know where that is.”

“It’s easy,” she responded in all seriousness. “I’ll direct you.”

“…”

From Japantown, I crawled down Polk Street behind a beat-up white limo. A few cab drivers looked at me like I was committing the greatest sin by “rocking the ’stache,” as they say in Lyft parlance.

Trevor, the Street Ninja, impersonating Travis Bickle, cruised past me at one point cracking up.

“I’m a Lyft driver!” I yelled out the window. “Where am I? What street is this? Are we in SoMa?”

I stuck to the more congested parts of The City, where I knew my caricature would get the most exposure. Some Lyft drivers scowled at me. Others blew their horns or flashed their high beams.

The majority of my passengers, though, didn’t seem to notice or care. They just told me where they were going, and off I drove with my mouth shut.

So much for being a friend with a cab.

After dropping off a group of revelers at Bar None, I was heading deeper into the congestion of Union Street with The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” at full blast when a guy darted out of the crowd.

“You!” He pointed at my cab, laughed and jumped in the backseat.

Barreling down Gough, we talked about irony and thrash metal. When I dropped him off on Valencia, he almost took off without paying.

“Hey, I’m only pretending to be a Lyft,” I reminded him.

On my way to the Haight from the Mission with a fare, Other Larry pulled up next to me on Guerrero in Veterans 233.

“Nice fucking mustache!” he shouted.

“Look at me!” I jeered. “I’m a Lyft driver and I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing!”

“Does it ever get old?” the guy in the backseat asked.

“What?”

“Making fun of Lyft.”

“No.”

On a ride through the back roads of the Western Addition, I tried to explain to another guy the tension between the Smartphone Hailed Internet Transportation Services and cab drivers and why the Lyft mustaches on my taxi were so hilarious.

“You mean you can’t do Lyft in a cab?” he asked. “I always assumed you guys were all the same.”

The same?

Sure, the lines are blurry these days: Flywheel is an app and a taxi company; most Uber drivers are Lyft drivers and vice versa; decommissioned Yellow cabs are used as Uber-Lyft cars; Towncar drivers slap fake TCP numbers on their bumpers to access commercial lanes; out-of-town cabs come into The City all the time and pick up street hails; and now Uber-Lyft drivers are putting toplights on their Priuses.

According to a recent study from Northeastern University, the streets of San Francisco are congested with more than 10,000 vehicles for hire on average. During a holiday like Halloween, that number is considerably higher. But only taxicabs are required to follow rules and regulations. Everyone else is free to play make-believe all they want.

It doesn’t even matter if the portrayal is convincing. The general population just wants the cheapest and most convenient ride available. Who provides the actual service, whether they’re knockoffs or the real McCoy, is completely irrelevant.

Especially on Halloween.

____________________

Originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner.

In Traffic We Become Something Bigger

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Originally published in the S.F. Examiner on August 14, 2019.

Everything hit at once last weekend. Besides Outside Lands, the Giants were at home and, on Saturday, there was the Pistahan parade and festival.

Combined, it made for a hectic few days of cab driving…

I started my week on Thursday afternoon. Caught a Millbrae train to New Montgomery, and surfaced just as a 9R is idling a few blocks away. I luck out with a seat in the back. As we pass Civic Center, though, a person nursing a crushed can of Old E nods off and hits the deck.

A woman looks up from her iPhone and screams, “Somebody call 911!”

“Forget that!” the guy next to me shouts. “I’m gonna be late for work.”

“But he could be dead!”

The guy shrugs.

Just as the passengers begin taking sides, the bus turns onto 11th Street and comes to a stop. Even though the man is back in his seat, sipping on what’s left of his beer, the operator refuses to continue.

“Come on! Let’s go!”

The grumbling grows louder, until the lights flicker off and it’s obvious we must disembark.

A few minutes later, another 9R turns off Market. Circumventing the first bus, I notice the man has followed us. Barely able to stand, holding onto the back of a seat precariously…

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]


Wanna Go for a Ride?

Just released: Dispatches from Behind the Wheel: The Omnibus –
The Complete Zine Series about Driving for Hire in San Francisco

A Phony Lid paperback original. Includes all four issue of Behind the Wheel, revised and expanded with additional content. A Lyft Driver’s Log • Notes from an Uber/Lyft • From Uber/Lyft to Taxi • The Thin Checkered Line

Get all the details here.

 

A Vacation at the Airport

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Originally published in the S.F. Examiner
on July 18, 2019.

In San Francisco, it’s always open season on taxicabs. Sometimes it boggles my mind how driving a taxi can inspire so much scorn from the general public. But then, on any given day, Bay Area drivers seem to be in direct competition with each other, racing towards the next red light for the grand prize of absolutely nothing.

Except maybe new brakes.

So when a professional driver enters the equation, with access to transit-only lanes, plenty of road experience and a deep knowledge of how to maneuver the lights, it must frustrate all the speed demons to get owned by a taxi.

Last week, I’m heading south on Potrero in the red carpet lane. At 24th, where it ends, I merge into the flow of traffic. Since letting any car in front of you is akin to slander, a beat up Mazda almost causes a multiple car pileup changing lanes to cut me back off. Which I let him do when he finally speeds up. It’s not like I’m trying to drive like a jerk. There’s a paying customer in my backseat with a meter running. I’m just doing my job, getting passengers where they need to go as efficiently as possible.

And yeah, I know a taxi driver complaining about traffic is totally cliché, but when you spend as much time driving as we do, it transcends a mere occupational annoyance and rises to the level of an existential grievance.

Normally, I just accept my fate and deal with the constant abuse from other drivers. But last Thursday afternoon, after spending 20 minutes on Townsend, trying to reach the Caltrain cabstand, only to find it filled with unmarked sedans, it occurs to me that there’s an alternative to the hassle of working the streets.

When the train pulls in, I get a fare going to Glen Park, but instead of subjecting myself to congestion in the Mission on the way downtown, I get on the freeway… SFO bound.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Douglas O’Connor]


Wanna Go for a Ride?

Just released: Dispatches from Behind the Wheel: The Omnibus –
The Complete Zine Series about Driving for Hire in San Francisco

A Phony Lid paperback original. Includes all four issue of Behind the Wheel, revised and expanded with additional content. A Lyft Driver’s Log • Notes from an Uber/Lyft • From Uber/Lyft to Taxi • The Thin Checkered Line

Get all the details here.

 


 

 

 

The Failed Uber Driver Strike of 2019

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Originally published in the S.F. Examiner on May 16, 2019.

It was just another Wednesday night in San Francisco.

Given the opportunity for a do over, I never would have worked last Wednesday.

Like many, I was curious to witness the outcome of the Uber “strike,” even though anyone could have easily assumed it would be a flop. That didn’t stop the SFMTA from sending out an email a few days prior, notifying cab drivers that due to the protest there might be increased demand for taxis.

It seems everyone got the memo. Because when I got to the Yellow yard, there were no available cabs. I ended up waiting over an hour for one to become available.

After half an hour pacing the ground in front of the office, I contemplated going back home. But I had to work. Like so many desperate Uber/Lyft drivers, struggling to make money in this oversaturated market, I didn’t have a choice.

On the following Friday, I was driving to LA for my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday party. As I’m sure anyone with a Jewish mother, in-law or otherwise, from the Old Country or not, can attest, there’s no way in hell I could miss this milestone.

So Wednesday and Thursday were my only chances to make enough money to cover gas and incidentals for the trip and not have to beg my wife, who’d flown down with the baby that morning, for a bank transfer.

Of course, there was always a possibility that taxis would hit pay dirt because of the protests. After all, stranger things have happened…

Read the rest here.


Wanna Go for a Ride?

Just released: Dispatches from Behind the Wheel: The Omnibus –
The Complete Zine Series about Driving for Hire in San Francisco

A Phony Lid paperback original. Includes all four issue of Behind the Wheel, revised and expanded with additional content. A Lyft Driver’s Log • Notes from an Uber/Lyft • From Uber/Lyft to Taxi • The Thin Checkered Line

Get all the details here.

 

The Real Impact of Uber/Lyft on Traffic

central-freeway

Originally published in the S.F. Examiner on August 7, 2019.

“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows,” Bob Dylan once sang. While most of us are able to figure things out with our eyes and brains, the powers that be seem incapable of making or accepting empirical observations. Especially when it comes to Uber and Lyft.

On Monday, the two companies released the findings of a jointly funded analysis by an independent transportation firm detailing the impact of their services on traffic in six US cities, including San Francisco. News that Uber and Lyft are responsible for a significant amount of congestion was met with a resounding, “Duh!”

You don’t need an independent transportation firm to know that Uber and Lyft are mucking up traffic.

Anyone who’s ever tried to get around San Francisco has witnessed the consequences of Uber’s and Lyft’s concerted efforts to flood the streets with cars. While idling in gridlock, trying in vain to get through an intersection, you just have to look at the cars around you to notice most have Uber and/or Lyft decals.

Of course, despite the recent findings, Uber’s head of global policy immediately shirked responsibility by arguing that private cars still make up most of the congestion.

Sure, if you’re only looking at figures. But it doesn’t take a statistician to figure out that an influx of 6,000 vehicles for hire on any given day will have an extensive impact on traffic.

Read the rest here.


Wanna Go for a Ride?

Just released: Dispatches from Behind the Wheel: The Omnibus –
The Complete Zine Series about Driving for Hire in San Francisco

A Phony Lid paperback original. Includes all four issue of Behind the Wheel, revised and expanded with additional content. A Lyft Driver’s Log • Notes from an Uber/Lyft • From Uber/Lyft to Taxi • The Thin Checkered Line

Get all the details here.

 

Dispatches from Behind the Wheel: The Omnibus

The Complete Zine Series about Driving for Hire in San Francisco

The Behind the Wheel zine was created by longtime zine maker Kelly Dessaint to document his experiences driving for hire in San Francisco. The first two issues chronicle driving for Uber and Lyft, before he goes to taxi school and becomes a bonafide taxi driver. The third issue features the unexpurgated “I Drive SF,” based on his weekly column for the San Francisco Examiner. The fourth issues contains five long-form essays about driving a taxi in San Francisco while living in Oakland, writing for a newspaper, dealing with a complicated marriage, hostile encounters with Uber/Lyft drivers and the prospect of bringing a child into a world that’s completely out of whack. Combined, this collection presents a vivid, voyeuristic tapestry of The City, which is a constant backdrop throughout the stories – essentially the main star – followed closely by the author himself.

paperback original
364 pages
5.5″ x 8.5″
duotone cover
fully illustrated in b&w


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Dispatches from Behind the Wheel: The Omnibus

The complete zine series about driving for hire in San Francisco... This 364 page paperback contains the definitive versions of all four issues of Behind the Wheel, expanded and updated with new illustrations and additional content. Two-tone cover, fully illustrated in black and white. Free shipping via USPS media mail.

$20.00


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INSIDE THE BOOK:

How to Become a Taxi Driver

taxi-uber-lyft-halloween

My column for the SF Examiner published on April 17, 2019 is about the exhaustive procedures to become a taxi driver versus the simple process of driving for Uber and Lyft.

One of the major “innovations” Uber and Lyft have unleashed upon the world is a low barrier of entry in recruiting drivers. Since their inception, Uber/Lyft lobbyists have argued in City Hall and Sacramento that putting too much pressure on potential applicants would discourage them from signing up.

It worked. And to this day, there are still news stories about former criminals becoming Uber/Lyft drivers and perpetuating new crimes.

Remember when Uber claimed to provide the safest ride? Yeah. They were forced by a court of law to stop spreading that obvious lie.

As I’ve mentioned in my last two columns, regulations exist for a reason: to protect the public. Uber/Lyft boosters often overlook this fact when defending their transportation choices.

During 11 months that I did the Uber/Lyft thing, I seldom felt safe. The only thing more terrifying than all the potential scenarios one might face on the road was how little support Uber and Lyft offered their “partners.”

I always felt alone on the streets. While I couldn’t possibly rely on passengers to have my back, I didn’t trust other Uber/Lyft drivers either. Because I knew how easy it was to become one.

Read the rest here.


 

The Uber/Lyft Trend

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My column for the SF Examiner published on March 21, 2019 is about trendoids and their transportation choices…

You can learn a lot about the current state of transportation in the ad hoc cabstand outside Public Works at 3 a.m.

While waiting in line for 30 minutes or longer for a fare, you have a unique perspective on how the new San Franciscans get around these days.

And it’s not pretty.

As dozens of Uber/Lyft vehicles scrimmage on either side of Mission, some charging headlong into the smoking section on Erie, packs of club goers stand around the makeshift concession stand at the end of the dead end alley waiting for their rides.

For each cab taken, there are approximately 15-20 Uber and Lyft pick-ups. The process is slow going. Obviously, most of these young urbanites are willing to brave the precipitation and frigid night air in their skimpy club attire than get into one of the available taxis.

Meanwhile, every 15 minutes, a 14 bus roars by, blaring its horn out of frustration at the vehicular morass.

Even though you can easily get from Public Works to Monarch or Club 6 on the 14, or take the 9 to Halcyon, the Great Northern or 150 San Bruno, no self-respecting hip city dweller would be caught dead on Muni.

Or a taxi, for that matter.

Most recent transplants prefer to ride in some random dude’s Camry than take public transportation. Regardless of the price. Because getting around today isn’t about saving a buck. Or even convenience.

It’s about trends.

And taxis, like buses, are relics of the past.

Read the rest here.


 

Driving Women Under the Influence

nob-hill-sf-street-flag-christian-lewis-web

I’ve written extensively about the fear and confusion that defines a particular kind of ride: the intoxicated woman. You got mean drunks and happy drunks. And you have the unknown

Whether they’ve had too many drinks or had something put in their drinks, women who get wasted in public at night are easy targets for predators.

Even though one of the major selling points of Uber and Lyft is providing safe passage for the most vulnerable, when people are leaving bars and clubs at 3 a.m., they’re not always aware enough to read a license plate, or make sure that the thumbnail in their phone matches the dude behind the wheel of an unmarked sedan in a sea of unmarked sedans. 

Lyft’s color-coding system is a step in the right direction, but every attempt they make to implement safeguards only makes them more taxi-like. And since their inception, Lyft has resisted any resemblance to taxis, lest they end up being regulated like taxis. 

Last week, in my column for the S.F. Examiner, I wrote about the benefit of taxis in the urban landscape and brought up the proliferation of fake Uber drivers who prey on drunken women and how the Uber/Lyft model seems to encourage predators.

This rubbed a few readers the wrong way. So this week, I decided to double down and explore the problem in more detail.

I’ll never forget my first wasted girl. The young woman was probably 19 – 20 tops. So intoxicated, she couldn’t remember where she lived. Somewhere in the Inner Sunset. That’s all she was able to tell me.

I had just started driving for Lyft and the person who ordered the ride didn’t know her. There was a house party, she must have taken something and, yada yada yada, she was my responsibility now.

I was more than a little freaked out. Especially when her first garbled attempt at an address proved futile and she climbed into the front seat of my Jetta.

At this point, she was bawling nonstop. I was on the verge of hysterics myself. Besides the frantic attempt to get her home, I’d already ended the trip through the app, so it was a free ride.

Forty-five minutes later, to my great relief, she finally recognized her building. I managed to help her inside, with only a few more crying jags between the car and her door.

A few months after that, while driving for Uber, a young woman jumped into my car at Market and Eighth Streets and instantly passed out. When the actual person who ordered the ride called me, I had a momentary panic attack. But I managed to figure out where the woman in my backseat lived and get her home.

Over the years, I’ve found myself in similar situations on numerous occasions. And while I had the routine down to a science by the time I started driving a taxi, the immediate fear that grips you at the onset of these incidents never really goes away.

Most people don’t seem to realize just how vulnerable you are on the streets at night, whether you’ve been partying, or driving for hire.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Christian Lewis]