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Posts Tagged 'share'

Why Self Driving Cars Won’t Work For Ridesharing

Driverless CarsSan Francisco is where ridesharing started. Uber, Lyft and the defunct Sidecar as well as smaller players have all started here in the City and they all seem to think they can get rid of drivers now.

This is one of the strangest ideas I have heard in a long time and these companies need to look at Muni in San Francisco to understand what will happen if you remove drivers from cars. Our Muni and BART trains have tried to be autonomous in the tunnels and that didn’t work very well now did it. Many of you may not know this, but there was a time when Muni tried [for a very short time] to have the drivers step out of the compartment when trains entered West Portal Station and let the trains, on tracks, be controlled by a computer. That didn’t work and now a driver has to sit there and make sure the computer is working right and doesn’t crash when the train begins to pass 60 mpg in the tunnel.

I know what some of you are saying, but Google/Uber/some other tech company wasn’t controlling them. OK, fine, but even with a driver riding along on a Muni or BART train have you seen what happens on one of those trains? How would a driverless car picking people up and taking them to their destination on city streets be any different?

There is already the reported problem of lots of these cars getting into accidents. Most of the time it isn’t the fault of the car’s computer, but the humans that are driving around them.  You can write that off if you want, but I don’t think everyone is going to jump onboard from day one when a driverless car becomes available.

Then there are the other problems that people don’t think about. I’m one of those guys that do and here’s something to think about. A driverless car is like the set of Home Alone. People won’t have an overseer to keep them in check. I’ve given rides to young people who even with me behind the wheel have gotten into a fight in the back of my car. I stopped and threw them out, but think about what the first thing that dominates a new technology is…PORN.

VHS, DVDS, the Internet all become intrenched because of the porn industry. I would not be surprised if some of the first people who grab a driverless car will shoot a porn film in it that will be on the internet within a couple of days. The second or third will be someone who pukes and after that will probably be some kid who thinks it would be cool to take a dump in a driverless car.

Imagine if you will for a moment the amount of human body fluids that will be flooding, soaking into and dripping from the insides of a driverless car. No one has talked about safety features in these cars because that of course would be an invasion of someone personal privacy.

Will these cars be equipped with cameras that can see all over the car? Will these cars be equipped with fluid sensors to notify home base if someone barfs or pees in the car? NOTE: I have heard from lots of drivers who have had riders not just puke, but also pee in their cars. This usually happens after midnight and the person is pretty drunk and well, it seems like a good idea at the time… Maybe the companies that are on the bandwagon will make these cars self cleaning so that after a person or porn film crew leaves the car it will sanitize and sterilize the interior for the next rider’s safety.

Then there is the drunken factor that I barely touched on. People like the current ridesharing services because they don’t have to drive home drunk, but their faculties are not at their best. I’ve been asked to pull over so someone could jump out and vomit. I’ve also had a large number of people who put in the wrong address or wanted to go to Safeway, but Google’s Maps which every system uses for some reason chose not the Safeway that was closest to them, but one in the East Bay or North Bay [seriously, try it]. How will the computer controlling the vehicle know whether the customer is right? Will the car electrically zap the riders who have passed out after drinking too much to rouse them to get out because the car has hopefully arrived at the correct location?

In the end the public has been sold a science fiction novel that has been poorly written. This isn’t the taxis of Blade Runner or even Total Recall for that matter. Driverless cars for the masses are a long way off and the idea of driverless transport vehicles are an even longer way off.




Hacking Uber’s Surge Pricing

Das Über SurgeSurge pricing. If you’ve ever taken Uber you know what that is. Demand is high for rides, so the price goes up. It doesn’t always seem like that is the case though when you see surge pricing in effect at odd times and I found out some interesting information yesterday.

I was at a meeting when someone mentioned that Uber has a team of employees whose job it is to keep the drivers from hacking the surge pricing system. This person thought it was only in effect on the East Coast, but I mentioned that I’ve heard from online groups that the drivers in San Francisco are doing this as well. Here’s how it works:

When Uber isn’t surging the price is usually less than a taxi. This is good for the riders, but not the drivers. So the drivers have organized online through various ways of communicating to all go offline when Uber does not have surge prices and then request and cancel rides to increase demand causing Uber’s servers to automatically turn on surge pricing thereby increasing the cost of the fare.

There have been recent articles over the past couple of days of Uber & Lyft accusing each other of booking and canceling rides as a way to take drivers off the road. While I don’t know about Lyft because I haven’t met as many Lyft drivers the same might be true there so that in reality it’s not drivers collecting to try to screw up the competition, but the drivers are actually working to increase their profitability by hacking their own systems. This is all just theory from me since none of the other companies working as TNC’s are being affected and none of the other companies increase their pricing when demand is high. In the end it seems that the only people who benefit from less drivers being on the road is the drivers because that then increases how much money you can make.

As an example, I tweeted that after Outsidelands because of Uber’s surge pricing [Lyft doesn’t give you estimates] it would have cost me $40 for a ride home just over a mile from the concert. While this wasn’t a forced form of surge pricing because demand definitely was high, there was also traffic involved which means that $40 estimate [or $75 estimate to get from Outsidelands to Russian Hill] didn’t take into account that it would be a slower ride which would increase the cost and drivers income even more making the fare more expensive.

Most of the drivers who were driving during the Outsidelands surge pricing were making between $60-$100/hour. This is much better than the $17-$30 you hear drivers talk about during non-surge times. Some of these drivers where earning the equivalent of a 40 hour week at $15/hour in six hours in one day.

Now can you see why drivers would like to be able to drive only during surge pricing? I would suspect that because surge pricing pops up so much that Uber isn’t working too hard to stop it because after all it just increases their bottom line.

A lot of this is just speculative talk as I’m not on the inside with Uber, but I am on boards where there are lots of Uber [and Lyft] drivers with loose tongues who think that no one will ever see what you’re posting on the internet and if it’s on the internet it must be true. 🙂

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Taxi’s vs. TNC’s

Hey Taxi!I’ve been reading a lot lately of the war between taxi drivers and those who drive for TNC’s [that’s the new name for ride sharing companies such as Sidecar, Uber & Lyft]. Actually, it’s not so much a war between the two as it is taxi drivers voicing their anger to just about anyone in the media who will listen. This is were is starts to get interesting.

The reality of the situation is that the cabbies should be looking at the system they’re operating in and quite a few have started. Approximately one third of all taxi drivers have stopped leasing cabs and started using their own cars with TNC’s, mostly Uber, because they are well known and offer the chance for them to make more money through Uber’s surge pricing. It’s not the TNC’s that are a problem, it’s the cab companies that have to charge the drivers so much in order for them to drive the cabs.

One taxi company owner was quoted asking the question, what’s to keep me from buying a bunch of cars and running my own ride share company? Well, to be honest, nothing. There are actually several that are doing so right now. The owner wouldn’t have to purchase the exorbitant taxi medallions [$250k/car], and they wouldn’t have to provide comprehensive insurance to the drivers as they do now, but they could rent the cars out to drivers who don’t own a car and collect on what they make paying a small percentage to the driver. Cab company owners like this idea.

For the drivers, they wouldn’t have to sit down and take a 7 hour class and test [yes, it’s not a very comprehensive test and they are allowed to consult notes] and they can get started quicker with no outlay of cash from their pocket. To get serious for a moment, what cabbies are taught in the training school is minimal at best and they usually take the test right after the class so what they do after they’ve passed don’t necessarily apply to what they just learned. The cab company owners don’t like that idea.

So in the end you’ve got the cab company owners pushing the drivers telling them how bad all the TNC’s are, when in reality it’s the system that the cab drivers have to work under that is the problem. When the TNC’s started as Ride Share companies there was a lot of anger at these new drivers, but now that many cabbies are moving over to the TNC’s they might be yelling at a fellow driver that’s just decided to switch teams in an effort to make more money.

I haven’t had a cabbie yell at me in months lately and a few have actually talked to me about how they could get into the business. One thing that sets apart cabbies from TNC drivers that I think a lot of cabbies learn quickly is that they’re driving their own car and they can’t treat it like a car they’re renting for a shift. Everything is now on them to keep the car looking nice and they have to make sure the brakes are working and the shocks are in good shape, not the company owners. That’s a new way of thinking for a lot of cabbies, but if it makes them more careful drivers when they’re out on the road then everyone wins in the end.

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Ridesharing Get The Go Ahead!

Side•CarOn Thursday, September 19th the California Public Utilities Commission voted 5-0 in favor of accepting the ridesharing technology as a legitimate business in California. While it has started in San Francisco due to the need of people to get from point A to point B and not have to wait an hour for a taxi it has grown into something more than that.

As a public disclaimer, I do drive for Side•Car so I am a little bit biased in this area I’ll admit, but I also have lots of people around town who also take taxi’s and even friends who are taxi drivers to fill me in on this so keep this in mind.

To make things clear from the beginning for those who have been trying to get a taxi and had trouble here are some of the reasons why.

  1. Taxi Companies are in the business of renting taxis: There is no incentive for a company to get you from point A to point B. The taxi companies make their money from renting the taxis or in short, they don’t make money from you taking a taxi, but from the drivers who rent the taxis.
  2. There is a combined total of roughly 1200 taxis available in San Francisco: This is split between all of the taxi companies. If you call for a cab to say, Yellow Cab which is the largest you have about 400 taxis available. This cuts the availability of taxis to riders significantly.
  3. It’s much easier to hail a taxi on the street than call for a pick up: Cab drivers are not employees of the cab companies, but independent contractors so they are under no obligation to pick up a call that is requested. There is no require of a cab driver to do anything other than pay for the taxi rental and return it with a full tank of gas at the end of the shift. Anything they do in between is up to them.

Do you see a problem here? Granted, ridesharing companies such as Side•Car, Lyft and Uber aren’t under a requirement to get you from point A to point B either, but there is a psychological mind set amongst the drivers that works in their favor. While there are a few who drive solely for income it is still not the same as a job. They can do it whenever they have free time and start and stop when they want so they can work it into their schedule.

Rideshare companies have been called elitist by cab companies saying that they won’t pick up low-income or elderly people who don’t own smartphones. I would disagree with this. I have had numerous people I’ve given rides to from 20-70 and all income levels in my car. I frequently drive through the Tenderloin or low-income areas that are underserved by taxis and notice quite a few people on the streets with smartphones. I frequently have picked up people at the local grocery stores who need a lift home with several bags of groceries and sometimes if I have the time I’ll help them unload and carry their bags in. I also have people call for me that need their parents picked up and dropped off in various locations around town so it is definitely a scalable technology. Smartphones are also being given away at this point in time and who in their right mind in this day and age doesn’t own a smartphone that calls for a ride? Last time I checked the majority of low-income people don’t take cabs, but wait for the bus using a state subsidized clipper card.

The biggest boon to riders is that if you are outside the downtown or Mission District you can now get a ride. The Sunset, Richmond, Ingelside and Oceanview areas are a no man’s land for getting a cab. I can’t even count the number of people in the Sunset or Richmond who’s said how great rideshare services are because they simply can’t get a cab in those areas.

Now regarding the safety of vehicles in participating in ridesharing there have been a few new requirements.

  1. Each company must keep a $1 million dollar insurance policy to cover each driver in excess of each driver’s insurance.
  2. Each company must maintain a strict drug and alcohol policy [as in no drugs or alcohol]
  3. A 19 point vehicle inspection is required of each vehicle someone driving for the companies must undergo.

There are other points, but these are the safety issues some people might be concerned with. All of these except the last have been met previously. Since most of the companies require each car to be from the year 2000 or later the chance of one not passing a 19 point inspection is rare. I know most oil change companies provide a 21 point inspection when you get your oil changed and if you change it regularly like I do then you know exactly what is wrong with your car so you can get it fixed.

The decision affects not just the San Francisco Bay Area, but the entire state of California opening the door to ridesharing in parts of the state that may not be considered large enough to warrant taxi service. Overall the price of rideshare works out cheaper than a taxi because a tip is expected on top of the fare regardless of whether or not the driver gave you a good ride or not [but we won’t talk bad about you if you do tip]. The taxi system and the way it works doesn’t support the needs of the people it was meant to serve. Ridesharing companies offer more drivers at more times in more places around the Bay Area so it is easier to get to the people and to get them where they need to go. I’ve personally used the service several times and found that I never had to wait longer than five minutes. When I’m driving and I take a call that’s ten minutes away I frequently wish I didn’t have to make the person wait as long, but usually the drivers are happy that I’m at their door within the time noted by the GPS locator used by the apps. Probably the biggest reason I like driving for a rideshare company is that it takes me all over the city to see  what’s happening now and not in tomorrow’s newsfeed.

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Cab Wars And The Taxi Mafia

Ssssh...I work for Sidecar. www.side.crChange has come. As of today Sidecar, Lyft & Uber have been made legit in spite of the cabbie protest down at city hall. While this still leaving airport pickups and drop offs up in the air [rumor is that they’re now arresting ridesharing drivers at SFO], it’s a good start. It still needs a final sign off, but it’s a step in the right direction.

For those of you who like to take a taxi in San Francisco you run into a problem. First there are only 1500 medallions so there aren’t that many drivers. Second, while against the law cabbies have been known for not taking passengers especially if they want to go out to the western side of the City. Third and finally you have the growing number of complaints levied against cab companies that don’t do much to help their image.

Enter the ridesharing companies who have crews of people who are all over the city and most of the Bay Area that don’t have a problem taking you to where the cabbies won’t. They don’t have bedbugs in their cars and they tend to be people who are more like those at a car show who are proud of their cars and work on keeping them up just to show them off.

As many of you know I’ve been driving for one of these companies and I have to say that I never realized how many people are still into taking cabs. I also hear on a daily basis all the complaints about taking a cab in San Francisco. The complaints are almost as bad if not worse than those about taking Muni. It seems like the time is right for someone who is thinking outside an old box to step in and offer an alternative.

Many of the complaints lodged against the ridesharing companies are more valid against the cab companies. Cabbies have to sit through a one week  training class. It’s not like cabbie college it’s more like traffic school in which you’re just there doing your time. There is no guarantee that the cabbies really know their way around the City and they aren’t taught things like 60 minutes isn’t an acceptable wait time and NO, according to the law you cannot deny someone a ride or pick up based on their destination. The background checks are pretty cursory as well.

I sort of feel sorry for the cabbies because they don’t realize that in of all places, especially San Francisco, you need to move forward with the technology. With the ridesharing companies you whip out your smartphone and call for a pickup the person usually calls you on the way to confirm everything and to see if there’s anything special like you’ve just been shopping and need to stash your groceries on the trip home and you can track their arrival via GPS. In most cases they get to you in under ten minutes, usually under five minutes.

When you get in many of the drivers have perks that they offer — anything from candy to water, etc. When you’re finished the driver closes out the ride and you’ll never hear, the machine is broken, cash only because there’s no machine, it’s all done with the smart phone and no cash changes hands. You’ll see the total [which with some you’ll see even before you call for the ride] and you tap a button and the money is transferred from your bank account and you’re done.

There’s no tricks or additional fees it’s just paying for the ride. No airport, child or baggage fees. Some of the drivers [myself included] have promo codes for new riders that will give them $10 credit on their first time riding with the service [my code is EventuallyEric hmmm…I might have to change that since it sounds like eventually I’ll get there which isn’t true.]

I like the ridesharing idea so much that I’ve even used it as a rider and I have to say that the ride was very pleasant and the driver who took me was a nice girl [Thanks again Jenna!] I needed to get from point A to point B quickly and without and attitude and that’s what I got. I did have a bit of a chuckle since I called for the ride in the Sunset District and she was there three minutes after I submitted the ride. Now just try THAT with a cab.