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Outsidelands Travel Tips

OutsideLandsSince I’ve got a broken ankle I can’t do too much so I was checking out the prices last night after OutsideLands finished for taking a ride with the various TNC’s as an alternative to cab rides or muni. It was pretty shocking.

I drive for Sidecar and was able to drive last year and it was pretty busy. Most of the rides were short because people would park a few blocks away and walk to the concert. Most of my trips were for around $8-$10. This year it was different. A lot different.

I started checking prices around 9:30pm on Uber and Sidecar [Lyft doesn’t give estimates, but I had heard they were charging 25% Prime Time Tips on top of their ride fee]. Here’s what I found. I live a little over a mile from OutsideLands and was curious what a ride would cost me to get home from there:

Uber: $40 [estimate]

Sidecar: $6 [real price]

WTF?!?!?!

Yes, Uber has what is known as surge pricing. If Uber thinks there is going to be a high demand they will charge more to get more drivers out there. It’s actually the opposite of the supply and demand idea. When a lot of people want a product the price goes down to move more product. Uber is a service though, so when demand goes up so does the price. The biggest problem is that Uber isn’t the only game in town as much as they’d like to think.

Sidecar has a policy where driver’s can set their own prices, but new drivers are set up so that their first 25 rides will be forced to the minimum of $5 and base multiplier of 1.0. This doesn’t mean all rides will be $5, but they will be cheaper. This pricing makes regular Sidecar drivers stay competitive with the new drivers and not seriously overcharging for the service. It’s kind of an odd way of doing business, but it seems to work out better so far for the riders.

Another odd thing was that if you tried to get an Uber car at 9:30 on the Richmond side of Golden Gate Park it was surging at 5.0x, but if you walked a little bit to the Sunset side to get an Uber car it was at 2.0x. That’s over half the price. Here’s where it gets a little weird. Richmond side Uber to Russian Hill [a friend of mine asked me this question] $75. Sunset side Uber to Russian Hill $50. Yes, you could save $25 and take a longer ride just by walking the equivalent of a couple of blocks.

My advice to people looking for an alternative to the overburdened Muni to get too and from OutsideLands is that if you’re going to take Uber go to the Sunset [south] side of Golden Gate Park to request a ride, or just look for Sidecar which will save you the most money. It won’t guarantee you a $6, but it will definitely be a lot cheaper than Uber or Lyft.

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Need A Ride To The Airport?

This isn’t getting mentioned in the media or even in any bloggers so I figured I better scoop this story for all my fellow TNC drivers so that the public knows and understands a current problem that we all have now that is especially bad in San Francisco.

In September of 2013 The CPUC decided that ridesharing companies such as Sidecar, Lyft & Uber had every right to operate in California. The CPUC call the companies TNC’s for Transportation Network Companies because they use cell phones to communicate ride requests as well as the processing of payments for rides. One of the little things that was sort of buried in the decision was that all TNC’s much work with local airports to establish an agreement for operating at these locations.

As you know I drive for Sidecar and it was always the general rule of thumb that you could drop off, but not pick up passengers at SFO until further agreements could be reached because at the time that was what the airport had written into it’s laws. Any company doing business on the airport premises or off for the purpose of picking up passengers on airport property had to have an agreement in writing with SFO. Nothing was said about dropping off people so that what we went with.

Well, things have changed. SFO has issued a statement to all TNC’s that until they get a permit from them they cannot drop off or pick up passengers on SFO property. I believe LAX has issued the same statement, but not pretty much every airport in California is like this. From my experience with Sidecar I know that they are actively pursuing the permit, but they have run into a few snags from SFO’s list of items TNC’s need to provide in order to get the permit. This isn’t only a Sidecar problem, but something that all TNC’s have a problem with. Some of the requests are based on old technology that doesn’t apply to new technology. Kind of like if the horse trade organization said that all cars needed to have distemper shots so they were healthy. The two don’t necessarily work together. All the TNC’s are trying to work the bugs out, but currently, no one has a permit.

The biggest problem and this is the most important thing that anyone who uses TNC’s for transportation needs to realize that as of right now the airports are off limits. Let me put that is a bit large type so it stands out:

TNC’s cannot drive you or pick you up from the airport.

Please pass this along to all your friends, neighbors, everyone. This has become more of a problem because the airports and especially SFO are starting to crack down. I see reports daily of drivers for many of these TNC’s getting stopped and ticketed for dropping off or picking up passengers at SFO. I’ve heard that it’s happening at other airports in California as well, but SFO is the worse.

Some of the TNC’s are being a bit passive aggressively defiant in that they are telling drivers they will cover the cost of the ticket [which I have heard runs between $220-$600 depending on what they write you up on], but they aren’t telling drivers not to take people to the airport. This makes some of these TNC’s look bad to the CPUC who has given them the right to operate in California. Sidecar has officially told all of it’s drivers to not accept rides to or from SFO and that is easy because riders have to put in their destination when they request a ride. Sidecar is also working on blocking requests to the airport until they can resolve the problem with SFO. Those other TNC’s aren’t doing this.

Why is this a problem for you the rider? The CPUC has given TNC’s a right to operate in California and it was the first state where this was done. All of these companies have started in San Francisco as well so we are the bullseye that everyone is aiming for. Many of you love TNC’s because they’re more pleasant than taxi’s. TNC drivers are held more accountable than taxi drivers to the point that we’re seeing a lot of taxi drivers changing their attitude and coming over to work for TNC’s because they can make more money with less outlay of cash [you do realize that taxi drivers have to pay upfront before the cab even leaves the lot]. In San Francisco and the Bay Area TNC’s have changed the way people get around. TNC’s you can request and they show up within minutes. They don’t demand a tip [though they appreciate it], you will never hear, machine is broken, cash only and in general the drivers are much more pleasant to ride with. Pricing can even be less expensive than a cab frequently.

If you want to see this all go away then go ahead and book rides to the airport. There will always be drivers who will take the risk that don’t understand that while they might get $35 from that ride to the airport [less than a taxi] in the end they could help bringing TNC’s in San Francisco, California and then spreading out to the rest of the country and world to an end. I happen to like driving for a TNC and I’ve met lots of fun and interesting people and made lots of new friends. I know I’m helping out people who need to get somewhere quickly and it’s giving me a way to make money on a flexible schedule. Please do not ask for trips to the airport because if you do you might find yourself walking home at 2am on a Saturday night or waiting an hour to find a taxi to hail.

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A View Of San Francisco: 1955

Thanks to a friend on FaceBook, I found this great video of San Francisco from 1955. It’s a travelog sort of film that makes San Francisco look like Disneyland in many ways. If you think you know the City, see how many places you’ll find that are different today than they were then. I honestly got all of them even though Sutro Baths was closed just after I was born. I’d like to do a remake of this film using the same voice over and locations, but with today’s scenes. Sounds like fun anyone in on it with me?

Strikes Happen…

This little train went nowhere...As of today it looks as if the BART strike is over at least for now. I have a feeling in my gut that sometime late Sunday things will break down and the strike will be back on Monday giving the Bay Area a break for the weekend.

I’ve realized that when I say to myself, don’t they remember? This has happened before. Most of the people in San Francisco haven’t been here before and don’t remember things like June and July it’s normal to have fog in the city and sun in the summer is considered odd. Our summer comes in September and October. Like the weather, transit also has it’s shifts.

It has been awhile since there was a BART strike which probably means that half the people in the City weren’t here for the last one. Hardly anyone was here for the 1989 quake and has forgotten how people used to get to work when BART and the Bay Bridge were closed down. I think the ’89 quake is one of the reason I never liked the idea of working outside of San Francisco. You can get to and from here in the case of an emergency, but it isn’t as easy.

During the ’89 quake people discovered the ferries for the first time in I don’t know how many years. Suddenly people were saying things like, Gee, it’s kind of nice to glide home across the Bay with a glass of wine in your hand. Yes, it does sound a bit like I wonder what the poor people are doing, but it sort of became a luxury commute for some people compared to having to drive or deal with grumpy people smashed together like sardines on BART.

Then there is the casual carpooling which has been around for years. I worked with a guy who used to drive into the City across the Bridge and he’d always pick people up who would give him money to cover the bridge fare which would also help cover his gas as well. Now that BART has been on strike there’s an uptick in the number of people looking into that way of getting to work.

There was also a boom in people who realized that they had a job where they weren’t retail and didn’t have to be face to face with people every day so they could work from home once the internet was more robust.

All of these things led to a drop in the use of BART and to a lesser extent MUNI. People found a way around the problem which in the long run was more enjoyable and gave them an alternative. This caused less crowding on BART and MUNI [I’m not sure why MUNI is affected by a BART strike, but in the past numbers have shown the two co-relate].

BART strikes to me are like a purge that’s needed every once in awhile to get ride of extra people that bloat public transit. In the long run that means less income for public transit which can lead to an increase in fares, but the ride is more enjoyable. Ultimately the solution to the problem would be for people who work in San Francisco to live in San Francisco. They could spend the money from their higher incomes in the City and give something back.

Sidecar In The City

Get Sidecar...Apparently there’s more problems in San Francisco than just Muni. It turns out that I was wrong and that there are lots of people who like to take cabs, but they have trouble getting one or getting one to take them where they need to go — enter Sidecar.

I’ve actually started driving for Sidecar mostly because it seemed like an easy way to get some extra money in my free time. It has been a good thing and I’ve learned a lot since I’ve started driving for them. First is that getting a cab in San Francisco is really difficult depending on where you live. Most of the cabbies only want to be in high traffic areas so places like the Sunset and Richmond will get you thrown out of a cab quick style. There really isn’t anything you can do about this, except call and hope you’ll get someone. If you hop in a cab downtown and tell them you’re going to the Sunset or Richmond be prepared to get thrown out quickly because they usually can’t get anyone to drive back to the high traffic areas they like.

Then you’ve got surly cab drivers. I’ll admit it’s been awhile since I took a cab in San Francisco, but I always remember they always looked and sounded grumpy. On top of that they would try and pull their tip out at the end before you could figure how how much you wanted to give them sometimes tipping themselves 50% of your fare.

Well Sidecar doesn’t work that way. You’ll need an iPhone or Android phone and download the app which uses GPS to tell the driver where you are [it gives them more info than that, but it’s based on your GPS co-ordinates]. You ask for a Sidecar and you tell it where you need to go and then all the drivers in the area are notified that you need a ride. Someone will pick up the call and come get you. There will be a suggested donation for the ride. All rides are done through donation and not a fare like a cab because that comes under a different set of rules then. Once the car gets there you hop in and they drive you to where you want to go. At the end when the driver closes out the ride on their phone you can pay then with your iPhone based on the suggested donation. You can add more for a tip or less if you like and I’ll get into that in a minute or two. People who drive Sidecars can be identified by the bright orange MOX [mirror socks] that are on their rearview mirrors. Much more discrete than the big pink moustache that Lyft drivers have to use and there’s no requisite fist bump when they pick you up [really? who’s douchebag idea was that?]

Now in the time I’ve been driving I had to say that I’ve met a lot of really fun people. No one creepy and almost all of them were happy that I was able to get to them so quickly. They’ve been all over the map from 20’s to 50’s and students to doctors so they’ve been a very interesting group of people to talk to. They always seem to like when I tell them that I’m born and raised in San Francisco and I usually hand them a card for this blog so if any of those people are reading this HI!

Now there’s a few things I’d like to suggest to anyone who uses Sidecar for a ride.

  1. The drivers only make 80% of what you pay them keep that in mind.
  2. I strongly suggest you at least pay the suggested fare and if within your means add a small tip. We appreciate it.
  3. Don’t pay less than the suggested amount. I’ve got a couple of friends who have been paid 80% under what was suggested and that sucks because the 80% is figured after the 20% is removed so it’s more like they paid 90-95% under.
  4. Don’t ever pay $0. Drivers can block you if you don’t pay or undercut the suggested price too much and if you start to collect blocks you’ll be banned from the system [it’s 3-5 to get blocked depending on who you talk to] because the idea behind it is that it’s a community of drivers and people who want to get some where not people you get to stiff for a free ride.
  5. If you need to pay less because you’re short on cash then you should think about taking the bus or at least tell the driver and try to keep the deduction at no more than 25%.
  6. Don’t wait forever to make the donation. If you don’t pay right away you’ll get a text in 24 hours and if you don’t pay then you’ll be charged the suggested fare. You have to keep in mind that the drivers don’t get their money for six days after you’ve paid so waiting a couple of days to pay is kind of bad form. Please try to pay within a couple of hours of your trip.

The drivers have to keep up their cars and pay for the gas and if you haven’t heard gas is getting expensive. I did use Sidecar as a passenger the other day and told the girl who drove me I was a driver and that I wouldn’t stiff her and even told her how much I was going to pay. My drive from the Outer Sunset to Inner Richmond was suggested at $17 and I paid her $20. She gets $16 of that. I think I made her very happy.

I’ll keep doing this for awhile because with Sidecar it’s cheaper than a cab for most people and when I want to drive people I run the app and get ready to hop in my car. I don’t have any schedules so I get to drive whenever I get free time and I drive a few hours every day. At the very least it got me to wash my car and I recharged the air conditioning today so it feels like I’ve got a new car once again. It’s also easy to move stuff around when I don’t have piles of empty McDonald’s bags in the back from my daughter anymore.

Oh and if you’ve never used Sidecar and want to give it a try you can enter the promo code EventuallyEric and get a $10 credit to make it cheaper for you the first time. I even made a little sign I put in my car.

Muni…’Nuff Said

I haven’t really had to ride Muni much in over three years. In the past three years most of my jobs have been work from home or drive from home jobs, so aside from the rare occurrence I apparently have been lucky. I used to hop on the 48 Quintara which is the only reliable bus in the city, get off at West Portal and hop on any metro train to go downtown. Sure there were a few grumpy faces, but for the most part all was good.

Well things have changed. Now things are fine until you get off somewhere downtown and getting out of the station is like running the gauntlet. I’ve heard about people being shot in the stations, one guy was stabbed in the head, then there is the crazy women who walks around in a heavy coat talking to no one who is interested in listening to her yell things like, I know why we have an AIDS crisis and nobody else does. It’s because we have people f*cking in the mouth! Nice morning commentary Gretchen Carlson.

If you’re traveling on the cheap to San Francisco you don’t rent a car you take the bus everywhere. When I took a trip to London I didn’t rent a car, I took the metro and it was pleasant. Did you know they have ice cream dispensers in most of the tube stops? When I was in NY, pre clean up, the trains while having a few shifty looking characters on them ignored you if you ignored them. We like to show everyone that we’re at the forefront, so why can’t we with Muni?

If you need to get anywhere fast you take the metro. From the Sunset District if you try and take a bus downtown you will definitely take twice as long as the metro and your entire ride will be accompanied by eau de urine. This is what we don’t want the visiting tourists to see. People not of San Francisco like to call us smug, but how can we be smug when our public transportation sucks so bad?

OK, we’ve got the cable cars and F line. Those are more kitschy tourist attractions than something very many people use to get to work and they run on their own tracks. We have new metro cars, but our buses haven’t changed much over the years. We had a few testing free wifi, but I haven’t seen those in about five years. The metro when it goes underground needs cell and wifi service. San Francisco needs to move forward, not at a standstill or move backwards. We are one of the top tourist cities in the world, but how many people come back more than once that aren’t driving? Also shouldn’t we make it safe for those of use who have to commute to work? Muni needs a major overhaul and it needs it now.

The Metro Tunnel Needs Wi-Fi And More

I had to take a trip downtown the other day and started thinking about some of the jobs I used to have down in the financial district before I had my iPhone. Mobile devices don’t work in the tunnel once the train starts in past West Portal station. They barely even work inside the open air station for some reason, but more importantly it can take you 20-30 minutes to get from West Portal to the Embarcadero and you don’t have access to the outside world from the inside.

You can’t make phone calls which some people appreciate because of the thick concrete and you can barely get 3G/4G service at a couple of stations and that’s only for about a minute. I think it’s time that SFMTA installed Wi-FI or at least allow 3G/4G access while in the tunnel. There are a couple of reasons for this idea that I like.

First, it eliminates the need for big bulky newspapers. I always hated people sitting next to me stretching out their hands reading the morning paper on a crowded streetcar or the occasional elbow as a person flips a page of a book they’re reading. With a mobile device you have a much better confined  reading space that fits with a crowded streetcar better than paper.

The second is that some people like to use social media apps or read their email or stay connected to their place of work in case something comes up on the way in. It’s really sad to me that I am more connected hopping a 48 Quintara to the Mission than I am on a streetcar going to the financial district.

There’s lots of things you can do to occupy yourself with a mobile device to kill the time, especially when the driver tells you there’s a delay and you’ll have to wait. Most of the apps though require a hook up to the internet to get you the information you was to use. Happy passengers aren’t grumpy and crazy. If I’m stuck by a delay and find out that after 45 minutes on the train that my wife was in a car accident or something happened to my daughter that would be bad, very bad.

BART understands this and I wrote about this previously. I hoped BART one day at Embarcadero and happened to notice as I hit the tunnel under the bay, that I could hook up for free to BART’s wi-fi service. The trip was almost an hour and the entire way I was surfing the web, sending emails, made a couple of calls just fine. I even had a cell phone signal under the bay. This leads to more productivity for some people or just happier riders for the less productive who just want to hop on in their trip from one part of town to another and watch a TV show on Hulu or Netflix. It would give them a chance to tune out the crazies or people who talk too loud to the person sitting next to them. Now we just have to figure out who’s job we would have to cut to make that happen. Maybe a marketing director or two since you wouldn’t need them if they made the trip more pleasant.