Thursday, July 31, 2014

Your Uber Driver Hates You

YOUR UBER DRIVER HATES YOU... But Your Lyft Driver Thinks You're The Bee's Knees (Unless You Act Like You're in An Uber - Then They Hate You Too)


Where would the sharing economy be without trust? Nobody in their right mind would give a complete stranger the key to their apartment or get into a random person’s car if they didn’t have faith in the safeguards enforced by the companies that function as intermediaries. Airbnb, Uber, TaskRabbit and other peer-to-peer platforms use Facebook accounts and/or cell phone numbers to authenticate the identities of their users, but miscreants can always find a way around those barriers. Rideshare services rely on background checks and driving records, which aren’t foolproof either. Then there’s the feedback system that’s supposed to ensure a quality experience for both parties, though it’s just as easily skewed.

In theory, the rating system used by Uber and Lyft allows riders to anonymously inform future passengers what to expect from their driver. As a driver, unless you’ve only given one ride that day, you never know which passengers rate you what. Like internet comments, this anonymity gives riders complete freedom to rate and comment without fear of reprisal. And they take full advantage of this liberty, which is reflected in most drivers’ low ratings. It’s almost impossible for a driver to have a 5 star rating for more than a day or two, unless they are in line to be sainted by Jesus Christ himself.

The rating system is supposed to convey trust, but an unintended side effect seems to be taking hold. Uber and Lyft drivers are using the same rating system to secretly warn other drivers about problematic riders. And they are just as unforgiving as their passengers.

Surprise, surprise

As a passenger, you know your driver’s rating. It pops up when they accept your ride request along with their picture and car details. But you never see your own rating. If you did, you might be surprised to discover how the people who drive you around town actually feel about you. While Lyft drivers tend to get along well with their passengers, Uber drivers, for the most part, think their riders are assholes.

A Rideshare to Perdition

Uber and Lyft distinguish themselves by how passengers interact with their drivers. Lyft’s “friend with a car” vibe encourages passengers to sit up front and chat with the driver during the ride. Uber, on the other hand, wants their passengers to feel like they have a personal driver, so they sit in the back and rarely say much besides hello and their destination. Who converses with their servants anyway? Would you chat with your server at a restaurant? Of course not!

Many rideshare customers, especially in San Francisco, use both platforms depending on price surging, availability or what kind of experience they’re in the mood for. I’ve had numerous passengers tell me that when they’re going to work, or in work mode, they take Uber so they don’t have to deal with any annoying conversations. But on the weekends, or if they’re going out, they take Lyft because it’s more fun.

As a driver for both Uber and Lyft, you can easily tell which passengers use Lyft regularly and which passengers prefer Uber. And not just by where they sit or whether they talk to you, but through their ratings.

Most Lyft users have 5 stars with the occasional 4.9. Those with a 4.8 rating are generally the ones who sit in back and stare at their phones. These are your Uber passengers, reluctantly slumming it with Lyft. They get in your car and immediately say, “I’m not going to do the fist bump, so don’t try it.” They express contempt for the pink mustache and seem relieved I don’t have one. They make it clear that they are only using Lyft out of necessity. I find this attitude amusing, though based on their rating, Lyft drivers have no doubt rated them low in the past for not playing along with the Lyft modus operandi.

Since the main difference between the Uber and Lyft experience is the talking, and the passengers with less than 5 stars on Lyft tend to be incommunicado during the ride, it’s not much a stretch to conclude that drivers hate being treated like a “personal driver” and they rate passengers lower for being unsocial. Regardless of which platform they are on.

Now, you might be thinking, aren’t Uber drivers supposed to just get you where you’re going and keep their trap shut?

Sure, but they’re still humans with feelings. So while you sit in the back seat, browsing Facebook to keep you distracted, your driver is seething with animosity at your entitled and unfriendly attitude. The only recourse he or she has is to use the feedback system to rate you accordingly, and that’s a 4 at best.

Very few Uber passengers have 5 stars. In fact, the percentages are completely reversed with Uber. From what I’ve seen so far, 95 percent of Uber passengers have 4.9 or lower. Those users with 5 stars have all started conversations with me, which makes it clear how they got their elusive 5 stars. In fact, after carting around a bunch of people for Uber who barely say hello and thanks, getting a talkative passenger is like finding a fellow countryman in a foreign land.

Face it, Uber users, when it comes to being a passenger, you suck!

Rideshare Drivers are People Too

Recently, somebody figured out how to hack the Uber site to get passenger ratings. Twitter lit up with people posting the link and their ratings. Only a few had 5 stars. Some thought it was funny how low their ratings were, though most were chagrined by what they found. 

Uber quickly put the kibosh on the leak, but I couldn’t help but wonder if that brief window into the reality of passenger ratings might finally alert passengers that they’re not immune to criticism just because they take advantage of a frictionless payment system.

Bidirectional ratings are just that: they go both ways.

Nobody likes negative ratings. Drivers complain about their ratings all the time. It’s not easy making people happy. Even when a ride has gone perfectly, there is never a guarantee that the passenger will be satisfied.

While I always rate passengers 5 stars, even when I’ve had to deal with some real stinkers, my passengers haven’t been as generous with me. After six months of driving for Lyft, my rating is a paltry 4.85. My Uber rating is better: 4.93. But I’ve only been driving for Uber regularly a few weeks. I’m sure it’ll sink lower as I deal with more passengers.

Like other drivers, I’m always shocked when my rating goes down. Lyft considers a 4.8 rating “awesome,” but it still hurts to think that I’ve failed to do my simple task of driving a car, something I’ve been doing in cities across the country going on twenty-five years now. When I get my weekly summaries from Uber and Lyft, I wrack my brain thinking of how I might have messed up or disappointed the passengers who rated me lower than 5 stars. It usually happens after a good night too. Nobody ever gives any indication they are dissatisfied with my driving. Which is why I’m convinced the passengers who converse with me must think I’m some kind of freak for talking about art, literature, architecture, geography, the history of San Francisco and the way the city spreads out across the sky from the top of Potrero Hill. And they hate my music: that dreadful rock and roll nobody listens to anymore.

For every person who finds me entertaining or interesting or feels a kindred spirit with me, there are those who rate me less on my ability to get them from point A to point B and more on an inscrutable formula that only makes sense to them. And while I can usually navigate the city from memory, avoiding traffic jams and unpleasant streets, and maintain a relatively intelligent conversation along the way, in the new San Francisco, that’s only worth three stars. Four at best.

The More You Know…

Maybe if passengers knew what their ratings were, they might want to protect them as much as drivers do. Perhaps it would make them a little less demanding as well. So I missed a turn. Big deal. So I went in a direction that had too many stop signs. Whatever. So I want to tell you how my cousin’s girlfriend has the same name as you when you’re in the middle of reading an email. Get over it! After all, it’s easy to be judgmental when you’re the one with the gavel. Flip that shit around and it’s not as much fun.

The recent Uber ratings leak also raises the question: why don’t rideshare companies show passengers their ratings in the app? Don’t they want passengers to improve? 

The fact of the matter is Uber and Lyft don’t want customers to know their ratings because they mean nothing. The only real consequence is that some drivers won't pick up passengers with low ratings. Otherwise, what’s the likelihood that a paying customer will be kicked off the platform for having a low rating? Not bloody likely! 

The rating system is there to keep drivers in check. You drive with the constant fear that if your rating slips too low you’ll be deactivated. Thus, it’s no wonder drivers have begun using that same system to strike back at what they don’t like about their own experiences. Even if the passengers never find out.

So the next time you take an Uber or a Lyft, why not ask your driver what your rating is. You might just be surprised how big of an asshole you really are.


(Please note: screen grabs of passenger profiles have been modified and do not represent actual passengers. Obviously. An even more obvious fact is that the opinions expressed herein are my own. I do not profess to speak for any other Lyft or Uber driver.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The First Lyft Zine: Behind the Wheel: A Lyft Driver's Log


Piltdownlad #10 – Behind the Wheel: A Lyft Driver’s Log

From the trenches of San Francisco’s sharing economy: A Lyft Zine. 

Ride shotgun with me as I cruise through San Francisco’s latest Tech Boom and divulge the stories, conversations and opinions of the passengers I pick up along the way. 

Illustrated with navigational maps of the city (so you don't get lost). Direct orders include a free "disrupt the disruptors" sticker: 

56 pages | staple bound | $5.00 postpaid

Available in San Francisco at: 

Adobe Bookshop 24th Street, between Folsom and Shotwell, in the Mission
Alley Cat Books 24th Street, between Treat and Folsom, in the Mission
Bound Together Haight Street, between Masonic and Central
City Lights North Beach, at Columbus and Broadway
Dog Eared Books 20th and Valencia, in the Mission
Needles & Pens 16th Street, between Guerrero and Dolores in the Mission 
Press 24th Street, between Folsom and Shotwell, in the Mission 

An ePamphlet is available through Kindle.

Order online direct through the Piltdownlad Etsy store.


Order through PayPal:

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Cult of Lyft: Inside the Pacific Driver Lounge

(This was originally posted on my Medium page, but I'm adding it here so it's easier to access from the follow up posts.)

Lyft sees itself differently from other car services because the passenger rides up front. Like a friend. Drivers are supposed to greet passengers with a fist bump. Like they would, conceivably, with a friend. Drivers play music and engage the passenger in conversation. Since that’s what friends do.
I knew this much from taking Lyft cars in the past. But when I signed up to be a driver, I was enrolled in a Facebook group for Lyft drivers called the Pacific Driver Lounge. It was in the Lounge that I learned there was more to the Lyft Experience than just pink mustaches and fist bumps. Lyft wants to cultivate a community between drivers and passengers. But only the drivers seem to be interested in participating in that community, creating what’s best described as the Cult of Lyft.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Drive for Lyft & Be More than a Number in 8 Easy Steps

The Onboarding Process

Lyft prides itself on creating a community between drivers and passengers. In the rideshare war, Lyft is the conscientious, friendly contender, while its main competitor, Uber, doesn’t seem to give two shits about who ferries their paying customers around town. It’s almost impossible to separate Uber and its founder, Travis Kalanick. In promotional videos and interviews with media, Kalanick comes across as an anti-social, libertarian scumbag who’d stab his own mother in the back to get ahead. Even the name, Uber, implies Kalanick’s ambitions, not a rideshare company.

During Lyft’s latest recruiting blitz, they emphasized this distinction by hanging banners outside the Uber offices in Potrero Hill, employing a sign twirler on the corner and a billboard truck circling the block, all declaring in bold type the mantra, “Be More Than A Number.” 

Everybody wants to feel appreciated. But what’s so special about driving for Lyft? Well, if you’re over twenty-one, own a car that’s less than fourteen years old and have a clean record, there are only a few simple steps standing between you and a promising career in ridesharing.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Better Lyft Rating System

Lyfts rating system is flawed at best, bordering on draconian. Constantly feeling threatened with being deactivated is a horrible feeling. By focusing on only one aspect of a driver’s performance, i.e., passenger satisfaction, you don’t get an accurate reflection of the driver’s ability to do their job. If the rating incorporated not just passenger feedback but also the acceptance rate and the number of rides given, it would provide a better overall sense of the driver. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

An Open Letter to Lyft: Since you asked...

Dear Matt and Lyft,

First of all, let me just say that I really like driving for Lyft. I’ve been doing it for about five months now. I enjoy meeting and talking to new people. And I really love driving in San Francisco. I’ve learned so many amazing aspects about the city by driving its streets. I also appreciate the flexible schedule that being a Lyft driver allows me. But there are some things that kind of rub me the wrong way. And, based on numerous comments I’ve read on various online driver forums, I’m not alone.

I understand that Lyft is a growing company. I can only imagine the gargantuan task that you guys have accomplished by taking a very basic idea to the level it is at today. And I know you’re still figuring things out. But since you asked, here are some suggestions. I’m sure you’ve heard most of these already, as they are what us drivers complain about all the time, but, again, you asked…

Lyft's Pacific Driver Lounge is my Honey Boo Boo

A few days ago, I published an excerpt from Behind the Wheel: A Lyft Driver's Log about Lyft's private Facebook group the Pacific Driver Lounge on my Medium page. As I was going to sleep that night, I posted a link on the public Facebook group Uber, SideCar, Lyft Drivers Community. Somebody then reposted it on the Lounge. This is what I woke up to: 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Downtown Lyfting - San Francisco Style

from Behind the Wheel: A Lyft Drivers Log 
March 19, 2014 
A gaming convention is in town. SoMa is a madhouse. But that’s where the passengers are. It’s not easy reaching them on the congested one-way streets. With sweaty palms and white knuckles, I follow the pink navigation line in the app to the pinned locations.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What's Gentrification Anyway?

From Behind the Wheel: A Lyft Driver's Log

After getting coffee at Philz, I go into driver mode. I cruise through the Mission waiting for a ride request. I’ve found that when I circle the neighborhood east of Van Ness, I’m more likely to get a passenger than if I were on Valencia, where the other drivers congregate with the taxis and towncars. I can see my fellow Lyfters in the app: little black avatars that disappear when they accept rides or go offline.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


A very condensed and generalized take on the current economic situation in the Bay Area by an outsider who spends too much time reading online news articles…

  • There is a class war going on in San Francisco. 

  • Hyper-gentrification caused by the recent Tech boom is pushing out the middle class. 

  • There just aren’t enough apartments and houses in San Francisco to accommodate the influx of Tech workers, who make more than $100,000 a year on average, without displacing regular working class citizens like teachers, firemen and city workers, as well as senior citizens and the disabled. 

  • The lack of housing, affordable or otherwise, is due to the San Francisco city council prohibiting new construction in the city over the past few decades. This created a static housing market. And now, with the latest tech boom, basic supply and demand has caused rents to skyrocket and led to widespread evictions. 

  • The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in SF is $3500. Even finding a room for $1000 is increasingly difficult. These insane prices encourage landlords to take advantage of the Ellis Act, a state law that allows landlords who want to “get out of the rental market” to evict tenants. Of course, most landlords aren’t getting out of the market. They are selling their properties for outrageous prices to speculators who renovate and flip the properties to new owners who can charge whatever rents the market will bear. 

  • In the past year, there has been a 115 percent increase in total evictions. 

  • Ellis Act evictions have increased by 175 percent in 2013.

  • From 1997 to 2013, there have been over 11,000 no-fault evictions. 

  • The population of San Francisco in 2010 was 805,235. The population in 2013 was 837,442. That’s a 4 percent increase, higher than both Los Angeles and New York. 

  • With the population increase, the income inequality in San Francisco is growing faster than in any other US city. 

  • Due to the mass evictions, the influx of well-paid young tech workers, the income disparity and the loss of the general atmosphere of San Francisco, there is rampant animosity among those who are being displaced. Most of this anger is directed at real estate brokers and developers, who take advantage of the situation, the city government, which isn’t doing enough to resolve the crisis, and the tech companies who do very little for the city while their employees reap the benefits of living and playing San Francisco. 

  • In reaction, people are protesting in the streets, marching on city hall and attacking “Google buses.” 

  • Rather than helping improve public transportation (Muni), which would benefit all San Francisco residents, tech companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, etc. hire private shuttles that offer luxurious seating and free Wi-Fi to transport workers to and from Silicon Valley, using Muni stops to pick up and drop off their passengers, even if that means blocking the city buses. 

  • While many tech companies use shuttles, the white Google buses have become the most visible symbol of this income disparity and the forced migration of San Franciscans out of their homes and neighborhoods. 

  • Statistics show that evictions around the vicinity of these shuttle stops have increased. 

  • Due to these protests, the city eventually forced the Tech companies to pay a measly $1 per stop. Though it’s just a pilot program and may not be permanent.

  • The fare to ride the Muni is $2. 

  • Many people wonder why these tech workers don’t live in Silicon Valley. There have been studies to show that these workers would most likely move closer to work or use their own cars if the Tech companies didn’t offer the shuttles as a job perk. But unfortunately, there isn’t even enough housing in Santa Clara County, home to many of the tech campuses. The city leaders there want the jobs be there so they can reap the tax benefits, but they don’t want these companies to build housing because they don’t want the crowds and they want to protect their environment. So the major burden of housing the tech workers lies on San Francisco.

  • It’s obvious that city hall, at least under the direction of Mayor Lee, isn’t going to curb the tech companies. Instead the city is offering them tax breaks to move into the previously, and still very much, impoverished Mid-Market and SoMa neighborhoods. This is where most of the homeless people in SF sleep and spend their days (though there are numerous encampments under the raised freeways along the edges of the Mission, Potrero Hill and Mission Bay). Twitter, Airbnb, Yelp, and countless other startups are now located in these areas of the city. Former warehouses have been converted into live/work loft spaces. New high-end boutiques and restaurants, clubs and bars have sprung up to accommodate the burgeoning youth culture. 

  • And yet the street people are still very much present, a constant reminder of the massive disparity between the haves and the have-nots. Very little is done to help the homeless. In fact, it seems more likely that those in powers would be more than happy to get rid of the SROs and other affordable housing that exists in SoMa and the Tenderloin. Fortunately, HUD funds many of these properties. And powerful special-interest groups with their own teams of lawyers preserve the rights of the impoverished. So it’s unlikely that the Tenderloin will change any time soon, no matter how many apartment listings refer to it as “Tender-Nob,” trying to affiliate with the affluent Nob Hill neighborhood that borders it. 

  • People of color are increasingly forced out of the city. In 1970, African-Americans made up 13.4 percent of the population. Today, they make up only 6 percent. (The majority of the population is 48 percent white and 33 percent Asian.) The rich Latino culture of the Mission is being threatened almost daily, but the street protests and marches have done much to publicize their plight. 

  • Of course, San Francisco has always been a relatively expensive place to live. The city is only 47 square miles, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the Bay. The density is mind-boggling. Even in the outer neighborhoods, such as the Richmond and Sunset districts to the west, and Ingleside and Sunnyside to the South, homes and apartment buildings are pushed up against each other, without even a strip of concrete between them to designate property lines. There is only one direction left to build, and that is up. And that’s what the previous city government had tried to prevent. Building apartment towers along the waterfront will forever alter the city’s skyline. It will bring even more people into what is already a congested city. But the real problem is that these units will cater mostly to the wealthy. The city always tries to include some affordable housing in these new developments, but there is never enough to satisfy the need. As with any business, the rich come first. 

  • It’s not just the poor and the middle-class who are no longer welcome in San Francisco: artists, musicians, writers and other creative types are being pushed out as well. Soon, San Francisco will be a playground for the rich. Everybody else, the service workers, teachers, firemen, city employees and any other person who can’t afford to own property will have to live outside the city, relying on what’s left of the Muni system to get to their jobs catering to their tech overlords. 

  • There doesn’t seem to be anyway to stop these changes. San Francisco is doomed. This recent tech boom is not going to burst anytime soon. And if it did, the results would be disastrous for not only the Bay Area’s economy but the nation’s as well. We are all dependent on tech. Tech has us by the balls. Yet, it’s still the responsibility of government to regulate tech’s development. Tech companies shouldn’t be allowed to run roughshod over the rights of everyday citizens. Regulate them like any other business. Just because they claim to mean no harm, and regardless of how much we may want the shiny gadgets they manufacture, tech companies are just like any other corporation. They exist to make money. Pure and simple. And right now, as everybody knows, tech is big business. It’s the wave of the future. But a reasonable government should protect its citizens from the machinations of capitalism run amok.