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.

Not to mention that super fab pink mustache!

1. Download the Lyft app and set up an account using either Facebook or your phone number.

2. Complete your driver information. Go into “driver mode” and fill out basic information about yourself and your car: driver’s license number, social security number, address, and license plate number…
3. Watch three Lyft welcome videos. They’re about five minutes long each and explain how Lyft works: the mustache and the fist bump. Cause, you know, it’s not as obvious as it seems. The cheerful spokesperson in the video also recommends cleaning your car and removing any personal items from the trunk. Which, again, may or may not be self-evident.

4. Provide your shipping address to receive a welcome kit. I’m not sure if I ever received this. I might have. Now they send out kits with a mustache sticker or something that hangs off the rear-view mirror, your temporary “trade dress” until you get your mustache after 30 rides.

5. Take a test drive with a Lyft mentor. Once you’ve got your car spotless, go into “driver mode” and wait for a request to meet with a “mentor.” When the request comes in, you drive to the pinned location on the map inside the app, meet your mentor and go for a practice Lyft. I met my mentor in Potrero Hill. He was cool. We drove down to Potrero Street and back to our original location via 17th Street. He answered all my questions, like whether I had to wear the mustache. He said yes, but that some drivers put it on their dash because it doesn’t fit on their grill. Wink. Wink. Then he took a picture of me. I asked how it came out and he said fine. I kind of wish he’d taken a few and let me choose the best one. But whatever. He took a picture of my car as well as my license and insurance card. The entire process lasted about thirty minutes. I assume afterwards he filled out a form through the app that indicated whether he thought I would fit in as a Lyft driver. Before we ended the session, he pretty much told me I was a shoe-in.

6. Wait to hear if you passed your background check. This took a few days… maybe two or three.

7. Final application review. I guess somebody looks everything over and clicks a button that sends the email letting you know whether you’ve been accepted or not. Since they are almost always on a hiring streak, as long as you don’t have a shitty record, you’ll most likely get hired.

8. Start Lyfting your way to happiness and financial success!

After 30 rides, Lyft mails you the pink mustache.

Talk about incentives! 

One Giant Leap of Faith

When I decided to be a part of the ridesharing craze, I went with Lyft because they didn’t seem as cutthroat or nefarious as Uber. Plus, I liked the idea of passengers sitting up front. The “friend with a car” vibe fit my personality more than Uber’s pretentious air of a “personal driver.” I’ve always found it difficult to not be chatty in public situations. I’m a nervous talker. Even though I wasn’t too crazy about the pink mustache, I reminded myself that no job is perfect. At least I didn’t have to start out with it on my car. I was grateful I could be incognito at first.

What struck me the most about the onboarding process was how haphazard it felt. Like I was dealing with a company that didn’t totally have their shit together.

There were mostly little things. The app crashed a few times in the process. I got some random texts with assorted misinformation. I responded to each one to make sure I wasn’t fucking up. One day I got a text informing me that the state of my insurance didn’t match my shipping address. Which was bewildering because I’ve been in California for over fifteen solid years and wasn’t sure if they meant literally or philosophically. I responded and a guy texted me back with an apology for “the confusing automated message” and let me know my application was fine.

This wasn’t that big of a deal, but it’s always the little things, isn’t it?

I guess more than anything it was the impression that I was applying for a job at an office where maintenance crews were in the midst of setting up desks, chairs and computers while I was forced to present my resume to a bespectacled hipster chick at a fold-up table with a Ritual cup in her hand.

I couldn’t shake the sensation I was signing up to do something that wasn’t entirely on the up and up. There was no reassurance from Lyft during the sign-up process other than a promise of a fun-packed adventure making new friends and earning money. Up to 800 dollars a weekend, if I were to believe the Facebook ads. Who doesn’t want to make a boatload of money, have fun and make friends?

Still, the vagueness worried me. 

The Tech Company/Transportation Company Conundrum

Besides being a burgeoning start-up, Lyft is also a progenitor of disruption, an unregulated car service pretending to be a tech company. Lyft drivers are independent contractors. Like cabbies. But while cabbies lease their vehicles from a taxi company and benefit from the company’s insurance and permits, a Lyft driver uses his or her own car. The whole ridesharing deal exists because of a loophole in the law. Therefore, we don’t have permits to do business at the airport. We have no permits to park at cabstands, which is where people often need to be picked up. We have no permits to drive in the taxicab lanes, which would be extremely useful, as anybody who’s ever driven down Market Street knows. Basically, in the words of the cop who gave me a $300 ticket for making an illegal left off Mission Street, “We’re just people with cars picking up people we meet on the internet.”

I kept asking myself, was the risk really worth the money? Not only do we use our own vehicles, we use our personal auto insurance. Which does not cover you while driving for hire. At all. Whatsoever.

Sure, Lyft carries a million dollars in supplemental insurance for what your personal policy doesn’t cover. Which, of course, would be nothing, since it’s not a commercial policy. So why even bring it up? Why take a picture of our insurance cards? Why not just focus on Lyft’s policy instead, to reassure potential drivers that they’re covered no matter what happens out on the road?

It’s irrelevant what state my insurance is in… it’s my state of mind that matters!

With the status of the insurance in question, I can’t help but wonder, what actually happens if an accident occurs while in driver mode with Lyft? The first thing, I would imagine, is that when you contact your insurance company, they’re going to say, “Sorry, Charlie,” and drop you like a hot potato. Then you’re left dealing with Lyft’s insurance. And what’s that process like?

I’m sure the passengers would be fully covered in the event of an accident. But the driver? I’ve been screwed over by an insurance company before. As the victim of a hit and run. I still have back and neck problems from the time a drunk asshole in an SUV doing a hundred in a 50 mph zone plowed into the back of my Altima. A witness managed to get the license plate of the other vehicle. But it hardly mattered. Mercury paid me the Blue Book on the car. They certainly didn’t take into consideration how reliable the car was, the hassle of purchasing a new one or my lost wages during the time I was without transportation. So, if the insurance company I paid a premium to every month did the bare minimum for me as a customer, what’s Lyft’s insurance company going to do for me, seeing as how I’m just an independent contractor using their app to transport strangers I’ve met on the internet around town?

And, god forbid, what if the accident is my fault!!!

How long can a furry mustache keep your mind off all these nitty-grity details?

I know I’m supposed to feel all warm and fuzzy inside about driving for Lyft. But it’s been five months now since I signed up and I haven’t lost the haunting sensation that I’m on my own out there. I’ve never been to Lyft’s HQ, so again, this is all just a fantasy, but I keep picturing an office with several young techies working furiously behind monitors, a few playing ping-pong, some delivery guys smashing Ikea boxes flat so they’ll fit in the recycling bin outside while an intern tries to make the copier work… If a company like Lyft is just getting off the ground and they’re still getting their servers to work efficiently, building a passenger and driver support team, handling the legal shit, the government shit, the money shit, the PR shit, the building twenty fucking Ikea desks shit, all the while continuing to develop the app, you gotta wonder, as a driver, who’s got your back?

Lyft wants drivers and passengers to feel like they are part of some revolution in transportation, but how is all that Kumbaya, happy-go-lucky spirit going to help when you smash into the back a Subaru with out-of-state plates stopping short on Russian Hill for a view of the Bay Bridge? Or run over a jaywalking hipster on South Van Ness when you glance at your phone for directions? Or lose control of your vehicle while performing an illegal U-turn in the middle of Broadway to pick up a group of drunk Marina-types leaving a strip club? Who’s gonna be by your side when they’re towing your car out of the place glass windows of Centerfolds?

As easy as it is to become a Lyft driver, let’s just hope that you never have to face the cold hard reality that as much as Lyft wants you to love them, they’re never gonna love you back the same way.

But hey, there’s always that cuddlesome pink mustache to cheer you up!

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