All posts by DJ Sekani

Your Private Driver: Upgrade Ü

This column provides tips, insights, and observations on TNCs like Uber and Lyft from a driver that’s worked with them for several years.

The vast majority of people using a ride-hailing app like Uber never think of using more than the default options for getting from one place to another. UberX if you want to ride solo, Pool if you really need a cheap ride, and maybe XL if you need to move a family gathering from one place to another. Sure, you may have glanced at the premium options like Select or Black out of curiosity, but as soon as you saw that price quote, shook your head and nope’d right back out of there.

Well, if you are feeling fancy for an evening, are those more expensive services worth it? What are you really getting for that price? Continue reading Your Private Driver: Upgrade Ü

Your Private Driver: The LAX Dilemma

This column provides tips, insights, and observations on TNCs like Uber and Lyft from a driver that’s worked with them for several years.

Los Angeles International Airport presents some relatively unique complications for TNC drivers and passengers that combine to make the experience of getting a ride there abnormally frustrating. Among those issues are heavy traffic congestion, an unusually central location on the west side of the city, and a cramped area which is really too small to serve the country’s second-busiest airport. Yes, I know that a convenient location may not seem like much of an issue, but I’ll get to that part in just a moment.

Continue reading Your Private Driver: The LAX Dilemma

Your Private Driver: The Uber Traveller

This column provides tips, insights, and observations on TNCs like Uber and Lyft from a driver that’s worked with them for several years.

The consideration of whether or not to utilize a rental car on your next vacation isn’t anything new. For a few years now cost-conscious travelers have discovered that using a TNC service in lieu of renting a car can be cheaper for most visitors. Yes, that compact car from Enterprise says that it only costs $20 a day, but after insurance, taxes and fees, gasoline, and especially parking, that rental car can get significantly more expensive to deal with over the course of a trip. Business travelers have largely already realized this, and as a result Uber and Lyft have significantly eroded rental car companies’ share of the ground transportation market.

Continue reading Your Private Driver: The Uber Traveller

Your Private Driver: Uber Versus Lyft

This column provides tips, insights, and observations on TNCs like Uber and Lyft from a driver that’s worked with them for several years.

In the ride-hailing app wars, two companies have emerged to compete for dominance of the already crowded market: Uber and Lyft. In the cities where they operate, both services offer a similar experience for a similar price. So does it actually matter which service you choose to get around? Well, Lyft definitely has the more social-media friendly image after The Great PR Disaster that was Uber’s 2017. Despite that, Uber has managed to maintain its crown as the king of market share, accounting for a whopping 74.3% of all trips in the United States, the only country where rival Lyft currently operates.

Other than image, there are some minor differences between Uber and Lyft, but are they enough to actually sway your decision regarding what app you should use? Let’s find out….

Continue reading Your Private Driver: Uber Versus Lyft

Your Private Driver: So how much money can you really make driving for Uber?

This column provides tips, insights, and observations on TNCs like Uber and Lyft from a driver that’s worked with them for several years.

“How much money do Uber drivers make?”

It’s by far the most common question asked regarding Uber. I hear it from curious passengers. I read it on online forums and social media spaces from people looking to make some extra cash. I see it asked by those who have recently found themselves either unemployed or under-employed hoping that they can still find a way to keep the lights on and food on the table. Everyone has their own financial goals in mind, and want to know if Lyft or Uber or a similar service can help them achieve them. Unfortunately, it’s also the hardest question to give a simple answer to.

Continue reading Your Private Driver: So how much money can you really make driving for Uber?

Your Private Driver: Surging the System

This is a weekly column that offers news, insights, analysis, and user tips for transportation network company (TNC) platforms like Uber and Lyft. Well, usually weekly, but the author has been somewhat preoccupied with a new job, new intensive schedule, and an upcoming move. He apologizes for the lack of content updates.

A new study has been making headlines this month claiming the Uber drivers have been finding ways to game the system to force riders to pay inflated Surge fares. Completed jointly by Warwick Business School and New York University, it claims to have found evidence that drivers are using tactics like logging off en-masse to artificially reduce the supply of available vehicles relative to demand, triggering Uber’s Surge algorithm to go into effect. Continue reading Your Private Driver: Surging the System

Your Private Driver: More Days of Change

This is a weekly column that offers news, insights, analysis, and user tips for transportation network company (TNC) platforms like Uber and Lyft. Well, usually weekly, but the author has been somewhat preoccupied with a new job, new intensive schedule, and preparing to move in a couple of weeks. He apologizes for the lack of content updates.

Uber has launched into its second month of the 180 Days of Change campaign focused on improving the company’s strained relationship with its driver-partners. The first wave of changes was focused on earnings, and included the introduction of in-app tipping, among other improvements. This month, the theme is support, and I want to go over some of the major changes and how they could affect the rider experience. Continue reading Your Private Driver: More Days of Change

Your Private Driver: Just the Tip

This is a weekly column that offers news, insights, analysis, and user tips for transportation network company (TNC) platforms like Uber and Lyft. 

It’s been some week for Uber news, hasn’t it? The departure of CEO Travis Kalanick made headlines, particularly since he joins a dozen other executives that have left the company so far this year. The spat with Waymo isn’t over yet. And the debate over whether or not Uber can survive the next few years without going bankrupt will provide fodder for tech and financial blogs for the foreseeable future. For my part, however, this week I wanted to focus on some more positive news coming from Uber HQ: the “180 Days of Change” campaign designed to finally address long-standing driver complaints and grievances about the platform.  Continue reading Your Private Driver: Just the Tip

Your Private Driver: The Carpool Lane is Now Open

This is a weekly column that offers news, insights, analysis, and user tips for transportation network company (TNC) platforms like Uber and Lyft. 

Carpooling remains the holy grail for transit planners trying to relieve congestion on overtaxed roads and highways. It’s inexpensive, it’s faster than public transit in any American city not named New York, and it’s the most effective method of actually taking cars off the road during rush hour. It can frequently be much faster than driving solo as well, thanks to HOV lanes in major cities. In San Francisco for example, carpoolers can save a whopping thirty minutes or more commuting from the East Bay to the city center.  Continue reading Your Private Driver: The Carpool Lane is Now Open

Your Private Driver: City Planning

This is a weekly column that offers news, insights, analysis, and user tips for rideshare platforms like Uber and Lyft. 

A video game has consumed the majority of my personal time for the past two weeks, threatening to become something of an addiction. That game is Cities: Skylines, a city-building simulator in the vein of the classic SimCity franchise. I’ve already spent over 100 hours building freeways and interchanges, laying out residential and industrial areas, making sure the landfills don’t overflow, salvaging the shorelines from floods, and dealing with rush-hour traffic. That last part is the game’s biggest challenge; so much so that once I actually managed to mostly eliminate the traffic jams plaguing my virtual downtown area, I felt like I knew how to clear up Los Angeles’s legendary traffic congestion better than their city planners. Of course I also have a slightly larger pretend-money budget than they do, but since when have such practicalities ever gotten in the way of progress?

My time with the game has still led me to think about the city of Los Angeles in a different way during my travels though it. My brain imagines without prompting ways to improve the flow of freeway interchanges, different routes for public transit, more effective ways to time traffic signals, and whether or not bulldozing a neighborhood to run a freeway through it would be worth the drop in land value and tax revenue. Inevitably the best solution for L.A. is probably the same as it is in my pretend city: get more cars off the road by providing alternate ways of getting around, whether it be by bus, subway, bicycle, or blimp. Okay, maybe not blimps.

Eventually my attention will be drawn to another vehicle with an Uber or Lyft emblem on rear window. Then another one, and another, and–holy crap there are a lot of these things. Seriously, there are so many vehicles sporting an Uber or Lyft trade dress in Los Angeles that getting rid of them would free up about 25 percent more space on the region’s streets and highways. While the rideshare impact probably isn’t as drastic in any other city (with the exception of San Francisco), eventually urban areas all over the United States will have to contend with the added congestion from so many additional vehicles on their roads and freeways. So my Cities: Skylines-modified brain came up with another puzzle to solve: how does one design a city to accommodate for the traffic impact of thousands of Uber/Lyft vehicles on their roads?

You’ll most frequently see rideshare vehicles clogging traffic whenever they’re attempting to pick up or drop off a passenger. In many cities this isn’t an issue, but in congested areas like central Los Angeles, places to pull over out of the path of traffic are at a premium; either they’re all taken up by parked cars (on-street parking spaces are worth more than your life here) or the traffic lanes extend all the way to the curb. Most passengers don’t have the awareness to request their rides from a convenient or even legal spot, so irritated drivers are stuck waiting behind vehicles blocking driveways or turn lanes or even through traffic lanes while three people try to cram their luggage into a trunk that’s too small.

Most shopping and entertainment districts have passenger loading zones (white curbs in California) that allow up to five minutes of wait time to drop off and pick up passengers–perfect for rideshare purposes. Still, these zones can get packed at certain times, like when a restaurant or nightclub closes and there are a rush of requests. Several vehicles are all waiting to take their turn in a loading zone that fits at best two vehicles at a time, and traffic is still backed up.

My personal solution would be to expand these passenger loading zones at the expense of on-street parking. While Uber and Lyft don’t do much for traffic congestion, they do free up the need for a parking space with every trip. In a city where you can spend more time trying to find a place to park than actually driving to your destination in the first place (not an exaggeration), making it easier for people to leave their cars at home seems like a no-brainer. Removing the need for Uber drivers to compete with parked cars for curb space is that natural progression of that trend, and it’ll make driving through commercial districts that much less annoying, since they won’t have to worry nearly as much about rideshare drivers randomly obstructing traffic.

Amusingly enough, this tactic actually did work in my game of Cities: Skylines. Traffic was getting backed up by fleets of buses trying to pull into crowded bus stops, and I didn’t feel like demolishing thirty buildings just to expand the road. So I built a parking garage nearby and replaced the curbside parking lane with a dedicated bus lane. No more buses blocking traffic, problem solved!

While this editorial was really just an excuse to talk about my current favorite video game a little bit, the overall point is something that city planners and traffic managers do have to consider in the real world–that Uber and Lyft are having an adverse traffic impact on their cities, and that likely won’t change until the much-hyped driver-less carpool of the future becomes a reality. While city governments seem to want to address the problem with more regulation of rideshare drivers (to get them off of the roads), there could be other, simpler alternatives.

I wonder if I sent the Transportation Authority a copy of the game would they get the message?

Sekani Wright is an experienced Lyft driver working in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. If you have any questions you would like answered for this column, you can contact him at djsekani at gmail dot com, or on twitter and reddit at the username djsekani. Have a safe trip!