All posts by DJ Sekani

Your Private Driver: Nickel and Dollared

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

If you’re in an Uber market with upfront pricing, where you see exactly what your ride is going to cost you before you request it, you’re being overcharged.

Over the past year or so, drivers have been reporting that the fare their passengers pay is often higher than the fare that their pay is calculated from. The original reason for the discrepancy, they figured, was that Uber was simply ripping them off. That would be old news; just about any driver that’s been around long enough to remember the “Winter Warm-up” rate cuts would agree that Uber exists solely to rip them off. It’s a statement of fact, right up there with the sky being blue. Continue reading Your Private Driver: Nickel and Dollared

Your Private Driver: Voice-operated Security Breaches and Other Things

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

This week’s column is going to tackle a few different topics, since there’s a lot going on in the general tech world that’s relatable to how we work and play in the rideshare world.

OK Google, ask Siri where Alexa went

Last week there were a lot of conversations on DTNS about voice-operated assistants and how they fit into our lives. The general consensus seemed to be that talking to a box that controls your lights and adds things to your shopping list is cool, but talking to your phone is just dumb. Well, unless you’re driving. With hands-free laws becoming the norm in many states, simply playing with even a dash-mounted phone to perform tasks like getting directions or playing a podcast while driving can get you pulled over by an attentive officer of the law.

Continue reading Your Private Driver: Voice-operated Security Breaches and Other Things

Your Private Driver: Any publicity is…

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

Writing about Uber’s woes has long been a way for tech blogs to get some easy, SEO-friendly clicks. Even with that in mind, the bad PR about Uber has hit nightmarish levels. Seriously, a Google search limited to just the first few months of this year gave me more headlines than I could process. There was the #DeleteUber campaign triggered by a suggestion that the company was in support of Trump’s immigration ban back in January, the video where CEO Travis Kalanick was confronted by an upset driver over the constantly falling rates, the blog that triggered an investigation into the company’s culture of ignoring sexual harassment, the issues with their self-driving cars being not very self-driving, the lawsuit from Google-owned Waymo, the criminal investigation over Greyball, the talking to from Apple CEO Tim Cook over unauthorized tracking of iPhone users, the resignation of President Jeff Jones after only about six months on the job…. did I miss anything? Probably, but that sentence was getting really long.

There’s little doubt that Uber is so far having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. There have been hundreds of blogs and opinion pieces predicting the company’s imminent demise. The death of Uber is all but inevitable, it seems.

Well, if Uber is going under soon, someone forgot to tell their users. Despite an estimated half million people requesting the cancellation of their Uber accounts, ridership appears to actually be growing. In fact, Uber says that it had its best week ever as far as ridership in late March, and growth is back to a record pace that has wiped out any negative effects these scandals might have had.

For its part, Uber’s chief competitor, Lyft, has benefited from Kalanick’s woes. The #DeleteUber campaign gave them a significant boost in downloads and an estimated five percent increase in market share, and I can tell you personally that there’s significantly more pink mustache business than there used to be. Lyft wasn’t able to keep up the momentum however, and Uber overtook them on the App Store once again a few days later.

So how is Uber not out of business yet?

One popular theory is that riders don’t value their morals nearly as much as they value their wallets. All Uber has to do is cut their rates a little bit, and the customers will flock back. Indeed, Uber offered flat-rate packages in several cities shortly after the NYC airport drama. The timing of this offer does correspond with the end of Uber’s small dip in popularity. Even now, Uber enjoys a small price advantage over Lyft, particularly in markets with up-front pricing; UberPool rates there are often less than half the cost of a normal uberX or Lyft ride.

Another theory is simply that Uber’s customers have short attention spans. All of that bad press hasn’t stuck in anyone’s mind long enough to make them even briefly pause at pulling out their smartphones and opening the Uber app. The service has become so ubiquitous in the lives of some people that they literally can’t figure out how to get from one place to another without it, an amazing feat for a service that’s been around for only three years in most of the U.S.

So the lesson, it seems, is that as long as Uber can continue to provide a service that’s so cheap and convenient that it’s more work to not use it, the negative PR storm means little to nothing. Besides, what are the alternatives? Walking? Taking the bus? Calling a *gasp* TAXI?! Please, we’re not that uncivilized.

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!

Your Private Driver: Thanks, I think

This is a weekly column that offers news, insights, analysis, and user tips for rideshare platforms like Uber and Lyft. Look for it every Tuesday after the live show, right here on dailytechnewsshow.com.

Sorry for the long break, it’s been a busy few weeks as the city of Los Angeles has gradually descended into chaos–well, more than usual. First some reality TV star got elected President, and people weren’t too happy about it. Then people decided to take a break from protesting to go eat turkeys with their families, but everyone drove to see them at the same time. Those who couldn’t drive flew… and there were a LOT of those. Finally, just as things started to get back to normal, more chaos. And on top of all that, I still have to figure out what I’m supposed to do with this thing.

Uber has been pretty busy as well. In addition to a shiny new rider app that has gotten universally negative reviews from my passengers so far, the new president of ride-sharing Jeff Jones is on a self-proclaimed mission to make the lives of drivers easier, safer, and fairer. His first deed of that mission? Compliments.

I completed my merit badge collection already.
I completed my merit badge collection already.

In Uber’s eyes, this is a way to thank your driver because “sometimes, 5 stars just isn’t enough.” I dunno, normally that’s when you leave a tip, but maybe that’s just me… along with pretty much every other Uber driver out there. In fact, by far the most requested (and demanded) feature is an in-app tip function similar to what Lyft already offers, but the odds are slim that it’s ever going to happen. Uber has taken a pretty hard-line stance against tipping–they even say it’s racist–but instead are more interested in improving their drivers’ bottom line in other ways.

I’m waiting to see what those other ways are, because merit badges aren’t paying the bills. Neither are stars for that matter, but at least they serve some sort of purpose in that it tells riders that I’m awesome.

Look how awesome I am, so many stars (with no dollar value).
Look how awesome I am, so many stars (with no dollar value).

If Uber is truly serious about improving their drivers’ bottom line while still discouraging tips, then it would be a great idea to give some kind of performance bonus for high ratings or compliments. Hell, just about every other job does this already; servers are motivated by potentially high tips, workers are motivated by the chance of a raise or promotion, Tom Merritt is motivated by watching his Patreon numbers go up. OK, sure, some people are also motivated by the pride of a job well done, but for argument’s sake we’re not talking about those weirdos. At the moment, the only motivation for an Uber driver to give a five-star experience is so they won’t get deactivated. Beyond that, a driver with a 4.95 rating is treated pretty much the same in Uber’s system as a driver with a 4.61 rating; all stick, no carrot. And you wonder why drivers can be disgruntled.

Anyway, while I pass on my brilliant idea to Mr. Jones that I’m sure he’s heard a dozen times already, feel free to leave a compliment if you’re so impressed with your driver’s service. It’ll be appreciated, but a couple of dollar bills will be appreciated so much more.

Sekani Wright is an experienced Uber 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!

Your Private Driver: The Waze Effect

This is a weekly column that offers news, insights, analysis, and user tips for rideshare platforms like Uber and Lyft. Look for it every Tuesday after the live show, right here on dailytechnewsshow.com.

I’ve always maintained that Google Maps was the superior choice for turn-by-turn navigation over the more popular Waze, and I thought I made a pretty compelling case for why. Still, thanks mostly in part to my lack of a proper Silicon-Valley marketing budget, convincing others of this has been something of a challenge.

During my Uber runs, riders sometimes ask whether or not I’m using Waze. I tell them no, and tell them why. Most are satisfied with the explanation, but others don’t care and insist that I use Waze anyway. They do this by opening up the Waze app on their own phones and blaring the turn-by-turn directions loud enough for me to hear and follow. It takes back-seat driving to a new level of annoyance.

Relevant to this, a random technological glitch gave me an interesting opportunity last week. That glitch was that my Galaxy S7 phone decided to just not work anymore (no, it wasn’t the battery…or the washing machine). Until I could get a replacement shipped out, I had to use my wife’s iPhone 6S to run the Uber app. For some reason, the Uber Driver app doesn’t work well with Google Maps on iOS; the Maps app would refuse to load directions for several minutes, in a couple of cases the trip was over before Maps was working properly. I decided to use Waze instead, since it performed much more reliably on the iPhone.

The really interesting thing was that now that I was actually using Waze, all complaints, objections, and second-guesses about the routes I took vanished. Even when the directions were pretty obviously obtuse, everyone just assumed that Waze knew what it was doing and that it must be smarter. In one case I’m pretty sure I could have picked a faster way to the airport in my sleep, but the passengers were perfectly satisfied taking the suggested route as long as Waze said that it was the best.

As for the routes themselves, while Google Maps prefers to stay on main roads as long as they’re not super-congested, Waze almost pointlessly meanders through slower side roads in what looks like an attempt to avoid traffic. It’s an interesting sort of game that can make a driver think they’re taking a lucrative shortcut and getting one over on the rest of those peons stuck in traffic, but in reality the time saved is often negligible at best, even with all the extra navigation work.

Still, there’s no arguing that the majority perception, at least in Los Angeles, is that Waze is the only way to deal with traffic. I find it amazing how the app has not only earned its reputation through word of mouth, but kept it despite all of its shortcomings. Sometimes you don’t really have to be the best, you just have to convince everyone else that you are.

Hey, it worked for Apple.

Sekani Wright is an experienced Uber 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!

Your Private Driver: Man About Town

This is a weekly column that offers news, insights, analysis, and user tips for rideshare platforms like Uber and Lyft. Look for it every Tuesday after the live show, right here on dailytechnewsshow.com.

This is a column about an emerging yet transformative technology, written for those who are fans of technology. Still, when it comes to Uber, most people are uninterested in the logistics of how a car gets to your door in five minutes and just want me to share my crazy stories. Over the course of three years and over two thousand rides, I can come up with a few.

Every day I’m reminded that Los Angeles is indeed the capital of the entertainment industry. Riders who work in movies, TV, music, video games, or even tech start-ups are par for the course. I’ve driven executives for Walt Disney, marketers for Lionsgate, programmers for Snapchat, and sales people for Netflix. I’ve driven backup dancers, costume designers, actors and actresses, cover bands, set riggers, amateur video producers, and others connected with industries in ways that I can’t even comprehend. I’ve driven to cocktail parties in Bel Air, through the middle of film shoots on Santa Monica Boulevard, behind the gates of CBS and Paramount Studios, and even to the secluded campus of Blizzard Entertainment. I’ve heard conversations about cancelled TV pilots that most people will never hear about. I’ve listened to people talk about millions of dollars in the way most of us talk about tens. I’ve listened to studio and licensing deals be made and fall apart in my back seat. I’ve learned that apparently every female game developer in the city works at Riot Games. And so many other things.

Celebrities? Maybe, but if so I didn’t recognize them. Being a big fan of video games I did have a couple of moments that really stood out. The first was when I met Jamie Alcroft (the voice of Colonel Hoffman from the Gears of War series) and his wife when I took them to a show at the Hollywood Bowl. The second was picking up a group of gaming press personalities, including Arthur Gies and Kat Bailey, from EA’s DICE studio where they were getting an early look at Battlefield 1. It was really cool to chat with them a little about their experiences over two weeks before the game was released. I also got a chance to talk to an animator who worked on the Cartoon Network Thundercats reboot, and he actually gave me some very interesting details about what was supposed to happen in the second season that never aired.

Beyond that though, most riders are still regular folks like you and me, with regular concerns. I’ve had teenage girls ask me for advice after embarrassing themselves in front of a cute guy. I’ve had a woman who was nearly in tears after she was late for work again because she couldn’t seem to wake herself up on time. I’ve listened to women talk openly about their vaginal piercings. I had a family from out of the country with a cranky three-year-old that had to be bribed with candy from my secret stash so he’d stay quiet long enough to finish the ride. I’ve talked with riders going through breakups, riders who are falling in love, and even riders on their first date. I was also witness to a drunken argument that ended with one partner telling the other “I hope you get raped.”

I’ve listened to waaaaaaaaaay too many people give their opinions on Donald Trump.

I had a music lover introduce me to Zedd. I was given future career advice from a Google employee. I was given hugs and thank yous from a quadriplegic man’s wife for bringing him home safely. I’ve been propositioned for sex–multiple times. I’ve even managed to convert a few Waze lovers to Google Maps.

But the craziest stuff? Well, I have two candidates, and it should be no surprise that both times alcohol was involved.

I picked up two guys on a birthday celebration who were on their way to the casino. They got really happy when “Thong Song” came on the Spotify-powered radio, and requested that I blast it on repeat for the entire twenty-minute trip. When we arrived, they invited me in to celebrate with them. Which I did, since I had nothing better to do. As part of the party they paid for a spot at the craps table for me. At the end of the night, that casino trip ended up nearly paying my rent for the month. I also got a half bottle of champagne out of the deal.

I picked up a group of four women for what I assume was a bachelorette party. One of them drunkenly asked if I was gay, to which I replied “No, I like boobs too much.” This led to the ladies deciding amongst themselves who had the best boobs of the four of them, and the winner was apparently the women in the front passenger seat. The drunk woman who originally inquired about my sexual orientation seemed to think that since I was a fan of boobs, I should get a better look at the best ones… so she started taking her friend’s top off. I consider myself to be a professional, so my primary responsibility is always to be watching the road. Not much can make that job harder than a two-girl strip show in the passenger seat of your car though.

The human interaction elements are what make the Uber experience so interesting, whether you love them or hate them. I know most of you can’t wait for the self-driving Johnny Cabs to finally hit the road and replace us annoying humans, but you gotta admit, those rides are gonna be really boring.

Sekani Wright is an experienced Uber 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!

 

Your Private Driver: SCAM ALERT

Hey readers, I know today isn’t Tuesday (or even Monday), but this is another topic that’s been coming up very often lately and is important enough for an out-of-cycle update.

Uber drivers have been taking advantage of the company’s trip cancellation policy to collect cancellation fees without actually attempting to pick anyone up.

A driver may just go right by your house without stopping, or they won’t move at all, but instead call you with some flimsy excuse about why they can’t make it and you should cancel the trip.

Drivers actually do get a cut of those five-dollar cancellation fees, and interestingly enough it’s more money than what drivers make from the average short fare (as an example, in my market I get paid $4 from a cancellation but only $2.40 from a one-mile trip).

The best way to protect yourself from unnecessary charges is to know Uber’s cancellation policy. Most relevant to this scenario, if a driver hasn’t arrived more than five minutes after the ETA estimate given in the app, you won’t be charged a fee. This works best when the driver is a no-show, and don’t be pressured into cancelling early if a deadbeat driver calls and asks you to.

In cases where the driver just zooms by without stopping, you may have to dispute the charges; the driver can mark you as a no-show after five minutes and collect a cancellation fee themselves. Fortunately this is one thing the drones at Uber support are actually competent with.

Finally, report any driver that you believe is intentionally trying to defraud you. In the app, HELP > Trip and Fare Review > My driver was unprofessional.

In the meantime, you can also try switching to Lyft if it’s available in your area. I’ve not heard of any Lyft drivers using any of these tactics, probably because the company is a bit stingier with paying for cancellations.

Sekani Wright is an experienced Uber 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!

Your Private Driver: Where to?

This is a weekly column that offers news, insights, analysis, and user tips for rideshare platforms like Uber and Lyft. Look for it every Tuesday after the live show, right here on dailytechnewsshow.com.

Last week’s blog talked a little about driver behaviors that negatively impact the Uber-Lyft experience. While I don’t necessarily condone them, there are reasons for them. I want to go into detail into one of those reasons since it seems to be one of the biggest sources of issues, especially since the average passenger is pretty misinformed about it.

Uber and Lyft drivers don’t have any idea where you’re going before you get in the car. We actually get a pretty small amount of information (that we have to process in about 15 seconds) before deciding whether or not to accept a trip. We get your pickup address, your rating, and a poor estimate of how long it’ll take to get to your pickup address. As for where you’re going? Well, it could be across the street or across the state, we really have no idea.

What the driver sees during a typical Uber pickup request
What the driver sees during a typical Uber pickup request

So if that information is not given to the drivers, why do you have to enter your destination in the app? For starters it’s how you get a fare quote. For UberPOOL and Lyft Line rides it’s required for route matching. For other rides, it’s used for assigning rides to otherwise occupied drivers in busy areas; a driver could be given a pickup at a hotel while they’re en route to drop off another passenger at that same hotel. Finally, it just makes your driver’s job easier since to be frank, most of you are not good at giving directions.

The primary reason for not giving drivers destination info is presumably to prevent them from screening trip requests instead of accepting them. In some markets a full-time driver may not want to waste time with a short trip to the corner store, or a driver trying to make a few dollars on their lunch hour may not want to take a trip all the way into the suburbs. This level of screening can throw off the system that rideshare companies try to create where someone who needs a ride is always matched with the closest available driver.

Unfortunately this system forces drivers into a lottery where they don’t know if the next time they tap on the screen to accept a trip, they’re going to make money or potentially lose it. This system falls apart the most at airports, where drivers who have to wait in a queue for potentially hours only to be randomly stuck with a trip that’s only going to a nearby hotel instead of one going to a residence on the other side of the metro area. Drivers have developed their own strategies to adjust the odds of this lottery in their favor (like calling to confirm a destination and making up some excuse like “technical difficulties” if it’s not far enough), and none of them benefit the passenger. An unlucky rider who only wants a short trip from the airport may find that it’s faster to walk if enough drivers flake out.

Waiting my turn...
Waiting my turn…

There’s also the issue of “banned” destinations; some airports or other restricted locations don’t allow Uber or Lyft business on their premises either without a proper permit or at all. A trip request to the airport without a permit can result in steep fines for drivers, and a driver can’t avoid that risk without first driving up to a passenger’s location and seeing them come out with their luggage.

Like I said earlier, most passengers have no idea that this is how the system works, and they all seem to be in favor of letting drivers know their destination before they show up instead of just springing it on them as a surprise. Despite the potential drawbacks, it would seem that riders at this point would prefer to know that their driver is committed to a complete trip instead of making up excuses why they can’t do it.

Besides, it’s starting to become obvious that the current situation isn’t working. Why not try something new?

Sekani Wright is an experienced Uber 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!

Your Private Driver: Not in Service

This is a weekly column that offers news, insights, analysis, and user tips for rideshare platforms like Uber and Lyft. Look for it every Tuesday after the live show, right here on dailytechnewsshow.com.

You’ve just called an Uber to your quiet suburban home, getting ready to take your significant other out on the town for a night. The car is about 11 minutes away according to the app’s estimate, which should give you just enough time for a last-minute–the phone rings. You don’t recognize the number, but this late at night it can’t be just a random solicitor, can it?

Your Uber driver is on the other end of the line, asking about your destination. That’s weird, you put the destination into the app, they should already know where you’re going, shouldn’t they? You tell them again. They respond with some flimsy excuse about your destination not being in the right direction and say that you should cancel the trip and request another Uber. Annoyed and with the realization that your car won’t be coming to pick you up after all, you start to cancel, then remember that you’ll be charged a five-dollar fee if you do. You’re not paying that, it’s not your fault the driver flaked on you! The driver can cancel it on their own… but several minutes later you realize they don’t appear to have any intention of doing so. You can’t request another car until someone cancels the trip, and your night is slipping away. Angrily you cancel the trip, making a mental note to contest the charges later, then request another Uber… this time with a 17-minute ETA. Grumbling, you call to make a later dinner reservation.

Uber has made it a point of pride to talk about how well their UberX cars provide better service to the neighborhoods than traditional taxicabs ignore, particularly low-income and minority neighborhoods. Uber wants every ride request, regardless of origin or destination, to be a matched with a willing driver. For the most part, this still happens. After two rounds of drastic rate cuts since last year however, drivers have been finding ways to “profile” potential fares and refuse the ones that have a high risk of being unprofitable.

I say “high risk” because contrary to prevailing knowledge, Uber and Lyft drivers don’t know where a passenger is going until they start the trip, which means their riders are probably already in the back seat. This leads to situations like the scenario that opened this article (which Uber discourages with threats of deactivation, by the way). Drivers will more frequently refuse to accept trips (known as letting a ping time out) originating from certain areas that are too far away or don’t have surge pricing applied. Drivers can’t be deactivated for not accepting requests, though Uber will give them a “time out” if they decline three in a row or so.

What are these so-called unprofitable fares that drivers like to avoid? Most commonly avoided are trips with long ETAs. A pickup more than 10 or 15 minutes away will almost certainly result in a net loss for a driver if the rider is taking a short trip (and most trips are indeed quite short). Drivers aren’t paid for the distance it takes to pick a passenger up, only the distance it takes to drop them off. Basically the farther away you are from Uber hot-spots like nightclub districts, the more likely you are to have your trip profiled or rejected by one or two drivers before one eventually accepts.

Pickup requests near airports are another problem. If you need to be picked up at any place close to a major airport, most or all of the nearby drivers will be waiting in line for their shot at a (likely) long-distance run from one of the disembarking passengers. They’re not going to want to leave their place in line to gamble on ping from a nearby hotel or office park.

Finally there’s UberPOOL, which an increasing number of drivers are refusing to accept altogether. I won’t get into why UberPOOL is so disliked, but if you’re curious there’s a previous article that covers the subject somewhat in depth.

Unfortunately, as a passenger there’s not much you can do if your trip falls into one of these high-risk categories. Drivers place their need to make money above your need to get to where you want to go in an efficient manner (though even other drivers get annoyed with the tactics used at times). Uber occasionally offers incentives to entice drivers to complete more trips than they ignore, but those are gradually ending in the wake of the company’s massive hemorrhaging of capital that it blames on those same incentives. They could raise rates, but that would take Uber out of reach of the lower-income users the company is trying to court in order to expand its market dominance.  They could make their drivers employees instead of independent contractors, but there’s no way that’ll happen, not with all the money they’re spending on court cases to prevent that outcome. Drivers themselves suggest promising a cash tip for their time. It sounds like bribery, but it does cut cleanly through the problem of income versus expenses.

At the end of the day, you may just have to plan on waiting a bit longer for an Uber to pick you up than you were expecting. And if you’re willing to wait long enough, self-driving cars that don’t care about how much money they’re making individually will replace all those pesky humans that need to pay their bills.  Problem solved. Eventually.

Sekani Wright is an experienced Uber 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!

Your Private Driver: Who You Gonna Call?

This is a weekly column that offers news, insights, analysis, and user tips for rideshare platforms like Uber and Lyft. Look for it every Tuesday after the live show, right here on dailytechnewsshow.com.

Just another day with Uber Support.
Just another day with Uber Support.

The interaction in the above image probably seems very familiar to anyone who’s ever tried to contact Uber for any reason. Oh sure, firing off an email is easy enough, you can even do it from the website or the app. But it’s pretty obvious that everything is answered by a computer that just picks out a few key words and generates a form-letter response. At least Uber responds promptly, which is more than can be said from rival Lyft; it many cases it takes over a week to get a similarly clueless response.

Why is the support structure of these companies so bad? Well, apparently with Uber you get what you pay for, and the company treats its customer service representatives about as well–or worse–than they treat their so-called driver-partners. Uber takes support so seriously that they’ve gone the extra several thousand miles to contract the task out to a company in the Philippines. I was unable to find any real information about the state of Lyft’s customer service, which is an unfortunate side effect of being second-place (and less SEO friendly) in the rideshare wars.

So, what’s a layman to do when they need help? While I haven’t discovered any tricks to getting Lyft to respond faster, with some persistence and patience you can get to someone at Uber that doesn’t have the bedside manner of a Gmail auto-response.

Your first email to Uber will always get a form-letter response. Keep replying with the same query (maybe change up the wording a little) until someone that’s not a computer finally answers. Unfortunately when you finally do get a human to help you (after the third email or so) the response time slows down greatly. You may even need to start the process all over again. Be persistent!

If your issue is a bit more urgent (but not an emergency, always dial 911 or the appropriate emergency services number in your area for accidents or violent incidents), both Uber and Lyft have a critical response line when you can (*gasp*) talk to a live human being on the phone! Try not to abuse it; Uber at least has been known to change or take down their phone number. You can at the time of this writing dial Uber at 800-285-9481, and Lyft at 855-865-9553. Both numbers are U.S. only unless you have a cheap international plan, and as far as I’m aware, both numbers are available for drivers and passengers. Speaking of drivers, Uber is slowly rolling out phone support in limited markets, which hopefully becomes a widespread thing quickly.

Hopefully this post will help people get… help… when they need it. Once you know the tricks, talking to a machine isn’t all that bad. I mean, you could be dealing with those pesky humans at the taxi depot instead.

Sekani Wright is an experienced Uber 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!