All posts by DJ Sekani

Your Private Driver: Everyone Out of the Pool

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

When it was announced almost two years ago, UberPool seemed like a logical next step in the evolution of ridesharing. If two separate people or groups of people are going in the same direction, why not use one car to take them instead of two? Reduce traffic, save money, save the environment, yada yada yada.

Today the UberPool experiment is apparently a success with the service available in 45 cities around the world. Passengers get a cheaper fare for giving up a private car, and drivers get less downtime. Seems like a win-win. So why is it so frequently a miserable experience for some passengers, and why do drivers hate it with an almost irrational vitriol?

On the passenger side, most of the frustration comes from not understanding the extra limitations placed on UberPool rides.

  • You’re limited to one or two riders. This should be obvious, but people are legitimately confused why they can’t take three people in an UberPool.
  • The wait time is considerably shorter before the driver pulls away. In most cases a driver will wait at least five minutes at your pickup location, which provides time to clear up any issues with parking or pin placement. UberPool will only allow two minutes (and there’s a timer built in to the driver app to keep track) of waiting. Unless your feet are already on the curb, there’s a good chance your driver may leave without you.
  • You can’t change your destination or make multiple stops. Point A to B only. This led to a really awkward situation two nights ago when a Pool passenger put in the wrong destination by mistake, completely inconveniencing the second passenger in the car and just making my life more difficult overall.
  • Picking up and dropping off extra riders takes time. Riders in a hurry may not realize this and are upset when their ride to the airport takes 15 to 30 minutes longer than they were expecting.

As UberPool is also the default pickup option in markets where it’s available, many riders end up picking Pool by accident and are frustrated when the driver picks up an extra passenger that the original rider allegedly didn’t sign up for. This frustration is unfortunately taken out on the driver’s rating, which can have some extremely negative consequences.

The risk of punishment via low ratings from angry riders is just one reason why drivers on various discussion forums consistently rate UberPool as one of the things they dislike the most. The biggest reason is that drivers are actually making less money for all the extra hassle.

For starters, UberPool rates are lower than the standard UberX rates in all markets. In Los Angeles, for example, UberPool rates are 85 cents per mile and 11 cents per minute compared to UberX rates of 90 cents per mile and 15 cents per minute. Not a significant discount, but it’s a discount that comes out of the driver’s pocket for no reason.

Secondly, when two UberPool passengers are matched, a driver is paid for one trip instead of two, with the passengers splitting the fare. Uber actually double-dips by charging a service fee and a commission for each paying passenger before giving the driver their cut. Yup, one trip, two commissions. That’s fair. As if to justify the fact that they’re double billing, UberPool trips are split in half on drivers’ pay statements, with each paying rider counting as one trip. After the split and the extra commission and fees, drivers have seen insultingly low per-trip payouts.

Given the inability to actually opt of of taking UberPool fares, the general consensus among veteran drivers is to not accept them at all. Why would they? More hassle, more stress, and less money wouldn’t motivate any sane person to get with the program. Those who still do take Pool trips (likely because of per-trip incentive programs in some markets) discuss ways of making the ride as miserable as possible for passengers in order to dissuade them from ever ordering an UberPool again.

It’s unlikely that UberPool is going anywhere despite how much it sucks. Riders are naturally magnetically attracted to the possibility of a lower fare even if they complain about it the entire time, new drivers won’t realize the Pool pay scam for a while, and the company itself sees UberPool as a weapon in their quest for growth. (That Uber places more importance on growth than profitability should solve the debate once and for all over whether it is a technology company or not.) Still, if you insist on car-pooling because you really think it’s a better option, at least know what you’re getting into and what you’re potentially putting your driver through.

More on this subject…
Motherboard: Why Everyone Hates UberPOOL
LAist: Uber Pool: Why Drivers and Passengers Don’t Like It
The Rideshare Guy: What Should Drivers Expect From UberPool?

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 Five-Star Experience

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

Most people are aware by now that a rating system exists for both drivers and passengers when using the Uber and Lyft platforms. However, the details of how those ratings work appear to be a mystery to many of those same people. I frequently see questions on Reddit and Facebook from riders asking why their rating dropped or how they can get it higher. As a driver, a.k.a. one who doles out those passenger ratings and talks to other drivers about the same topic, there’s no fail-safe answer–but there are certain consistencies that can be cobbled together into some general rating-boosting advice.

Before we get to that though, I want to tell you that passenger ratings don’t really matter. The only difference between a 3.5 and a 4.9 is bragging rights. Some drivers in busy markets may pass on a passenger that doesn’t have a rating above some arbitrary threshold, but there will always be three more who won’t care and will pick you up anyway. Uber and Lyft don’t even deactivate riders for low ratings; I’ve seen riders with ratings as low as 1.7 before. That being said, if you just want a nice, high number anyway, read on.

Tip your driver. I’m putting this first because if you leave a tip, you can pretty much ignore everything else I type today. Seriously, most drivers will automatically five-star a tipper regardless of anything else. On the flip side, an increasing minority of drivers will only hand out five-star ratings to people who tip, meaning that you could be a model passenger otherwise and still end up with a four. If you’re really serious about keeping a high or perfect rating, tipping your driver is as close to a guaranteed method as you can get.

Be where you say you’re gonna be. Thanks to some questionable UI choices by the app developers, it’s annoyingly easy to send your driver to a place that’s three blocks, three miles, or even three continents away from where you actually are. The best way to avoid fat-fingering the pin to the wrong location is by typing it in manually. You don’t have to know the exact address, typing the name of the business, bar, or club you’re in will work as well. Oh, and I shouldn’t have to say this, but don’t request to be picked up in a place that automobiles can’t actually get to.

Be on time. You have an almost exact ETA of when your driver will arrive, there’s no reason they should be kept waiting for more than a minute or so. Keep a driver waiting more than five minutes and they may leave without you, and you’ll be charged a cancellation fee.

No eating, drinking, and especially no smoking. At least ask the driver first, but don’t be surprised if they say no. Strong scents are difficult to get out of a car and they can spoil the experience for the next rider.

Those are the important tips, along with generally not being a horrible human being. If you want to see how you’re doing with your rating progress… that can be a little bit of a pain. Lyft won’t directly tell you your passenger rating, but they’ll give you a happy notification or text message every time a driver gives you five stars. Uber hides this info deep in the app menus; Selecting Help from the main menu, then Account and Payment > Account Settings and Ratings > I’d like to know my rating > SUBMIT.

Uber sample rating
Presenting my qualifications to be writing this stuff.

Well, that’s all I have to say about passenger ratings, what about driver ratings? Sure you all know that you can (and probably should) rate your driver after every trip. However, where passenger ratings have no real consequence, drivers can actually deactivated if their rating falls below a certain threshold, usually around 4.6 (this number can vary depending on the market). This means that any rating that’s not five-stars is basically a vote of no confidence.

Still, if a driver is unsafe behind the wheel, has a smelly or unusually dirty car, or just talks too much, a four-star rating is not inappropriate. It’s a way of letting him or her know that they need to improve (and you should definitely leave feedback to that extent). Ratings of three stars and lower should be reserved for drivers who really have no business behind the wheel. Try not to use ratings as revenge; a driver opting to not take you through the McDonalds drive thru or break traffic laws because you’re late for work is not a valid reason for a low rating.

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: Lost and Found

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

A week ago, the unthinkable happened: my wife, carrying the only set of keys between us, left them in the back seat of an Uber. We discovered this only after we arrived at our apartment several hours later and weren’t able to open the door. While my wife wiped sweat from her brow and tried to find an inexpensive locksmith, I went through the dicey process of attempting to find out where her keys were.

One of the most frequent questions I see asked on Uber-related message boards and on social media is what to do about lost items left in the back of an Uber or Lyft. Unlike taxis or other forms of public transit, there isn’t a home office that you can go to at the end of the day to see if anyone has turned anything in. Your only recourse is to contact the driver directly and see if they have your lost item and are willing to return it.

To contact your driver, you can either report a lost item using the app or (in the likely case that you’ve lost your phone) via the ride-share company’s website.

Second step is to hope your driver actually responds. An on-duty driver probably isn’t going to get back to you right away no matter how much you want them to, since they’re dealing with other passengers, so you might want to wait until later. Even then, for whatever reason, be it dishonesty, laziness, or something else, a good percentage of drivers will just ignore attempts to contact them. (Our Uber driver never got back in touch with us about my wife’s keys.) Unfortunately if this happens your odds of getting your lost item back are slim to none. Don’t expect the companies to be much help in this matter, either. Unless you have solid proof that a driver has possession of something you lost (and let’s be real, you don’t) and are willing to get the police involved, your recovery efforts have hit an impasse.

But let’s be positive and say that your driver has found your missing item and is willing to talk to you. Arrange a time and place to meet up. Most people will want the driver to simply meet them where they live or work, which is fine. You should also mention that you’re willing to compensate the driver for his or her time and effort. This isn’t a bribe, as some people have called it, but a recognition that driving twenty miles out of your way costs money. What, you didn’t think your Uber driver lived around the corner from you, did you? I’ve had to deal with three missing cell phones, and two of them required a thirty-minute drive one-way to return. The third one would have needed a two-hour drive, so my passenger and I mutually decided to mail it back to her. Yes, mailing lost items is also an option, but you should be willing to pay for it yourself (Lyft will actually assist with shipping costs). 

Ultimately, the best advice I can give about lost items is don’t lose them. Check your seats before jumping out of the car, and make sure that the contents of your pockets are secure. It can save you a lot of time, headaches, and money. Seriously, do you know how much it costs to call a locksmith on a Sunday?

 

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: Picking Up the Kids

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

For busy parents, Uber has become an essential part of their daily routine. The logistics of maintaining a career while making sure that one’s children get from school to ballet or soccer practice and home again are migraine-inducing. That’s to say nothing of teenagers without licenses or cars who desire some measure of independence. I have on multiple occasions been tasked with shuttling teenagers to and from school, to dances, or just to hang out with their friends.

There’s just one small problem: both Uber (section 3 here) and Lyft prohibit unaccompanied minors from riding in their vehicles. Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know this. Most drivers are unaware, and so are most passengers. I only discovered the rule while doing research for this article, and I’ve been a driver for almost three years! The no-minors rule is ignored by some knowledgeable drivers and passengers anyway; it’s not enforced by anyone at the corporate level, and probably exists just as a legal cover-your-ass policy in case an unthinkable situation occurs.

Well, if you’re now unsure what to do with that Uber Family Profile feature, there may be other alternatives in your area for getting the kids from place to place. So-called “Uber for kids” services like the now-defunct Shuddle are filling the gap by advertising safety first. Their drivers go through stricter background checks, and in some cases are female only. The downside is that they’re more expensive and less widely available.

  • Zum – San Francisco Bay Area
  • Kango – San Francisco Bay Area
  • Pogo – Seattle (this is more of a carpool service than an on-demand one though)
  • HopSkipDrive – Los Angeles, Orange County, San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland CA

Yeah, I know, it seems like we’re hogging all the fun on the west coast. Hopefully these services will become popular enough to expand in the near future. For now though, it seems that Uber and Lyft are content to look the other way as long as there’s not an executive being interviewed.

What about the babies?

Another, larger difficulty for parents is using ride share with babies. Uber does offer an option to choose a vehicle with a car seat, but only if your child is 12 months or older (front-facing car seat age) and you happen to live in New York City, Washington DC, or Philadelphia. Lyft has no car seat options at all, and I’m unaware of any ride-share startup that offers car seats, not even the ones mentioned above.

If your baby needs to travel with you, you’ll have to bring and install your own car seat. The driver will wait while you do this, just make sure they’re able to pull over in a safe location (you should do this anyway as a matter of course). Drivers can’t hold up traffic while you’re strapping the baby in.

If you don’t have a car seat… well, you’ll need to hope you get a driver that doesn’t mind breaking the law on your behalf. Most Uber and Lyft drivers will refuse to take you if you insist on carrying a baby in your arms instead of properly secured, even for a short trip. The risk of legal liability is too great, for one. For two, I doubt any human being trying to make an honest living wants to be responsible for an infant getting hurt in an accident. Neither does any parent.

 

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: Safety First

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

 

Passenger safety is definitely a hot topic in the world of ride-sharing. Hardly a week goes by without some local paper printing another incident of an Uber driver robbing or assaulting an unsuspecting victim who just wanted to get home from a party, and more and more local governments are hotly debating whether or not the company’s background checks are doing enough. In actuality your driver is probably more afraid of you–crimes committed by Uber drivers may be slightly over-reported, but assaults of those drivers by intoxicated or irate passengers are far more common and almost completely ignored by the media. Still, that knowledge may not make you feel any safer if you do end up with one of the bad apples, so here’s some advice to greatly increase your odds of not having one of those horrible experiences.

 

The key thing to know is that ride-share drivers are far more likely to do something immoral or illegal when they’re “off the clock” and the Uber/Lyft apps aren’t tracking their every move. Your job is to make sure you’re on a sanctioned trip at all times.

 

First of all, make sure you’re in the right car. This will help you avoid fake Uber vehicles that will just take you for a ride… and not the kind you were expecting. The app will give you the name and photo of your driver, the color and model of their vehicle, and the license plate number of their car. Check all of these things before climbing in. You may also want to confirm the driver’s name. A simple “Hi, are you Sekani?” will not only make sure you’re in the right car, but has the added bonus of making the driver feel safer since he or she now knows that they have the right passenger as well. (Oh, unless it’s actually me picking you up, substitute your driver’s name for mine.) In case you’re calling a ride for a friend, make sure your friend has all of this information so they don’t accidentally jump into the wrong vehicle either.

 

Secondly, don’t accept any rides off the app for cash. Not only is this technically illegal in most markets, but it removes the Big Brother layer of security that keeps track of everything. Every trip you take should be arranged through the app, there should never be a reason to exchange cash unless you’re leaving a tip. Also be wary of offers to end the trip early to save a few dollars. You can dispute fares later if you think you’ve been overcharged, but you do not want to be in a stranger’s car while the app is not running.

 

Finally, use the buddy system. Don’t let your intoxicated friends ride home alone, go with them and split the cost of the ride later. It’s much harder to be taken advantage of when there’s more than one of you.

 

Rideshare services are still a convenient, inexpensive, and generally safe way to get around a city from one place to another. Just a little bit of due diligence can help ensure that your next trip is all of the above.

 

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!