Referral bonuses can seem attractive on the surface but as any seasoned driver will tell you, it can be a hassle at times to get paid. All of the major TNCs dangle large bonuses in front of drivers but the process isn’t very transparent and it’s easy to get screwed.
Today, RSG reader Aaron P, is back with a guest post about how he took matters into his own hands when it came to ensuring he got his bonus from Sidecar. Aaron actually kept me updated on the whole process and I’ll admit I didn’t think he had a chance in hell but he pulled it off! Read on to find out how he was able to stick up for himself and drivers everywhere.
Back in the early days of my rideshare career, I took an opportunity to learn about an emerging industry. At first, I thought requesting a ride with an app on my phone seemed like a fad, another startup-driven idea, not seeing the point beyond hailing an actual taxi.
I started as a passenger with Lyft, the “Friend with a Car” model, pink moustache on the car and fist-bump from the driver to begin the ride. Sounds good to me! Why burden a friend for a lift, if a complete stranger would accomplish the same task. I went to the Lyft website, got my first-ride credit, and then took my first ride.
Effortless, interesting, and a clean car. Rideshare was already better than the taxi experience: the credit card machine wasn’t broken, the car didn’t smell and the driver talked to me. Price wasn’t even discussed. I was hooked!
A few weeks later, Lyft gave me a free week of rides through my employer. The bus system in SF is fine, however getting chauffeured for a week is finer! This is when I noticed my drivers were becoming nicer, and the model seemed to be catching steam, at least in San Francisco. Young people milling about on street corners, apps in hand, seemingly waiting for their mysterious strangers from all directions to drive them someplace.
Some of the drivers I encountered were “Mentors” meaning they onboarded new Lyft drivers, and encouraged me to sign up as a driver, consistently stating, I had a “good personality” for a driver. I signed up shortly after.
The point of the back story is that I began to trust the industry, that any company wanting to emerge as the leader in rideshare, would want the best, happiest drivers, and offer the most awesome customer experience. As a test of company culture, I contacted the Support team at Lyft, with some general questions, both as a driver and passenger, and received a speedy reply. This company gets it!
Seeking better information about how to drive better, and more profitably, I ran across a blog called The Rideshare Guy, where the author, Harry Campbell, moonlighted his day job by writing insightful articles and interesting interviews. He encouraged his audience to “try everything, including driving for multiple companies” and to “drive smarter, not harder” in order to increase profit.
At the time, Uber did not allow cars older than 2005, and as my car is 2000, that left me with only another rideshare player, Sidecar, albeit the oldest of the trio, yet still obscure. I followed the referral link provided by Harry, and signed up. The bonus was $100 for the both of us, once I hit 10 rides within 30 days. Seeing as I couldn’t contribute cash directly to Harry for all of his help, and his excellent guests, I figured I could have someone else give him a bonus for his great work.
On a side note, Sidecar has a model that favors the passenger. Upon requesting a ride, the passenger is given a list of possible drivers, with set fares, ETAs, a large photo, driver statement, reviews and the ability to favorite drivers. Established drivers can set their prices, minimums, pickup and dropoff radiuses.
The new driver, on the other hand, is on probation for the first 25 rides, with no access to price increase controls. My first weekend driving for Sidecar, I noticed multiple <$25 airport rides, and repeated long fixed-price rides, seemed like quite punishment for starting out on a new service. However, I wanted to pay Harry back, and this seemed like a minor bump in the road.
Surprisingly, I received very few Sidecar rides overall, compared to Lyft. I tried having both apps running simultaneously, and routinely received Lyft rides first, and had to switch the Sidecar app off. Reaching my goal of 10 rides, especially since I only drove weekend mornings, during peak hours, almost seemed like it was going to cost me more than the bonus amount.
However, I persevered, and eventually hit my 10 rides. I probably would have hit the number sooner, but the Sidecar app was plagued with issues, frequently dropping the passenger on the way to pick up, and not alerting the customer I no longer saw them on the app. The forum for Sidecar drivers, called “The Garage”, also had similar complaints about app performance.
“All for Harry,” I kept reminding myself.
Finally, I now had 11 rides, and was thrilled. I figured I would have gotten a confirmation text or email by that point. After a few days, I figured things had worked out and the bonus would just show up on my next paycheck.
To my disappointment, nothing appeared. Oh well, I muttered, so I emailed the Support team at Sidecar, and clearly stated what I had done to get a referral, and asked them to research the issue and reinstate the bonus.
Sadly, they replied back several days later, and stated, I had needed to enter the code again in the app, after signing up from the referral link, to qualify. That seemed like an unnecessary step for a measly $100 bonus, and thinking more of Harry, I replied back with the website link where I started, the comment I had added to the article upon signing up, and the corresponding referral link provided.
I asked for an update a week later, and received a terse response, I was l already told what I did wrong, and there was nothing that could be done. I replied that I wanted it escalated to a manager.
So, I asked again, on a new Support ticket, thinking the rep forgot about me, or didn’t care. Sadly, the same rep from the previous ticket replied, repeating what they said before, and there would be no further discussion.
This was getting annoying. How is a company going to be the best in the business, if they can’t fix a simple bonus, even when I explained clearly about the burdensome signup process?
This time, I called the Support number for Sidecar, forced to leave a voicemail because the recording said they don’t answer their phone. On the voicemail, I asked them to review my request, requesting they could call or write me back with any progress.
Fuming, I replied to the last reply, and stated I would be suing the founder, if I didn’t get this ticket escalated.
At this point, I realized I was wasting time for a small amount of money, yet selfishly, I was excited about unlocking driver price controls, and stubbornly kept driving, figuring I could probably calm down eventually. Worst case, I could just stop driving if I sue them.
My thinking became, if Sidecar didn’t care about their drivers, I would then drive angry, planning to crank up my price after my probation period. Morally, I felt unjust with this decision, as I wanted to encourage rideshare. I decided to postpone my choice until after 25 rides.
The day came along that I hit 25 rides, and I cranked up the price immediately. Suddenly, no passenger requests came. I just sat there, and started fuming. Why have manual price controls, if other drivers were lower, and taking the rides anyway? I didn’t drive an expensive car, so my chance of someone paying big bucks for a simple ride, was low.
So, I decided to proceed with the lawsuit, and park my app.
My research into the lawsuits the SF Small Claims website was thrilling, as much as confusing. Although you are able to sue anyone, there are restrictions on type and scope. Generally, you are able to sue private people, or private companies up to a certain amount, usually $5000. It gets more complicated when they are corporations or federal agencies. Sidecar was still a private company though.
Thankfully, the court offers some free drop-in help sessions, with limited times during the week, for any assistance with the filing process. They stated on their website that they cannot provide legal advice though. I decided on the after-lunch time slot on a Friday, as I worked a couple of blocks away, and figured I could get help quickly at that time.
When I arrived, there were about ten anxious people in front of me, jittering bundles of paper in hand, even before the doors opened. The exterior hallway, and doors, were littered with “Don’t/Can’t Do This or That” pages, on seemingly every available surface, that got me a little nervous that a simple mistake would mean I lose.
After a 30-minute wait, the front desk assistant went through my paperwork, and stated that one my forms and the listed defendant were wrong, and would have delayed my lawsuit. Good thing I dropped by! They fixed the errors for me.
They assigned me to a helper, a tired-looking young guy, most likely a law student from nearby UC-Hastings, smelling of a fresh pot a coffee, to sit me down to review my lawsuit. Scanning quickly, he made little tick marks throughout the form. He crossed out my reason, restating more clearly that I was promised a bonus, and followed the referral process in good faith.
Hesitantly, I asked if I could sue for more than $100? He reluctantly replied they cannot advise that, and suggested I should sue for actual damages. I stayed with the $100, figuring I was there to win, not profit, and Sidecar would be less likely to appear for a low amount. Strangely, after we verified the forms, he perked up, and smiling said, “Hey! Best of luck, I hope you win!”
After that hour, I waited in another line, this time at the cashier to pay court costs and certified mailing fees of $45. I asked the cashier if $100 is a small amount. He chuckled, “Yes, they are usually much higher. However, somebody just won a lawsuit for $5.” Then he added with a smile, “Best of luck. I hope you win!” He gave me a court date for a month later.
The court date arrived, and I sat with the other small claimants in a courtroom. Most were for auto accidents, against insurance companies. The clerk went through the roll call, tried to fix several issues with some claimants. Sidecar did not appear.
As I was the only one where the defendant did not appear, the judge arrived, and called my case first. I approached one of the big tables and I nervously restated my lawsuit. The judge quickly ruled in favor of my case, as the defendant did not appear. Smiling, the judge said, “Judgement to the plaintiff, in the amount of one-hundred dollars!”
Although I wanted to be on TV, People’s Court or something, pleading my case with Zen diagrams at the absurdity of the case, I was still thrilled to have won a court case. The whole process was time consuming and stressful but I won.
The judgement said that Sidecar should pay within 30 days. That time came and went, and I began to get nervous again. Did I need to file with the court again, to force payment? Ugh.
Begrudgingly, I submitted another Support ticket to Sidecar with the case number, and asked if there was any progress on payment. As expected, no response. I gave it another month, and was surprised one day by a certified letter from Sidecar, with a hand-written check, and letter that stated cashing the $145 would mean I acknowledged the case is closed.
Happily, I emailed Harry that I won my case with Sidecar, and suggested he could file as well, but figured Harry had better things to do with his time. Like, publish my articles! 😉
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Drivers, what do you think about Aaron’s story? Would you go to all this trouble for a measly $100 or is it the principle of the matter that is most important. Hearing about Aaron’s success actually makes me wonder if it might be worth my time to do the same thing!
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