Harry here. The holidays are right around the corner, but there’s still lots going on in the rideshare world. Today, senior RSG contributor John Ince takes a look at a customer service story that’s all too familiar for drivers, Lyft’s cool new toy for drivers, an update on Uber’s legal battles with the city of Houston and more!
Bay Area mom describes days-long Uber customer service nightmare [San Francisco Chronicle]
Sum and Substance: Joan Ryan says all she wanted was to talk to a human being at Uber customer service.
After her son was left stranded in Fairfax in September following an account issue, Ryan says she tried to initiate contact with the company to resolve the problem. But it was only the start of her customer service nightmare. The app was showing her payment methods declined, so Ryan added yet another credit card to the family Uber account. Again, declined.
“(I told my son), ‘just stay there and I’ll call Uber’ only to find out there’s no calling Uber — there’s not a single phone number that you can call,” Ryan said. “So I went on to support and sent a message. I waited, waited, waited — in the meantime, my son’s still stuck.” The only method of contact for Uber was through its app, which led to a number of emails back and forth — but no ride…. “The email replies were generic, it wasn’t prompt, there was no sense of, ‘Oh my gosh, let’s figure this out,'” Ryan said.
Being stranded for a couple of hours wasn’t the big deal, as it later turned out. The app continued to be a problem and the family was unable to summon rides for nearly five days. … So rather than continue with what seemed like a fruitless email exchange, Ryan drove to Uber headquarters on San Francisco’s Market Street to get answers. “I didn’t know what else to do,” Ryan said. “Email wasn’t working and I just needed to talk to a person. I just felt like this is probably not a huge fix.” But rather than finding any customer service representatives, she was told the downtown offices only house the company’s IT team. After explaining her situation to three different people and being told to go to the company’s Daly City office, Ryan was desperate to get any response from an employee. … No one stopped to help, she said. ‘I just kinda lost it’
My Take: Okay, we all have our own version of this story – our frustrating experience with customer service, not just Uber, but with any tech company. But it’s the tech companies’ business model – try to automate every aspect of interaction with customers and workers. Yes, it’s dehumanizing, but what are you going to do about it?
She admits she “kinda lost it” when she went down to Uber headquarters on Market Street in San Francisco. Her sign read, “Do you work for Uber?” Predictably nobody paid her any heed.
I took special note of this story because this woman lives near my home in Marin County. In my experience, she has the kind of attitude that I encounter all the time. She feels that because she uses Uber frequently for her son she’s entitled to frustration-free service. She has little awareness of (or patience for) the real world logistical problems that lurk beneath the service Uber provides.
She describes Uber as a godsend for her son who has special needs, and says she uses Uber 4-6 times a day. Okay, let’s do a little math here. Say 5x/day times 6 days a week, that’s 30 times/week at $6.50/ride, roughly equals $200/wk times 50 weeks. She’s shelling out $10,000 / year to Uber for transportation services for her son. $10,000 is an annual income for millions of Americans including some Uber drivers.
Lyft is replacing the pink mustache with a psychedelic dash display that knows your name [The Verge]
Sum and Substance: Lyft has outgrown its pink mustache. Today, the ride-hail company says it will retire the oversized facial hair logo that has defined the company’s image since 2012 and replace it with a brightly colored, Bluetooth-enabled, LED gadget called the Amp. The device, which attaches magnetically to the dashboard, is designed to prevent those awkward car mix-ups with passengers. But moreover it aims to send the message that Lyft rides are more fun than your average Uber trip. Think of it as the iconic taxi light for the ride-sharing generation.
The Amp connects over Bluetooth to the driver’s app, which Lyft says allows it to create “a new line of communication” between drivers and passengers. For example, when you leave the club at 2AM and aren’t sure which Honda CR-V is your Lyft ride, the Amp will display a specific color to help you get in the right car. To go a step further, you can tap a button in the app to display the same color on your smartphone and make it easier for your driver to find you as well.
“It basically cues you to the driver, the driver back to you, so everyone’s looking for the same color,” said Ethan Eyler, the head of Lyft’s ride experience division. The fuzzy pink mustache was based on Eyler’s designs for his CarStache company, which was acquired by Lyft right after changing its name from Zimride. The fuzzy mustache attached to the grille of the car eventually became the Glowstache, a glowing pink emblem to be placed inside the windshield. And the Amp, which has been in the works for over a year now, is the next successor.
The Amp has two displays: a 24-LED screen with the Lyft logo on top that faces out the windshield, and a 120-LED screen on the back, facing the driver and the passenger. To start out with, the street-facing display will show one of five colors, but the company says it will eventually be able to feature a broader range of colors and patterns. The back of the Amp can display personalized messages to the riders, like “Hello [insert name]” or “Go [insert sports team name].” Yes that’s right, the Amp will know your name because your driver knows your name and his or her phone is connected to the device. It has an eight-hour battery life, which Eyler says should cover a typical driver shift.
My Take: This is a pretty cool innovation, so kudos to Lyft for solving two problems at once – branding and driver / passenger connection. Meanwhile, the pink mustache is relegated to the trash heap of history – wait – not so fast. If you have one lying around you can sell it on eBay. If you want one, you can buy it now for $185. But, I recommend holding onto yours. They could one day become quite valuable as collectors items, or they make nice Christmas tree ornaments.
Uber Driver Afraid to Wake Female Rider [The Patch]
Sum and Substance: An Uber driver walked into the police department after the female rider in his car wouldn’t wake up. According to the report, the rider passed out int the man’s vehicle while he was taking her home. The Uber driver was unable to locate her address and was afraid to wake her up out of fear of any type of sexual allegations. Authorities woke the female rider up and confirmed her address. She advised police that she would stay awake for the remainder of the ride home to show the Uber driver her exact address.
My Take: This was just a short piece in a local Patch report, but it raises an interesting and pretty troublesome issue for drivers: what to do when a passenger passes out in your car. I feared this very same thing two weeks ago when a female passenger passed out in my car. She eventually responded to my verbal calls and left the car. If not I probably would have done just what this guy did – contact the police and not do anything till they arrive. What would you do? This is also another good reason to get a dash cam or other recording devise to document everything.
Why more Uber drivers are being arrested in LAPD stings [Southern California Public Radio]
Sum and Substance: Vanessa was driving through downtown Los Angeles last summer when she spotted a woman waving her arms. She pulled over and asked, “Are you OK?” The woman said she needed a ride. She looked worried, Vanessa said, like something was about to happen to her or had happened, but she was afraid to say what. Vanessa thought she could help if the woman downloaded the Uber or Lyft app – she drives for both companies. But then the woman pulled out an old flip phone.
The woman offered cash instead. Vanessa reluctantly agreed to give her a ride without the app. That’s when cops pulled up, patted Vanessa down and placed her in handcuffs. It was a sting. For years, the Los Angeles Police Department has set up these stings to catch so-called “bandit taxi drivers.” Police describe these bandits as people who illicitly pose as cab drivers, sidestepping regulators and taking cash fares. That hardly fits the description of Uber and Lyft drivers, who are background checked and state regulated. But Uber and Lyft drivers are also prohibited under city law from accepting fares in cash, and they are increasingly being caught in bandit taxi stings. The woman who flagged down Vanessa was an undercover cop working overtime with about a dozen other officers. The LAPD and Los Angeles Department of Transportation spend about $800,000 annually on these operations – all of it paid by the taxi cab industry.
My Take: Let this be a warning to any Uber/Lyft drivers out there who might be tempted to take cash for a ride. Your intentions might be good like this woman’s were, but that doesn’t matter if you break the law. Better safe than sorry.
City of Houston reaches agreement with Uber [Business Journal]
Sum and Substance: The city of Houston and San Francisco-based Uber Technologies Inc. have reached an agreement to keep the transportation company in the city for the foreseeable future. More details are expected to be released later today. A source close to the agreement says the city and Uber have agreed to keep fingerprint checks in place, but a number of other steps have been taken to streamline the entire process, including removing the requirement that a driver must have a physical before being approved.
The city will also remove drug testing for drivers unless there is a reasonable suspicion, Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a Nov. 16 press conference. The finalized agreement is expected to move to the Houston City Council in the coming weeks, and more details are expected to be ironed out by that time. Turner added that the city’s licensing requirements have been cut in half. Additionally, the cost for a driver to get licensed has decreased from $200 to $70, and drivers will now be able to apply and get on the road in the same day.
My Take: Looks like after Uber/Lyft’s debacle in Austin, where they fought city hall and lost, Uber is adopting a less combative approach in other cities – to good result. Uber gets the approvals they need and didn’t have to give up too much in this negotiation.
Lyft: Showing Up Quick
My Take: Lyft has produced a series of sly commercials subliminally casting three unarmed Uber guys as the bad guys, super cocky frat bros. The ads are cutting but I wonder if those outside the industry will get the satirical humor. What do you think?
Readers, what do you think of this week’s round up?
-John @ RSG
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Latest posts by John Ince (see all)
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