Today’s contributor, John Ince is a former Fortune reporter who has about 600 rides under his belt. He’s writing a book about his experiences but in the mean time he’ll be adding a little color to our Friday round-ups with some stories of his own in addition to the weekly rideshare news.
Before I get to the recap of the week’s rideshare news stories, I want to share a personal story to introduce myself as a new contributor to The Rideshare Guy and hopefully lift the spirits of any driver feeling down on their luck. Maybe it will even resonate. The conclusion of this story is still is a mystery to me and I invite you to help me solve it in the comments section.
By way of intro, I’ve been driving for Lyft for almost a year now giving about 600 rides on a part time basis. A few weeks into the gig it quickly became apparent to me that this there was a gold mine of stories out there just waiting to be sifted through and published as a book / blog. Meticulously I started recording notes, fashioning stories, transcribing conversations and assembling it all into a manuscript that now is over 400 pages. All written from the perspective of the front seat of my 2002 Volvo V-70 XC.
A month or so ago when Uber started accepting cars 2000 and later, I seized the opportunity. My initial experience driving for Uber was uniformly positive. I’d only given about 10 rides but all were pleasant – with passengers who were more than happy to join the experience by sharing their stories for the book – a five star experience all around.
… until shit hit the fan.
It all started when I woke up on a Tuesday after late night driving and noticed a major oil puddle under the car. I hopped on my bike to see how far back the oil trail went. I turned around after 2 miles fearing for the worst. The car started up fine and still had some oil left in the engine, but to be safe I had the car towed to my favorite mechanic. Two hours later I got the bad news – not only had the cam valves given way but that the timing belt was soaked and needed to be changed (again) … We’re talking over $1000 in repairs and that’s before they get in there and learn what else might have been damaged.
Two days later I got more bad news – the mechanic who had been changing the timing belt quit in mid repair taking his markings with him. The shop couldn’t give me any firm date when they’d be able to get someone with the expertise to “put the car back together.” For over a week I was in limbo … without wheels (other than my bike) and unsure whether I’d ever have this car running again.
Nine days later, the car was finally ready. I rode my bike over to the garage, put it in the back and decided to fill up on gas, and clean the windshield etc to get the car looking good for ridesharing potentially later that day. While the gas was pumping, the attendant came out to chat and we had a good laugh about all the troubles I’d been happening.
As I finally got in my re-assembled car and turned the ignition key, I took a deep breath to put all the bad stuff behind me. But I only got about 10 feet when I heard a loud snap and then a crash behind the car. “What was that?”
I’d left the gas pump nozzle in the tank and it had snapped back like a rubber band shattering the back windshield. Three days later I finally got the windshield repaired.
Okay … now it’s Saturday night and I’m driving for Uber for the first time in 2 weeks when I got a ping for a pickup of a highly intelligent and personable guy at a restaurant on Shattuck in Berkeley. I gave him an abbreviated version of this story and then asked him what he did. Turns out in two days he was starting work at Uber in business development. I didn’t get his name, but did give him my card with the link to my Travels With Vanessa blog still in development.
I didn’t think much about our conversation until Tuesday night this week when I got my Uber earnings statement for the previous week. I did a double take. In addition to my earnings from the week’s rides, there was $100 added in the “other” category, with an asterisk to an explanatory note: “Reimbursements for cleaning fees/repairs, etc.”
Here’s the mystery. Was this clerical error at Uber that came out in my favor? Or was it by design? Did my pax starting work for Uber relay my tale of woe to one of his new colleagues somehow it got to the right people there? Or was this just a cosmic consolation for all the bad luck in my life – a mystery simply to be beheld and never to be understood or explained.
What do you think it was?
Anyway … enough personal stuff onto the news. …. good and bad.
The Sum and Substance: “An Uber driver put his concealed carry permit to use Friday night when he pulled a gun and opened fire on a man he saw firing a pistol into a group of people on a Logan Square sidewalk, according to prosecutors. Six blasts from his gun injured a 22-year-old man identified as Everardo Custodio. …”
My Take: Okay how many drivers would have the guts to do what this Uber driver did? The incident raises a lot of important questions, especially for Uber’s PR team. On the one hand they could trumpet the story as an example of an Uber driver playing the hero’s role. On the other hand, Uber probably doesn’t want it widely known that some Uber drivers are packing heat. How does Uber handle this? Is this guy a hero? What do you think?
The Sum and Substance: “Viewswagen, is gearing up for a national launch on May 1, when it will begin reaching out to Lyft, Uber and Sidecar drivers to install tablets in their cars…. Similar to the screens built into taxis in cities like New York and Chicago, the tablets display a set of ads that viewers watch and tap with their fingers.”
My Take: It’s an intriguing idea, but as a driver I’m a little uncomfortable with the notion that my car’s interior is decorated with a tablet based billboard. Would it distract a driver from navigation or potentially interrupt the train of thought in a passenger conversation? But if Viewswagen is able to successfully pull of a targeted campaign and increase driver’s earnings that could be a very good thing for drivers. What do you think?
The Sum and Substance: “… the independent status of drivers raises the question of liability, which is quickly becoming a sticky issue for UberX and Lyft drivers, along with any of the other part-time, freelance service jobs emerging in this “sharing economy. We all accept a certain degree of risk when we get behind the wheel. By nature of their jobs, ride-share drivers are behind the wheel with much more frequency than the rest of us, increasing their risk.”
My Take: This article is basically a recap of Harry’s previous piece on forming an LLC corp, but it offers a few new details and nuances to the issue. Important subject that needs to be addressed for the industry to mature.
The Sum and Substance: From Kevin Roose … “Today, I received an unusual email. The message came from an investigator at Derish Associates, a San Francisco-based private investigation firm, with the subject line “Looking for insight on Lyft Co-founders.” It read: Hi Kevin … If you have a few minutes to spare I would love to chat with you regarding your knowledge on the company founders. I’ve been hired to do a background check on them for a potential investor. Please feel free to call me anytime. …. The email raised a ton of questions. Who was this mysterious “potential investor?” Why were they snooping around Lyft’s co-founders? And what kinds of dirt were they looking for?
My Take: Potentially a very juicy story that fits with the running narrative about Uber’s corporate mindset. But I wouldn’t be so quick to jump on that bandwagon. Very well might have been potential Lyft investors just doing due diligence. What do you think?
The Sum and Substance: “Five days ago, Roland Gainer launched a crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe to help Ken Wayne Broskey, a 70-year-old grandfather dying of cancer. Broskey is an Uber driver who met Gainer when he picked him up for a ride. During that 12-minute drive Broskey shared his touching story. Broskey doesn’t have long to live and his doctors advised him to go to a hospice. But he wouldn’t go. He wouldn’t stop working, trying to bank up as much money as he could so his daughter and his two grandchildren could continue to live in the house they share with him.”
My Take: This is the kind of reason we drive. Being a rideshare driver can be full of poignant episodes like this if you’re open to them.
The Sum and Substance: “Several years ago, Boston lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan was visiting family and friends in San Francisco. While she was out at a restaurant in the West Portal, one of her friends pulled out his smartphone. “You have to see this, Shannon. It’s a new thing and it’s changed my life,” she recalls him saying. The friend fired up Uber, the car-hailing app. “You push a button and a car comes to pick you up. Then, Liss-Riordan says, her friend looked at her. “He saw what was going through my mind. Then he said, ‘Don’t you dare. You’re going to put them out of business.’”
My Take: This is a case worth keeping an eye on. It has huge implications both for drivers and the companies. Will it put them out of business? I don’t think so … but it could materially affect the investment climate surrounding these companies.
The Sum and Substance: “At the core of Uber’s wild success and market valuation of over $41 billion is its data and algorithmically fueled approach to matching supply and demand for cars. It’s classic economics, supposedly: “Prices go up to encourage more drivers to go online. The increase in price is proportionate to demand,” says the official Uber video explaining their surge pricing system. It’s an easy line to buy into, but is Uber’s surge pricing algorithm really doing what they claim? Do surge prices really get more cars on the road? My analysis suggests that rather than motivating a fresh supply of drivers, surge pricing instead re-distributes drivers already on the road.”
My Take: All this algorithmic stuff is way beyond me so I’ll defer to this guy’s (Nicholas Diakopoulos) research … article definitely worth a read. Nick will also be a guest on Episode 19 of The Rideshare Guy podcast 🙂
What do you guys think about all of the week’s top stories?
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-John @ RSG