Friday, May 15, 2015

Why People Use Flywheel & Taxicabs Instead of Ubers or Lyfts

Customer response to the Flywheel taxicab app have been overwhelmingly positive. The number of people using the app grew 6X over the last year despite limited funds for advertising.

This fact has been ignored by all forms of media so I thought I'd write about it myself.

I've gotten most of my information from talking with over a hundred of my taxi and Flywheel customers. The following ideas and comments come from these ad hoc interviews.

A major reason why Flywheel is becoming more popular ...

is that the app eliminates most of the complaints that people have about taxicabs. The main gripes have been that cab drivers won't take credit cards, that many won't take people to the neighborhoods and, perhaps most important, that customers in the neighborhoods can't get taxicabs. Flywheel has turned most of these problems into historical issues.

Any driver who accepts a Flywheel order accepts a credit card in the process. Payments are automatically made by the card just like they are with the TNCs.

In addition, I've only heard two stories during the last year about Flywheel drivers who didn't want to take passengers where they wanted to go – one driver (incredibly) refused a ride from 5th & Mission to California & Divisadero during rush hour. Obviously a cretin because there is often business at that destination. I took the customer myself and picked up another one when I dropped: and, if I hadn't, I still would've been less than five minutes from downtown.

In any case,  Flywheel will not let a driver who turns down orders continue using their service so I think that grievances of this nature will soon disappear – if they haven't already.

Getting taxis in the neighborhoods is no longer much of a problem.

There were two reasons why it was difficult:

One – (examined in cab driver John Han's video Driving for Hire) was that cab companies stopped telling their drivers what orders they should pick up when the companies tricked the drivers into becoming Independent Contractors instead of Employees. This saved the companies money in taxes and benefits. Not telling the drivers to take radio calls was used as proof that they were not Employees.

The second cause for poor service (in San Francisco anyway) was the atomization of the cab industry starting in the late seventies. Where before there had been two or three major companies, dozens of small companies came on the scene, some with dispatching services and some without, many with only a few cabs. The upshot was that there was no way to tell which taxi might be closest to an address in any part of town.

From the standpoint of the customer – it made sense to call two, three or more dispatching services in hopes of finding one that had a cab nearby.

From the standpoint of the drivers – it made no sense to go very far to pick up an order because the odds were that the ride wouldn't be there when the driver showed up, thus costing her or him money.

It was a chicken and egg thing. The drivers wouldn't go into the neighborhoods because they were afraid of getting no-goes and the customers called multiple companies because they feared no-shows which caused drivers not to take orders in the neighborhoods.

Flywheel has solved this conundrum. Almost all the vehicles in the taxi fleet (over 2,000) are now using Flywheel which sends orders to the closest cab. No-gos have become almost nonexistent so most drivers are eager to pick Flywheel orders up.

But let my passengers speak:

"We were just waiting for you guys to come up with an app so we could go back to taxis," a young woman told me.

"Used to take forever to get a cab – if it was Friday night you could forget it!" a sixty-something man who lives on Greenwhich & Franklin said. "But with Flywheel, the taxi gets there in a few minutes."

This is constant theme.

"When I moved here five years ago you could never get a cab on the weekends," said a thirty-three year old woman who lives in Mission Bay. "But with Flywheel the taxi's usually there by the time I get outside my building."

I've heard similar refrains from people in the Richmond, the Sunset, Bernal Heights and the Mission among other neighborhoods. Passengers in the Haight and Inner-Richmond have told me that they found Flywheel faster than the TNCs

Many passengers prefer taxis to Ubers & Lyfts regardless of the speed of service

"Actually the Ubers & Lyfts get here faster,"said a business woman who works late in a building close to Fisherman's wharf. "They (TNCs) seem to swarm around here but I want a professional driver who knows where he's going. After working 10 or 12 hours, I don't want to have tell a driver how to get to my house. If I have to wait an extra five minutes for a taxi driver so be it."

"I took an Uber from Safeway to my place on the 700 block of Geary," a young women told me. "The driver took to me Geary & Van Ness – four blocks away. I told him 'this isn't my apartment.' He turned around, pointed to his GPS and said, 'yes it is!' He refused to take me home."

"I like to drink," a thirtish guy told me. "With a cab, I just give my address, go to sleep and the driver wakes me up when I'm home. I had this Uber woman who was like working her first day or something. I think she was from Modesto. She said she needed to put the address into her GPS. I said that I'd just direct her. She refused saying she needed to use the GPS. I had to argue with her for like 10 minutes before she finally took me where I wanted to go."

"I've never been so frightened in life, "a woman in her late twenties told me. "This woman from Lyft didn't know how to drive. I mean she really didn't know how to drive! She kept staring at her GPS and switching lanes without signaling or looking. She had no idea where she was going and drove all over the place. It usually costs me around $12 but she'd charged over $60 when I finally jumped out at a stop light." 'If you want to live,' I told her, 'quit driving.'"

A businessman who tried all the apps but settled on Flywheel told me that he thinks taxi drivers have gotten better while the TNC drivers have gotten worse.

He said he didn't know why that is but I think I do.

However, I won't get into it until part II. I need to get this baby on the road before the long weekend sets in.

To be continued:

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Uber & Other TNCs Continue to Illegally Cruise for Rides at SFO: MTA Shelves Plans to Limit Access of 8,000 & "S" Series Cabs at SFO

 Uber and other TNCs regularly wait at the curbs for five or ten minutes after dropping at SFO.

Others hide out with their marking taken off (in defiance of section 3.4 of the TNC Pilot Program) at deserted terminals and corners of the airport with their phones ready to accept rides.

Still others continually circle both drop-off and pick-up areas looking for rides with their apps open.

They are both a major cause of congestion and blockers of curbs –making it difficult for cabs, legal limos and the general public to drop off and pick up their customers or friends.

These poorly insured, uninspected vehicles with their unvetted and untrained drivers are the ones that are causing the congestion at SFO: not the vetted, trained and experienced drivers of fully insured taxicabs that have been inspected by the San Francisco Airport itself.

The TNCs remain the only form of mass transportation that trick their customers into signing a hidden waiver of liability in case of negligence before allowing them to ride.

At today's MTA meeting Director Heinicke said that the plans to hold 8,000 and "S" series taxis out of SFO had been shelved.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Kansas City Major Sly James' Speech Dissing Uber's Innovative Negligence

Hi I'm back to pass on words spoken or written by others – starting with a powerful speech by Kansas City Mayor Sly James.

On Thursday, April 9, 2015, the KCMO City Council unanimously approved an updated "Vehicles for Hire" code (Ordinance 150203) that lowers fees for drivers and streamlines permitting. It also requires all such drivers to have back-ground checks and register with the city.

Uber apparently tried to destroy Mayor James' career for opposing them. We could use an honest politician with guts like his here. 

Below are links to a few articles on the absurdly named "Sharing Economy" which is really "Wealth Inequality"  and a well researched and thoughtful piece on Uber's attempt to replace the Taxi Business .

As a bonus here are a few more Videos:

Who is driving you?

FUNNY OR DIE gives you An Apology from Uber

And, let me end with this question: How unreal was the humor?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Brutal Attack on S.F. Cab Driver Over $36 Fare.

The ABC coverage of this attack was sent to me by driver Dave Schneider who writes.

    "Think reality is all it's cracked up to be with its two bit acts and players ... low level challenges right?  

    For what it's worth perhaps I didn't follow proper procedure and no one elected me and I ain't no perfect person, still I've been in communication with SFMTA regulators re a discreet panic button also advocated by a lady veteran driver.  I just get the run around.  Maybe it's my bad karma.  Had that panic button been in place going directly into 911 it might have helped in the recent bloody attack on the cab driver. 

    However, at the same time, the cab driver followed the perp and asked for the $.  That turned out to be a bad mistake as the driver was beaten to a pulp.  Perhaps a rookie mistake -- although maybe you can't blame him.  Hey I ain't no perfect person, but I wouldn't have followed him.  

    I also couldn't even get the bastards at the SFMTA to issue a public service annoucement of the location of the new Mission Bay UCSF children's emergency at Mariposa and Minnesota off of 3rd Street so you think they are going to lift a finger to protect the cabbies they regulate?

Give me a break ... and I ain't no perfect person to say the least.  But the protection of human life ought to be beyond the worth of the messenger/s don't you think ... ."

Yes, I think.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Thoughts on Flywheel/Desoto

Desoto is changing its name to Flywheel and within two months the old blue & white Desotos will all look like the above pic. The first cabs are already on the street.

Flashier, no?

Brilliant, yes!

The new color scheme acts as an advertisement for the app and the app is advertisement for the company.

However, a bit of confusion and hostility surrounds the change.

First the Confusion

Drivers at other companies who use the Flywheel app are apparently worried about losing rides. They shouldn't be.

Part of the agreement between Flywheel management and Desoto Owner Hansu Kim is that that orders will continue to be dispatched in the same way that they always have – the ride goes to the closest cab regardless of company.

What Desoto is counting on, according to part owner Matt Gonzales, is an "upsurge of advertising" that will cut into the TNC's market share and hopefully spread the wealth to everyone.

There some evidence that this is already happening. According to former Flywheel manager Sachin Kansel, the number of Flywheel orders has gone up six times over the last year. 

Flywheel also has recently picked up several investors and a new CEO Rakesh Mathur who intends to use the money to advertise and expand the Flywheel brand across the country.

In addition, former Uber and Lyft customers are coming back to Flywheel because the TNC drivers are generally inept and don't know where they are going. The refusal of Uber and Lyft to fingerprint their applicants or train their drivers guarantees a continued flow of thugs and incompetents into the future. 

As Flywheel becomes a more widely known brand we'll be getting more and more riders back – plus new riders who can now get cabs because of Flywheel in neighborhoods where they couldn't before.

In addition, Hansu Kim says that Flywheel is working on a new version of the app that will do things that Uber and Lyft apps can't. A current example of that is the ability to make advance airport reservations.

Now the Hostility

Luxor and Yellow Cab companies don't like it. Well ... of course they don't. The idea is bold, innovative and creative. As the leading dinosaurs of the taxi industry, John Lazar of Luxor and Nate Dwiri of Yellow have been doing everything they can to help themselves, and the industry, become extinct.

They are the ones who killed Open Taxi Access over four years ago. As you might recall, the SFMTA had allocated $405,000 to set up a universal app in all the taxis and John Lazar reputedly went backdoor to his former school mate and then buddy, Major Ed Lee, causing the measure to mysteriously disappear from the MTA's agenda.

At the same time, Yellow was feverishly holding back radio orders so that they could petition for more cabs. Let me spell this out: They were deliberately giving bad service so that the City would give them more medallions.

When Uber et al attacked and the dinos finally realized that taxi apps were the future, instead of embracing Flywheel as the de facto universal app, Dwiri had a relative design a Yellow app (that works about as well as the old Yellow dispatching system – that is to say, badly), and Luxor continued to back Taxi Magic – a dinosaur in its own right.

Even to this day, when Yellow can't begin to fill its shifts, they still keep drivers waiting two or three hours to start work so that Yellow can extort more money in tips. That there might be a relationship between their treatment of their drivers and the dwindling numbers of same has apparently never occurred to Yellow management.

Whatever – If it hadn't been been for the geniuses at Luxor and Yellow, Uber and Lyft would never have taken the market-share that they have.

BTW – Uber came out with a "study" that saying they did $500 million in business in San Francisco last year while the taxi industry only took in $140 million. But Flywheel calls this bullshit (don't blame me for the crudeness. I don't use such words – in print.) The actual figure should be $400 million for the taxi business.

A Few Problems

One is that the Flywheel paint job does not make it clear that the taxi also takes flags and credit cards. In addition, the cabs I've looked at don't have the advertising space on top. That space could be used as part of a campaign for Flywheel/Desoto and against Uber – could be much effective than a bus because taxies go more places.

Another is that Flywheel has a website and blog that is slick and up to date but, as an advertising tool,  could be more effective.  The contrived pic in the blog makes it look a little too much like Lyft light.

There are also continuing problems with the driver support system such has holding drivers off the app for various minor reasons. I personally am not sure what all their rules concerning accepting orders and cancellations are.

Sachin Kansal and Steve Humphrey have moved on ("happily" they say – Humphrey upped his investment in Flywheel). Therefore, it seems a good time for the new management to meet with the drivers and take a look at some of the policies that might be changed, clarified or improved.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Uber Win's an Award for What?

I thought I'd pass on an article and a video that sum up what Uber really deserves
  awards for – 

as opposed to the self-serving prize handed to itself by Uber investor Tech Crunch. 

This great pic comes from an article from the Daily Beast.

This video, called Riding Dirty: How Uber Takes Drivers and Passengers for
 a Ride is one of the best summaries of this corrupt and dangerous 
venture-capitalized corporation that I've seen.

There are a few weaknesses however:

1. The video fails to point out that Uber's lower prices are only in effect
 when people don't use many cabs. Prices go up from 1.5 times to 9 times
 the ordinary rate when people actually need cabs.

2. If taxies were to be run out of business one could expect to pay price-gorging 
rates (i.e. "surge-pricing") all the time.

3. Even with hybrid policies, Uber's insurance would still give cover far less coverage 
than is standard for taxis.

4. Uber, given the number of vehicles on the street, is a major polluter and 
street congester – definitely NOT a friend of the environment.

5. The reason Uber's background checks are sketchy is that they REFUSE 
TO FINGERPRINT APPLICANTS which is the standard background
 check for any driving and most other jobs of any kind in the U.S.A.

6. Most of what is said about Uber applies equally to Lyft.

Anyway – Enjoy.

And thanks to Hansu Kim for passing on the Video.


Tuesday, February 3, 2015


According to the SFO ruling granting temporary permits to the TNCs, "All TNC Vehicles not actively loading or unloading passengers shall be parked in the designated staging area ... TNC Vehicles may only enter enter the Airport terminal if carrying an Airport-bound passenger or if a ride request has been accepted from a customer at the Airport."

In addition, there is supposed to be a "GeoFence" around the "Polygon" or perimeter of SFO where the TNC Apps won't work – call it a TNC dead zone. This means that the TNC Apps should only work in the TNC staging area and not anywhere else in or near the Airport.

But, in fact, the SFO doesn't appear to be enforcing its ruling and, of course, Uber drivers are paying little or no attention to it. The following sequence took place on November 16, 2014 between 9:18 pm and 9:28.

Photo One Shows an Uber cruising at the lower level of SFO with its App open and seeking a ride.

Photo Two show that this Uber has accepted an order.

Photo Three show the Uber meeting its customer on the upper level of the International Terminal

Photo Four shows the customer climbing into the faux taxicab ... er... TNC.

This was not an isolated incident. Quite the opposite. These photos were taken by limo and cab driver Douglas O'Conner and he sees more Ubers either hiding out on the top level of SFO or cruising with the app open ever time he drives through.

12-14-2014 An Uber cruises with App available.

12-21-2014 An Uber cruises with the App open. The driver spent half an hour circling the upper level.

1-11-2015 An Uber hangs out on McDonnell Road after the driver spotted Doug following him.

1-22-2015 An Uber hangs out on the upper level of SFO.

For Uber watchers this is hardly shocking. If Uber has ever shown any indication that it intends to obey any rule or regulation I'm unaware of it. This, after all, is a venture-capitalized corporation that is run by a CEO that has never heard a lie that he didn't want to tell himself. This is a corporation that lies to every customer and driver that downloads their App, unaware that they're signed away their rights to collect liability in case of negligence. This is a corporation that refuses to fingerprint or train its drivers. This is a company that makes agreements simply to get regulators off it's back.

And, they've succeeded admirably at SFO. I drove around with Doug on December 14, 2014 and we saw dozens of Ubers hanging out at various places on both the upper and lower levels but we failed to see one single SFO cop checking to see if the Ubers were there.

I recently ran into an Indian cab driver who said that America had become the most corrupt country in the world. He's got a good argument. The Indian government shut down Uber and even issued an indictment against CEO Travis Kalanick. And, China chased them out of the country for not obeying the rules.

Here, in California, the powers-that-be reward them by lowering or eliminating safety standards – let the public be dammed – and Uber still doesn't bother to pay any attention to what weak and pathetic rules they have agreed to follow.

And why should they? Here the long arm of the local law reaches out, not with hand cuffs, but with palms up and wide open.