Saturday, May 31, 2014

Flywheel Amps Up II

In this post I want to address a few concerns and clarify some aspects of the Flywheel app.

My information comes from a recent Town Hall meeting where CEO Steve Humphreys spoke as well as from conversations with Humphreys, Chief Product Officer Sachin Kansal and Head of Operations Ryan Nobrega.

Let's start with a few things drivers hate:

The 10% Solution

Director Hayashi had a plan B.T. (before tncs) where the city would pay for all credit transactions with a $0.25 - $0.30 fee for all passenger. But this probably is not workable in our current scenario where we're being underpriced by the competition.

Flywheel is a for profit company and has to charge something. They have credit processing fees, payroll, rent, marketing, R&D and other costs to cover. I have no idea what their bottom line is but I would like to see a fee closer to 5%.

I bought the subject up to Humphreys. He hinted that they might be able to lower the percentage if they could lower their processing costs or if the volume of users drastically increased.

One positive is that, unlike Uber, Flywheel does not take a percentage of the tips. This means that the actual percentage of a driver's gross is closer to 8.5%.

A Trojan Horse

I think you can best get an idea of how the percentages work out by comparing Flywheel to its only real competition – Uber Taxi:

Uber charges the drivers 15% plus they automatically hit their customers with a surcharge of 20% on top of the fare. This is due to the usual Uber sleaze factor. It's illegal for a company to take tips from drivers so Uber doesn't call a tip a tip. Ah! The power of perverted language, of twisted thought.

The surcharge is also illegal but – hey – this is Uber. Apparently the customers are less likely to sue than drivers are. Fortunately, I hear that customers also are less likely to take an Uber Taxi now than they were last year.

Anyway – the arithmetic: Say both Flywheel and Uber drivers book $100 in fares and 20% in surcharges or tips.
  • 100 + 20% = 120
  • Flywheel   takes 10% of 100 = 120-10 = $110 Net
  • Uber Taxi takes 15% of 120 = 120-18 = $102 Net = You keep 6.7% less.
Uber also charges for their phones and god knows what else while Flywheel provides the equipment for free. 

But the most important reason not to use Uber Taxi is that it's a Trojan Horse. Uber Taxi exists primarily to steal business and drivers for Uber x. Since I refuse to use anything by Uber, I'm going to let a comment to my last post from a driver named Hamid explain this for me,

"... Uber disables their Uber taxi service frequently, so they can forward their customers ... to use their other services (Uberx, Uberblack...) ... Also, Uber does it in a sneaky way either by not having the Uber Taxi icon appear on their app ... or, sometimes when the icon <does> appear and the customer clicks on it, it says "not available" – which gives the impression to the riders that there is never a taxi available when needed." 

 In an amazing "pot-calling-the-kettle-black" interview, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick basically declared what we've known all along – that he's out to destroy the taxicab business. Then, he can price-gouge all the time. Uber Taxi is one tool he's using to help him meet his goal.

Cancellation Penalty ...

... is something drivers hate even more than the 8.5%. Why should a driver be shut down for 5 hours just for giving an order back? Why shouldn't a driver be able drop a dispatched call in order to pick up a flag to the airport?

Mr. Kansal has an answer to these questions. Prior to imposing the penalty, 25% to 30% of the Flywheel calls were dropped by the drivers. Since then the number of dispatched calls not picked up by them is 1% – making us competitive with Uber/Lyft.

Although I didn't initially like their cancellation policy, I confess that I've come over to Flywheel's point of view. If we are going to compete with the shits, if we are take back our business, we need to pick up the damn orders. Customers have to know that we'll show when we say we will.

Besides, this new found accountability is really a throwback to the days of radio dispatch. Can you old school drivers imagine what reaction you would have gotten from the infamous Curt at Yellow or Phil Ward at Desoto, if you told them, "an airport's flagging me down, I'm givin' you back your order?"

In fact, I think I remember a rookie saying something like that to Curt once. He responded thusly,


Radio dispatchers imposed a necessary discipline on drivers. If a driver didn't pick up an order, the dispatcher wouldn't "hear" the driver again for a long, long time. And, we're not talking 5 hours here: we're talking 5 months – although said driver would get all the supermarket calls he or she ever dreamed of.

I think that cab service declined drastically after electronic dispatching services were introduced at Yellow and later Luxor because there was no accountability on those systems. That's when we all got used to canceling an order to pick up a flag. And there was some justification for this because the customers weren't accountable either. The no-go rate was very high on those systems. A bird in the hand was better than two birds in the bush. (Although, from my experience, that saying isn't necessarily true.)

No-goes have virtually ceased to exit with Flywheel. No-shows should cease as well.

Justified Cancellations

Of course there are legit reasons for canceling orders: inaccurate GPS locations, gridlock, you accidentally hit the accept button when you meant to decline, you pick up the wrong person, etc.

Next to making certain that I have the right person, my first option is to call the customers, tell them that I can't pick them up for whatever reason and ask them to cancel. If it's within the first 3 minutes this will usually work. When this doesn't work, it can become a problem.

The current rule is that a driver gets one free cancellation (not one a day or a week but one period) and should call Flywheel support after that.

Until recently this has not been an ideal solution because the support has been less than ideal. Steve Humphreys assures me that support has improved.

Flywheel now offers live support:

  • 9 am to 8 pm Monday – Thursday
  • 9 am to 2 am Sat on Friday
  • 4 pm to 2 am Sun on Saturday
  • Sunday offers live support at different times depending upon the amount of business.

Flywheel also now gives priority to calls about cancellation problems. If live support isn't available backup support is there from 7 am to midnight every day of the week. If you tell them that it's about a cancellation they will send out an alert and try to get you back in business as soon as possible.

There is no hard and fast rule as to how many cancellations are allowed so, unless a driver frequently cancels, there should be no problem getting back online

I told Mr. Nobrega that some drivers have complained about rudeness and other issues with support in the past. He said that he has no patience with that kind of behavior and that he wants to know about it. The best thing to do would be to call 888-667-7991 and leave a message for Ryan.

Rating Systems

Passenger Rating

I don't like the very idea of these things. I don't think people should be constantly judging each other. It reminds me of working for an insurance office where the brass was notating every move I made. One reason I went into cab driving was to get away from people looking over my shoulder. (Hmm ... unintentionally ironic.) And, I don't like judging other people either. I've stopped rating my passengers. As far I'm concerned I deserve a 5.0 for getting the customers where they want to go by the best possible route and they deserve a 5.0 if they don't rob me and pay the fare. The rest should be silence.

However, this is a minority view. Both Steve and Sachin say that the customers like the rating systems and this appears to be correct. At a Town Hall meeting Humphreys said that they had dropped a few customers who had been rated badly by the drivers. Kansal told me that the system is a little more complicated that it appears.

I was glad to hear this because I confess that I was disturbed at being rated only 4.6 when the minimal accepted rating was supposed to be 4.7. I experimented with the system a bit. I'd be friendlier on some shifts than others. I'd sometime leave my withering, not always understood or appreciated, satire at home. I'd sometimes say nothing except the polite pleasantries. Didn't make any difference. No matter what I did or didn't do, I'd be rated 4.6.

So,  I've got to face it. I'm a 4.6. 4.7 is beyond me. That's the trouble with intellectual types. We can be respected and admired or dissed and maligned, even liked, but we're rarely loved.

Mr. Kansal said that this really wasn't important. As long a driver has respectable number (4.0 and above?) it's okay. What Flywheel would be concerned about would be a driver who gets a lot of 1.0 ratings. In that case they would want to talk to the individual about changing his or her approach.

Acceptance Rating

I've told both Steve and Sachin that I think that this rating system is useless. I've had weeks when my rating was as low 32% and other weeks – like last week – when it was 63%. The thing is that I didn't do anything substantially different. I worked the same way, taking orders that I thought were close enough for me to accept and declining the others. In short, the acceptance rating (currently anyway) is as much a test of how good or bad the orders are as they are of the driver.

On a Friday rush hour  a few weeks ago, Flywheel offered me a dozen rides that were a mile plus away while I was in the Financial District. No experienced drivers would have taken any of them. It's how I achieved my acceptance rate of 32%. Turning the app off would have improved my overall rating but I would not have picked up three orders that Flywheel did connect me with. Refusing rides for a meaningless rating makes no sense to me.

Kansal says that, although the customers don't see that they are declined, it slows down service to them. I would counter by saying that that the few seconds it takes to decline an order is minimal and, if I'm the closest driver to an order 1.6 miles away, the customer isn't going to get a taxi soon anyway.

There is also an additional factor that people at Flywheel haven't considered – namely that we are taxicabs. We are supposed to pick up people who flag us down and nothing pisses them off more than watching us drive by them for no apparent reason. To do so isn't good for either the taxicab business or Flywheel.

Two solutions to these problems have been brought up.

A driver at a Town Hall meeting suggested that Flywheel put an option on the app that would allow the driver to choose to see only the rides that he or she thinks would be close enough to accept. She or he could set the option at half a mile, a mile or whatever. Steve Humphreys was enthusiastic about this idea and says that they will probably set it up.

Director Chris Hayashi says that, as part of the bucket list of things she wants to do before she leaves, the SFMTA is finally going have top lights with switches installed in the taxicabs that will allow the drivers to let the public know whether or not their taxi is available.

Additional Thoughts

The drivers who've either stopped using Flywheel or have never used the app might want to reconsider. You might be operating under information that is no longer valid. I've never met the management of a company that is more open to constructive criticism than this one.

They've grown tremendously since they relaunched in early 2013. They are now not only in Seattle and Los Angeles but in the East Bay and Orlando Florida as well. This means that they are getting a national presence.

They've also changed many of their policies in light of suggestions that drivers have made.

For instance, drivers used to be only able to get Flywheel though a taxi company. Now drivers can use the app even if they work for company that doesn't support it. They can sign up at or call  888-667-7991. Flywheel supplies their phone for free but the driver is responsible for it.

Sachin Kansal immediately agreed to send out a team when I suggested that Flywheel put flyers in bars. He's also going to make flyers with personalized codes available for drivers who want to put own flyers in bars, restaurants and stores.

One thing I forgot to suggest was that they give the customers the option of tipping a fixed amount instead of just a percentage. I don't know about you but I get smaller tips on these apps than I do on credit cards and this might offer a cure. Sometimes a happy customer will throw a $10 tip a on credit card. But they're less likely to do so if they think of the tip as, say, 45%. Just a thought. I'd like to see if I'm right. App users can't all be cheap.

For his part, Mr. Kansal suggested that we offer fixed rate prices to SFO. This has been brought up frequently over the years by drivers and I agree that it's time to do so. I don't know what the idea price should be because I don't play the airport.  But with Lyft and Uberx giving cheap rides to SFO our price has to become more competitive than it is now. What do you think?

Last and most important, Flywheel has to get rid of the wimpy, whiney voice on their recorded messages. May I suggest Scarlett Johansson as an alternative voice? Might be a good way to recruit new drivers.


  1. Driving Taxi is very complex work. Road conditions, pedestrians, cops, parking problems, and so on. I drove cab for many years in SF before the arrival of these apps. Even then, the things were very difficult. I can't imagine that these apps are controlling the lives of cab drivers and cab companies. App companies have no clue how things work in cab business. You can't punish a driver so harsh for picking up a flag instead of app order. When I was a driver , I usually ignore a flag when i am really close an order. If I pick up a flag , I immediately let the dispatcher know , most dispatcher were happy to take back the order if it is returned to them without the order is getting too old. On a rainy after noon or morning working day , it doesn't matter how many cabs you put out there, you will not be full fill the orders. Cab drivers are business owners , how can you force them not to pick up money when they see it is coming their way. Public had been whining for years and years about not having enough cabs. Its a dirty job and will remain dirty for future. Its not a office space of predictable environment. Its the most unpredictable environment in any employment you think of. Only a Cab Driver is suffering here.

  2. Here's my experience with apps so far...

    When Flywheel was only available for fleets, I used Uber Taxi. I maintained a 4.8 rating with Uber Taxi, which Uber itself said was great for taxi standards. The business was leaps and bounds better than Flywheels, and I made money. One early morning, an Uber Taxi passenger really PISSED ME OFF for being douchey. Why are they so douchey? Then, Uber announced it would charge $10/week in addition to their percentage. ( BTW - Uber's charge for taxi drivers is different than other Uber platforms. Uber took 10% from cab drivers, not 15% or 20%.) Combined with Uber's handling of the Sophia Liu tragedy, I tried Flywheel, since not only do Uber passengers tend to be douches, Uber itself is pretty bad. Uber's business is better than Flywheel's, but Flywheel passengers are more normal and regular down to earth people. So far, I have a 4.8 rating there too. I'm wondering why I haven't seen any Flywheel advertising on Muni like I thought there was supposed to be.

  3. Some problems with Flywheel...

    I should have something like a 80-90% acceptance rate, but two times the sound turned off and I could not hear the app hailing me. This was internal, and not fixable with mere volume adjustment. Therefore I missed many calls. Flywheel says it's fixed this but I had to go to their headquarters twice to get this fixed. Also, sometimes when I press "accept" the app stalls and the only way to get back to a normal screen is to decline the call. This lowers the acceptance rate. Flywheel says it's getting a fix for that, but I've yet to receive it.

    Also, when I accept a call, Flywheel should display the street address PLUS the cross street. This would just make things easier, although it's not a huge issue. But how hard could it be to add this little feature in?

    I'm fine with the 5 hour penalty for canceling. It's really no big deal. If it's too far away, then just decline it. I think a 10% take is fair but Flywheel should guarantee a 15-20% tip. This is comparable to Uber Taxi and passengers had no problems with that. What's stopping more passengers from using Flywheel is not tip rates or anything like that. It's lack of advertising. It's fine to have the drivers do your promotions with personalized codes, but it's lazy to make that the main source of promoting. Both Uber and Lyft have had billboard ads and ads on buses.

  4. The Tuesday, June 17 town hall meeting will be a presentation by the Flywheel team and open discussion with drivers about the app and how it is working and how it can be improved.

    You can sign up to watch (and participate remotely in) that meeting at the following site:

    Instructions for using the remote meeting participation feature of the site are on the following page:

    We hope to see you at that meeting, whether in person or via internet, especially since it will be my last opportunity to preside over a town hall meeting with you all. The website also features a large collection of TNC news that is frequently updated on the following page (as well as many other useful, interesting and fun features-please explore the site):

    1. Hi Chris,

      As a cab driver/recently medallion holder,i'm deeply saddened by the fact that this will be your last opportunity to preside over a town hall meeting and that you are preparing to retire from your current position.

      I remember very well the first time when i saw you in a meeting (around 2009) and thought,wow,at least there is a down to earth,good intentioned SFMTA official that seems to genuinely and fairly care about the Taxi industry as a whole(including the drivers?!)..I felt like a glimmer of hope that the driver's situation as well as the Taxi industry could somehow improve for the best..and in fact,it did improve(at least for me),just by knowing that there is a person like yourself working tirelessly to help reshape the Taxi business.

      Thank You so much for all the time and energy you have invested trying to cure the ills constituting and surrounding this industry,even at times when it seemed like you were fighting an uphill battle with a tied hands.

      Hope you the best of the very best.

  5. ed, good work as usual. hopefully, CEO steve humphreys will have a look at this.

    1. rating system. this is lazy management and a textbook case of "honey, i ran out of ideas, so i copycat everybody else" at its best. this "feature" is arbitrary and carries no redemption.

    steve, i am a fan of monthy python as the next guy. but, this idea, not only it does not work. but, it creates an incredible resentment against the app or company who peddles it. what did i do wrong ? i even opened the doors. I talked if they wanted to talk and/or kept my mouth shut and took them to their destination, safely. what did i do wrong ? what the blank i did wrong ? get the picture steve ?

    i suppose, the rating system gives management or passengers the illusion that therein dwells some quality control seeds. au contraire says reason, and i will appeal to it. let me explain.

    if you, ed healy with the looks/accent that were given to you gets a low rating. imagine for the sake of this blog, those guys with a dastar (sikh turban) or those muslin with long beard and no hair on top, or a nigerian or mexican or filipino or chinese or russian or vietnamese man/woman driving these folks to their destination, each of which carries besides their look a fat thick accent and of course different customs. dare i say "looks". it is safe to say that we all can agree that most cab drivers are not from kansas. how do you think they will get rated ? take a guess. a cab driver knows that giving low ratings to customers is useless. customers are not prevented from hailing cabs.

    here is a solid idea. "deactivate" a customer with 3 no-shows. let them ring someone else.

    steve, i will share this true story. went to the french laundry with some friends who invited me (who has the quid to go there). there were 9 of us. you guys know that the place carries 3 michelin stars - rating system ? well, guess what ? 3 didn't like the service and complained to the starched white shirt manager. 2 didn't like the food. they thought it was not cooked enough or overcooked. 1 hated the noise. i was just happy to be there.

    in closing steve. dump the rating system. use your imagination. don't copycat the others, "everybody is doing it" doesn't mean a thing. history has taught us that much. remember the 60's ?

    and on an uplift note. 80% acceptance rate is indeed acceptable and hopefully will bring back the "perception" that drivers are there and will take the order.

    1. I fully agree with this post. As an immigrant driver, I had to answer everything a customer ask. I am clean shaved sikh U.S Citizen. But, I was questioned a weird type of questionnaire multiple times a day by customers. There were times when I was very fearful. For apps, their customers are taxi drivers not passengers. A trained, professional, and happy driver will give apps more money than untrained , unprofessional, and unhappy driver.

  6. figured out a trick for those who can't hear the flywheel notifications, it is the media volume, if youre sound is too low, open up navigator and adjust the volume from there. Navigator and notifications are both controlled by media volume.