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 ...

 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:

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