Sunday, June 7, 2015

Why People Use Flywheel & Taxis Instead of Uber or Lyfts: Part II or No Small Print

In my last post, I left out one obvious reason why people are leaving Uber & Lyft for Flywheel and that is  price-gouging or "surge-pricing" as they euphemistically call it.

One former Uber customer who switched to Flywheel told me that he thought the so-called formulas that Uber uses to raise the prices are, "Bullshit! They just do it because they can," he said.

"You know," a businessman explained, "you just get used to doing something and you keep on doing it. Then, suddenly it gets to be too much ... One Friday night I went from the Marina to North Beach. When we got there, I learned that they'd charged me 3X. Three times the normal rate – almost $30 to go a mile and a half. That was it. It's taxis from now on."

But back to the businessman who said that taxi drivers have gotten better while TNC drivers have gotten worse.

 Well – we should be better. Cab drivers are vetted, trained and experienced. TNC drivers are none of those things – they aren't even fingerprinted for god's sake.

But ... why have we improved while they've become worse?

One obvious reason is that competition has been good for us.

Many cab drivers have seen the writing on the wall and realize that they can no longer be prima donnas who pick and choose where they want to go and how they want to be paid.  There was a time, for instance, when I wouldn't take anybody to Oakland during rush hour and could win a rudeness contest with the biggest jerk.

That's all behind me. I now love the Oakland Airport at 5 PM and I keep my sarcastic, wise-ass, cab-driver mouth shut even in the most tempting circumstances.

Back in the day, if some drunk who was trying to step out in traffic and was irked because I wouldn't let him open the door, said something like "Don't you think I'm intelligent enough to open a door by myself?"

I might have responded, "If you were intelligent enough to open a door by yourself we wouldn't be having this conversation."

But that's in the past. Now I simply smilingly keep the door locked and thank the genius for his obscene jabbering as he crawls out the curb side. The customer is always right these days – no matter how Neanderthal his or her behavior may be.

Another reason why cab drivers in general have improved is that the most experienced cab drivers, the ones who really know what they are doing, the ones with the better shifts, are less likely to quit and go to drive for a TNC. This is especially true of medallion holders who really don't have a choice.

A third reason is that many of the experienced drivers, who had quit, came back when they discovered that driving for Uber wasn't as warm and fuzzy and they thought it would it.

But ... why would drivers for Uber & Lyft become worse?

It's partly a matter of arithmetic. On some nights the TNCs pack from 20,000 to 30,000 untrained, mostly inexperienced drivers into San Francisco. Many of them don't even live in the City. I've had customers tell me that they where driven by people from Sacramento or Stockton. I'm sure there are good drivers among the TNCs but the odds of picking one from out of the mass of ignoramuses and incompetents is pretty slim.

  1. Uber actually started with trained, professional, drivers with TCP numbers but gave that up when they brought out Uberx. These professionals were soon replace by the amateurs we know and love to avoid today.
  2. The income of TNC drivers also has been drastically reduced by repeated cost of service cuts as Uber & Lyft have tried to destroy the taxi business. And Uber keeps on increasing its share of the fares from 20% to 25% to 30%
  3. The increased number of vehicles that these companies keep putting on the street has further eroded driver income. Instead of the $90,000 a year job that Uber snake-oil salesman falsely claimed that their drivers would be making, many of them are taking home less than minimum wage.

All of which brings us to the huge turnover of drivers who work for the TNCs. Nobody knows exactly what those figures are but Lyft spokespeople themselves have talked about tens of thousands of drivers many of whom only work a week or two.

The TNCs are constantly firing people at staggering rates and drivers are constantly quitting because of declining income.

A final reason for customers switching from TNCs to Flywheel it that wise people are becoming hip to how corrupt and dangerous the "sharing community" of Uber, Lyft and Sidecar really is.

A customer in his fifties who had worked for the Peace Corps in Turkey, said,

"I can't tell you how much loathing I feel for Uber!"

 "Why don't you try?" I asked.

"They are," he responded, "highly unethical."

One of the things he (and other customers) had in mind were the incredible number of harassment incidentsassaults and rapes committed by Uber and Lyft drivers. And, it's hard to keep up with because the list keeps growing and growing. Here's the new one for today.

Many of these incidents can be directly related to the refusal of Uber, Lyft & Sidecar to fingerprint their driver applicants. While Lyft pulled out of Houston rather than submit to fingerprinted background checks, Uber recently became the first TNC to allow fingerprinted background checks in order to keep operating in that City – showing they will comply with rules if they are backed to the wall. Nonetheless, Houston aside, the TNCs remain the only form of public transportation that refuses to use fingerprinting. 

If you'll excuse a personal note – the fierce, almost pathological opposition to fingerprinting on the part of the Uber, Lyft & Sidecar is the thing about them that has most boggled my mind. I mean, it's not as if fingerprinting was invented to punish or discriminate against them (although they have claimed as much). Fingerprinting is required for driving buses, trucks, airplane and limos. It's required for working in a bank or a post office or retail or anywhere where employees handle money or deal with people - be it it a full or part-time job. Furthermore, fingerprinting costs very little money ($25 - $65) and usually takes only a few days to a week. Despite specious arguments to the contrary it remains the best way to avoid hiring the world's bad apples.

Uber and Lyft reps have repeatedly (and falsely) claimed that other methods of background checks are superior to fingerprinting. They've also pointed out that people with clean records do commit crimes. (True but beside the point – which is protecting people from known criminals.) My favorite reason for them not using the standard method was given by Lyft President John Zimmer who kept saying that "some people don't have fingerprints" until an impolite blogger pointed out that by "some people" Zimmer actually meant about one person in a million. 

In any case, an excellent study, One Standard For All "Criminal Background Checks For Taxis, For Hire and Transport Network Company (TNC) Drivers" by Professor Matthew W. Daus and Professor Pasqualino "Pat" Russo, should put an end to any serious debate on the subject – if there ever really was one.

" A fingerprint-based check is the only way to verify a person's identity and ensure that criminal records found (if any) are for the right person."
    • A person can have false name and Social Security number. Over 1% of the individuals in the FBI criminal database have used over 100 aliases and false Social Security numbers.
    • Many people have multiple last names if they've been married one or more times.
    • Data bases can have mistakes in the spelling of a name and other relevant information. A name based check might miss a criminal record if the record itself has mistakes.
    • Common names can give "false positives" – a person might appear to have a criminal record when the crimes were actually committed by another individual with a similar name.
The study recommends that companies run both a name and fingerprint check for maximum reliability.

"One of the more interesting capabilities of using fingerprints ..." the authors say, "is the ability to receive  automatic updates or an altered criminal history status ... in between renewal cycles of a license." Not information you'd get from a name based check.

The report goes on to say,

"According to the National Employment Law Project, 65 million adults in the United States have criminal histories.17 This represents approximately 30-40% of the working population in the United States. Given the plethora of jobs that do require criminal history checks, by definition, people with criminal histories will gravitate towards opportunities that increase their chances of finding a job. These include jobs that do not require fingerprint background checks or any criminal history check." 

Venture capitalized corporations like Uber, Lyft & Sidecar thus act as magnets for people with violent or unsavory backgrounds.

Uber has become aware of this criticism and has issued a guideline on how not to get raped in an Uber. The article states,

"Uber is clearly aware of its safety shortfalls; the company announced before Christmas that it is carrying out a 'global review' of its safety standards."

Apparently Uber is willing to do anything for its customer's safety – except the one thing most likely to prevent rapes and assaults and that is fingerprinting their drivers.

Why is this?

Simple – it could cut into their profits. If you are talking about rejecting 30–40% of the population as possible drivers that's a pile of potential bucks.

This problem of course has been faced by many transportation and other businesses that have nonetheless chosen to fingerprint their employees. These companies might not necessarily be doing this for noble motives but rather because they realize that if somebody is hurt in one their taxis or buses or planes that the ownership could be held liable.

This fear is what separates legitimate businesses from the likes of Uber, Lyft and Sidecar. For you see, the unholy trio has protected their asses from the moment they went into business:

Uber, Lyft & Sidecar all trick both their drivers and their customers into signing a waver of liability in case of negligence when they download the app.

This is the same kind of waver of liability that you would sign if you were taking up skydiving, being a journalist entering a war zone or going on a trip into space. A difference is that in the later three cases you'd been shown the "waver" that you were signing. Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, on the other hand, refuse to even tell their customers what they are agreeing to when they download the apps.

I've written about this before in detail as have people much more knowledgeable about the subject than I. The key phrases to both the waver and the refusal to fingerprint is probably contained in this paragraph – which is tucked away in the midst of twenty page documents and thus is virtually impossible to read much less find on a cell phone.


In other words, No es mi problema. Es su problema. In other words the TNCs take no responsibility for the behavior of the drivers that they hire.

Furthermore the behavior of Uber & Lyft & Sidecar is obviously deliberate, premeditated and systematic. They refuse to fingerprint their drivers because it could cut into their profits by reducing their pool of potential drivers by as much as 40%:

And, they think that their hidden waver of liability will protect them against any law suits.

Yes – I think "highly unethical" sums things up pretty well. Although "criminally negligent" might be better.

People in the know thus choose Flywheel. The drivers are fingerprinted, there is full insurance 24/7 and there are no hidden wavers.

Next: A look at the new TNC insurance policies.


  1. The name on my DL is different than the name on my SS by one letter.

  2. Thanks for another great post.

    Clearly, the issues of background checks and driver turnover are closely related. Uber and Lyft appear to be burning through the available supply of drivers at an unsustainable rate, so they would naturally be against anything that would reduce that pool too soon.

    I'm not sure fingerprinting would improve the "TNC" model, though. You just need an approved vehicle and a smartphone with an approved driver account, and anyone can be behind the wheel.

  3. Yes,great article..Thank you.