Warning Signs

Track Four With A Bullet
I get a ping while in my own home for a restroom break, which is always a cause for some suspense, as many passengers will cancel a ride if they don't see the driver's car moving pretty quickly. I spill a drink on my way out, delaying my leave for extra time, but my rider doesn't cancel. Five minutes later, I'm rolling up to the client, who has chosen to use a single letter for his user name (Warning Sign #1).

My guy is a white guy in his late 40s / early 50s, wearing shorts and a collared shirt, just sitting in front of his garage as a I roll up. He gets into the front seat (that's pretty rare for the East Coast, and Warning Sign #2) and brings his filled plastic cup with him. It's got alcohol in it (Warning Sign #3), and it's... 4 pm on a weekday (Warning Sign #4). He then tells me it's got alcohol in it, and if I want to cancel, it's OK. I check the duration of the ride (5 minutes), do a silent calculation of how much I need the fare to get to my bonus targets (um, always) and tell him it's fine. And we're off.

My car is a 2010 Honda Insight, which is to say, the perfect car for ride share from a math and driver standpoint, but not exactly transportation that should impress the hell out of you. That's not the case for Day Drunkie here, who marvels at the quiet and ride (um, sure, fine, I like my car well enough) and asks if I have any music. Normally for guys like this one, I've got NPR firing away to try to drain away the knucklehead with news, but as we're four minutes away from him being out of my life, sure, fine, tunes it is. My magical Random iPod connects for him (Talking Heads, which fans of the blog will remember from the Santacon post), and he's decided that I'm now his best friend.

Oh, and I'm burying the lead here, which is that he's asked me perhaps the worst question any ride share passenger has ever asked:

"Do you find me creepy?"

I demur with something along the lines of how many rides I've given (+10K at this point), which leads him to add "My relatives find me creepy."

Well, they should know, yes?

I resist the urge to say or ask more about this, because Drunkie is (like most adults, really) bigger than me, and... yeah. Three minutes to go.

Drunkie then notes that his drop off (a store) isn't really his drop off, but across the street (Warning Sign # I'm Losing Count). Well, sure, in for a penny... The next ask is if I'm busy after I drop him off (Warning Sign # Pulp Fiction Gimp Callback), to which I assure him that I am. He doesn't like this much, and wants to know how much I make per hour (Warning Sign # Oh Dear God How Soon Until I Can Get You Out Of My Car). I sidestep the question, as we're now just a couple of blocks away from the drop...

But since the Rideshare Gods are Trickster Gods, it's a beautiful day outside and they've summoned a half dozen teenagers piled two per bike, just ambling all over the road in front of me. "Don't run over the kids!" yells Drunkie, in between telling me who lives in what house on this block, and who he had to beat the fecal matter out of Back In The Day.

Because telling your ride share driver who you want to hire on the side for cash about your tendencies toward violence is just what New Best Friends Who Aren't Creepy At All do, right?

Because all good things must end, we get to the drop point. Drunkie pulls a loose $20 out of his shorts, thinks about it for a second, then tells me that's too much and he'll tip in the app. (Note: if you tell me you are tipping in the app, please note that only about 10% of people who say this wind up doing it, and I do check and cut your star rating if you lie. Because lying should have consequences, especially when you are doing it in ways that are comically easy to check.) I say that's fine, wish him a lovely day, and move off before I close the ride, so I can 3-star him without a chance of him seeing it and having a reaction.

When a driver gives a passenger 3 stars or less, we are not paired with that person again... but that doesn't prevent them from getting back in touch with us through the app. Which is what happens two days later (Warning Sign Off The Charts Has Never Happened Before), when Drunkie decides to tell the platform that he left cash and credit cards in my car.

Um, no, he didn't.

And that's how this story ended before it got far more interesting...

Littering With Violence

Easy image search, this
Shared ride fare in Trenton, NJ with the pick up occurring on a non-prosperous street. My new front seat passenger is a young woman who, upon discovering that there is an empty small water bottle in her presence, just opens up her window and throws it out into the street.

With violence, and without a first or second thought.

Now, in this moment (and it happened four weeks ago, so it's clearly stuck with me), the following thoughts:

> Wow, that's a terrible person

> Hmm, she just did that in front of me and two other passengers, and clearly doesn't care what we think of her

> Only I seem to have noticed, because everyone else in the car is praying to their phone

Which led me to a longer and deeper rabbit hole of...

> Maybe when you live in a place like this, you just give up, and I should just be grateful that I'm not here

> I will never have the self-confidence of this person, who isn't bound by a constant self-censoring need to seek the approval of others

> Perhaps she's acting out from some other trauma or issue in her life, like maybe she's the only person in her house who cleans, or she's going to a job where she has to clean all day and hates it

> Maybe I should stop the car and get out and pick that up to eventually put it in recycling

> But to do that would delay my passengers, imperil my rating, and maybe not even be the right thing to do for the environment, since my car is burning gasoline and I've heard recently that since China isn't taking US recycling, it all might be single stream anyway

> And maybe it's my fault for offering the water bottles in the first place, since I'm clearly contributing to the problem by voting with my dollars to have more plastic...

And, finally, this.

> I overthink things. She's a terrible person. Drive.

And, thanks to the three stars and you're out rule of passenger rankings, one I will not see again.

Except, of course, while I'm overthinking my life experiences...

Double Play

Boy versus girl in the rideshare series of love
After 2.5 years and nearly 10,000 rides in just the Lyft platform, I've recently added Uber to the mix. Here's what I've learned after several weeks in the new situation. (By the way, doubling up is what the majority of ride share drives do, at least if what I've read is to be believed.)

> The apps have clearly different strengths. Uber's mapping is annoying, in that it seems to give the driver less notice for turns, the geo-mapping of the passenger's phone is less likely, and it doesn't default well to other routes. However, Uber is *much* better at giving you more information about riders in queue, to the point where I've started removing those rides when I get them from Lyft. If you are using queue to sneak unwanted rides (i.e., ones where I'm driving 10+ unpaid minutes to get to the next passenger) into my work day, it just doesn't make sense to take queue riders.

> They clearly change offers if they know you are on both platforms. I haven't been getting streak bonuses (i.e., small incentives to do 3-5 rides in the same platform) before I started logging in and out of platforms. Given the data crunching that's going on, I'm clearly now in a different bucket.

> Both platforms are (much) more prevalent than they used to be, and at different hours. Two years ago when I was biding time between full-time gigs, I'd be lucky to get a dozen fares a day, with the majority of them coming outside of work hours. Now, I'm busy most of the time, at relatively similar levels, and without having to drive as far from my home to get work.

> There may be a difference in the customers, but I also may not have enough time in the system yet. In the Bay Area, Lyft riders tended to be politically active, ready to throw shade at Uber, and apt to think there was a difference in the driver work force. In New Jersey, it's much more about finding the lowest price and the closest driver, with passengers more or less expecting to use both platforms, the same as the drivers. It's pretty pragmatic.

> Lyft gives me more geographic flexibility. If I get pulled into Pennsylvania or certain areas of New Jersey, Uber stops working for me, while Lyft will continue to pull in business. I tend to get back to areas where both platforms are firing, but if I'm trying to rack up enough rides to get to a bonus level, Lyft is more likely to get the extra time.

Oh, and Uber pays a day earlier than Lyft. Not such a big deal for me, but I could see how it would matter more for others.

5 Things In 10 Seconds

High Fives Not Required
If you want to know how a ride is going to go... 19 times out of 20, it's dictated by the first ten seconds. Because in those seconds, I'm looking for the following tells.

> Promptness. Drivers are paid in three ways: time, distance, and number of rides given (usually through platform bonuses). Two of those three are not helped by waiting for passengers to get into the car, and honestly, time spent is the least important aspect by a wide margin. That doesn't even take into account the added stress of trying to find a safe place to pull over. Honestly, if I had the ability to cancel passengers without a penalty after a minute of waiting, I'd probably take it, especially as passengers receive notifications before the driver gets there. (Yes, I've been a passenger. Not often, but enough.)

So for the riders who seem to delight in getting in at the last possible second before I can collect a cancel fee and get to the next rider, please be aware that your driver -- and yes, I'm speaking for all of us here -- really isn't down with that. Especially when it's a busy period of the day, or if a bunch of other passengers have done the same thing earlier in the shift. (This is also why drivers like to press the arrived button before we get to you. It's not you, it's the world.)

So taking your time to get in the car kind of puts the whole exercise into a poor point before we've even begun. If you can avoid it, don't be late to the pickup, and if you can't, expect your driver to be a little curt. (Which I tend to get past with even the barest hint of a sincere apology, because I'm wired that way, but honestly. Just get in the car already.)

> Interaction Level. If you've got headphones on, or if you are very into your phone, I'm going to assume that you are very engaged with your work or media and are looking for as much of a robot-ready ride as you can get. I'm also going to confirm your address and mention services (water, mints, cough drops) as a matter of standard service, not because I'm looking to distract you.

> Politeness. This is mostly around phone use. Headphones aren't expensive or hard to find, and if your call or game or video can't wait until you are out of the presence of a total stranger... well, actually, it can. My car radio is on because I'm trying to make my work space pleasant for me, not you, and driving with headphones on isn't safe. You are paying for a ride, not a private room. (Especially in shared rides. People who don't care how much they are disliked by fellow passengers scare me, honestly.)

Other than that, I'm reading tone (the passive aggressive "THANK YOU" to cease conversation from the presumed underclass is a real, um, winner) and seeing if you will offer up the first ice breaker.

> Comfort. I currently have the ideal car for ride share for the driver (a fully paid hybrid hatchback), which gives me math advantages on upkeep and gas mileage, while still having a surprising amount of storage capacity. It's not, however, ideal for all passengers, especially if you are bigger or taller than the median. When I sense that folks are not thrilled with the space available, I tend to be more open with value adds (i.e., tips on how to get more out of the platforms), or gregarious in terms of conducting a bit of an interview to add value to your day. This is mostly done to protect my rating, but to be honest, if you have a severe issue with my ride and didn't cancel the request when you see my ride in the app, I don't have a ton of sympathy. My car is what it is, and works perfectly well for the vast majority of riders; if you aren't comfortable in it but don't make the move to get a bigger ride, I'm thinking you are valuing speed over comfort.

> Health. To be blunt about this, no ride share driver is really looking to make a pay day from someone getting sick in their car. The reimbursement levels from the platforms don't really cover what a professional cleaning will cost, especially when you factor in the time off the clock, and if it happens, it's pretty much the end of your shift -- which for a busy or prime period is especially troublesome.

Picking up drunk people is part of the gig, and the eradication of DUI is one of the major benefits that ride share platforms give to society. But if you feel sick, please wait until you do not to call for a ride. The time you spend really isn't worth the risk.

Hijacked

Rubber Stamped 
So this was a new and terrible experience...

Shared ride, no surge, passenger gets in the car, and I confirm his address as a supermarket in town. It's a 10 minute ride, and he's pretty ripe and pawing through the breath mints and cough drops as if he's mining for gold. Good thing they are all wrapped, and I'm not always in need of someone who can carry a conversation. We drive in silence... until I get to his destination.

Which is when the freak out happens.

It seems this isn't the right supermarket, which is now met with threats to call the cops (um, for what now?) and he's not leaving the car, and I have to take him somewhere else.

You know, for free, with no GPS navigation because the app thinks he's done.

He also doesn't know the address of the other place. Joy.

I also do this hustle out of the desire to drive people around for free. Especially when they are rude, reek, and hostile, and threatening my rating. (As if the app is going to take the word of this winner over an experienced driver, but you never know.)

So I logged out of the app, asked Google for other supermarkets in the same brand near me, and drove him to the closest one, which is 2 miles and 5 tense minutes later.

He's satisfied and staggers off. Big winner, right? Alpha male got me good?

Well, no, because after driving a few blocks away and having my nerves settle, I fired off a message to the service along with my one star rating. I got a form letter back, but it promised an account review and possible suspension for my hijacker.

When you do 10,000 rides, they can't all be winners, folks...

Warning Signs

Track Four With A Bullet I get a ping while in my own home for a restroom break, which is always a cause for some suspense, as many pass...