Pandemic Predictions In Rideshare

 Thanksgiving Week is usually one of the best weeks of the year for rideshare. 

I've personally chosen not to work it, because Pandemic and we're only a few months away from a vaccine you mooks, and to make very sure that I don't weaken in my resolve, I've had a drink.

So, anyhoo. 

Here is a screenshot of what I see, as a driver, in the greater Princeton-Trenton area right now.


And what happens when you scroll on up to the areas outside NYC.


Feel free to compare regions in 1-2 weeks.

Play me out, PJ...

Prank Dreams

Rideshare drivers can not, as a rule, mess with their passengers. The ratings have to stay high, complaints are taken very seriously, and unless you are *very* sure that the joke is going to (a) be received as a joke, and (b) will kill so much as to likely inspire tipping... well, safety first. And second. And third through twelfth.

But that doesn't mean that the mind doesn't wander down some, shall we say, entertaining scenarios. And since I don't have an improv group to film all these, and pandemics and my lack of video chops are also a thing...

Well, you get the set up. On to the pranks that will never happen!

1) Song of the Damned

My iPod (yes, iPod, I'm old school) has about 8K songs on it most of which are on shuffle, many of which I will skip over if I deem them inappropriate to the passenger. But sometimes, I really just want to see what would happen if I kept playing the same song, all while insisting that I wasn't. For more about how this might play out, listen to this bit by John Mulaney.

2) Rideshare Jukebox

Another music prank, but this requires a lot more work. All of the iPod selections are songs, stand up comedy routines, or murder mystery podcasts about grisly crimes perpetrated by rideshare drivers. This probably needs (a) a hidden camera for reactions, and (b) passengers that don't have headphones or earbuds. As the driver during this, I'd totally refuse to engage or acknowledge the content.

3) The Driving Dead

I'm not much for make up or costuming, but the idea of adding a bit of pallor to the cheeks, perhaps some structural decay, and a bit of a monotone as to how long this shift has lasted? Or how all you have to do to keep driving forever is to just go off one platform and on to the other, world without end, possibly while telling some story about an unhappy passenger who cursed you...

It would work on drunk people. Too well, really.

4) Game Show

Inspired by the great and mostly forgotten Daffy Duck and Porky Pig short "The Ducksters", this would give participants the chance to win prizes based on their ability to answer absurd trivia questions. More or less ruined by everyone having the Internet in their pocket, but still, a man can dream. "What's the latitude and longitude of the Wreck of the Hesperus"?

5) Take Your Child To Work Day

Not really kosher, since the front seat isn't allowed during the pandemic and for sale during normal times, but the idea of having an accomplice -- and making sure that the casting decision for such a person would make it highly unlikely that the person was, in fact, your kid -- makes for *much* better improv, really. I don't quite have the nerve of Sasha Baron Cohen, but I'm sure he could get some good weird fun out of this...

My Top 12 Driver Confessions

Malcolm Gladwell is one of those people who irritates nearly as much as he informs, but the balance is usually a hair to the good. One of his truisms is what he calls "The 10,000 Hour Rule", which holds that if you give that much "deliberate practice" to a task, you become world-class in the field.

It's probably bullspit, but I'm just looking for an intro here. I also have over 7,000 hours in the apps now, and some time on my hands thanks to the failure of my government and fellow citizens to stop a preventable pandemic. So... let's unburden.

1) If you make me wait, I hope you don't show up.

I get paid a reasonable rate for your no-show. And if you are making me wait, I want you to waste your money for wasting my time. I've taken rides in the platform, I know you can see my progress and when I'm close to your location. It's really not hard to be ready for your driver.

2) If you don't show up, I'm really hoping I don't get you again. But I might.

It's just awkward, but I'm likely the closest driver. I'll also log out of the system for a few minutes if need be to lower my chance of being your driver. And texting or calling me that you are on your way isn't really going to buy you a lot of extra time. Mostly because -- shh! -- this is a business and I'm not really here to drive you around so much as I am to make money. (You'd be amazed how often people fail to remember that.)

3) If you tell me that you are going to tip on the app, I will thank you, but I also won't believe you.

Blame the 17K previous riders. Many of whom said the same thing. And if you say it twice, I really know you are full of it.

4) I've had the conversation I'm having with you many times. 

Not to ruin the magic, and I'm glad if you like the material, but, um, 17K riders and I'm driving on often shoddy GPS directions, maybe to a place I've never been to before. We're kind of on auto pilot here.

5) Your assumptions about my station in life are cute. And usually wrong. I'm probably not going to bother to change them.

If you want to assume your driver is uneducated or unmotivated, that says a lot more about you than me. But to be clear: two degrees, 25 years in my industry, have likely drawn a paycheck longer than you've been alive. I'm here because my family has bills to pay, and I have hours to sell. But by all means, tell your "there but for the grace of God story." To yourself. Silently. While tipping.

6) If you wait until the last second to put on your mask, I'm going to check that you keep it on.

For obvious reasons, really. Usually with a check in the rear view mirror, and especially if you talk during the ride, either to your phone or me.

7) If you take your mask off, I'm not going to ask you to put it back on.

I'm also not going to drive you ever again, because that's the way 3 stars or less works. That also goes if you can't keep it on your nose. Since air comes out of that hole, and the virus is airborne, and you aren't paying me enough to give me a virus. Simple, really!

8) You can always add a stop. But I wish you wouldn't.

I'm usually chasing a bonus that's triggered by the number of rides that I accept. Using me as your chauffeur while you run errands, or changing the deal to add some totally unexpected out of the way destination, is your right as a rider. But... it really does suck for the driver. Make a second request.

9) Passengers who call often suck.

I'm driving when you call. If you have urgent information to impart, do it in text. That way, I don't have to remember. More often than not, people who call are folks who are bringing drama I don't need.

10) Your choice of platform makes me think about you differently. 

Mostly, that Lyft riders are more random than Uber.

Maybe they got bounced out of the dominant (at least on the East Coast) platform for bad behavior. Maybe they are looking to spend as little as possible on their ride, and feel that Lyft is more likely to avoid a surge price. Or maybe they are morally opposed to Uber (there are reasons), and feel like Lyft drivers are more likely to share their morals or politics, and are more interested in chatting. (Fun fact: 50 to 60% of the time, your Uber driver is also your Lyft driver. It's not like these platforms are paying us enough to lock down exclusivity.)

Whatever it is, I'm just much more likely to have outliers -- both good and bad -- on the Lyft platform. (And maybe that also makes me more receptive to them, or more likely to provoke. But it is what it is.)

11) Sometimes, I didn't want your ride, but I had to take it anyway.

I have to accept a certain percentage of rides to stay in the platform, even if they are really far away, taking me to some place I don't want to go (i.e, out into the middle of nowhere, out of state, or into an area without surge pricing), or for a rider with low ratings and an undesirable ride length. 

So if you cancel? Really not going to break my heart. 

And if I cancel on you?

Well, I get to do that up to 4% of the time. 

And will use as many of those as I can to maximize my money and time.

12) Your problems are not mine.

Running late and want me to speed? Annoyed because the windows are cracked during a pandemic? Not thrilled that all of you have to be in the back seat? Bent because some other driver cancelled on you? Or just Having A Day?

Well, I could say something about all of this. But this band did it better. Play me out, boys!

Game On Pause

Here's the thing about doing rideshare work. It has elements of gamification.

Assuming you are good enough at hygiene, service and safety, both Lyft and Uber want to incent drivers towards exclusivity. They do this through consecutive ride streak bonuses, quest bonuses when you achieve a certain number of rides in a time period, and a points system per quarter. 

All of that means that, up to a certain level, you make more per hour if you work more.

Here's the problem with that. If you don't live near or in an area with consistent work, or if the demand drops through the floorboards due to, well, a once in a century pandemic...

The math doesn't work. Even with the games.

Here's my per app hour graph from the past six months, which is to say, when I started doing the job again after the pandemic got under control in central New Jersey. 

Note that this is not per actual hour -- breaks, resetting to populated areas after long drop offs to prevent ineffective next rides, and getting back to base at the close of a shift is all unpaid, which means about a third of my time isn't making money.

At a global level, that's the whole ballgame. I can drive around with the windows rolled down, wearing a N95 mask inside of a cloth mark, with a face shield on top. I can sterilize all surfaces.

And if I'm doing all of that for $20 to $25 an hour in my spare time, my family needs the money.

At $10 to $15, not so much. 

See you back when the numbers change...

My last one star rider (for now)

10pm at night, temperature in the low 40s.

The ping comes in for the Trenton (NJ) airport, which is a two-gate place that's light on lines and infrastructure. Because Mercer County does not have enough to do, a police cruiser is pretty much permanently parked at the gate, mostly to deter and harass cabs and rideshare pick ups from happening at the main gate. Pickups happen about 200 feet away, with no cover, near a sign. It's dumb and underdone, but it's not as if my rideshare take is enough to risk a ticket. I go to the drop point, press the arrive button, and wait for my fare.

The phone rings. This is rarely a good sign -- courteous riders text -- and my temptation / instinct is to cancel the ride. But, well, no. It's my passenger, who sullenly tells me I went too far. I inform her that the police are parked right at the gate and give tickets, and I'm not going to risk that. She hangs up.

I see her trudge up to the car. She's wearing a mask, at least. She gets in and tells me that I can't make her walk like that, it's cold out. Strong negative attitude. I repeat the point about the police, and she then LOWERS HER MASK TO YELL about how she works there and how I wouldn't get a ticket.

I just stare at her for a three count, then forcefully tell her to put her mask back on.

We drive to her destination in thankful silence. A little under thirteen minutes, according to the app.

I drive her to her door. She leaves. I dictate the above to the app with my one star review.

My payment for this: $6.85.

No, seriously.                                                                                                              

Pandemic Predictions In Rideshare

 Thanksgiving Week is usually one of the best weeks of the year for rideshare.  I've personally chosen not to work it, because Pandemic ...