Sunday, January 17, 2016

@Lyft made me a fan of ride-sharing

This week, I went to L.A. for work.  Usually, that means over $350 dollars on car-related charges - over $100 to park my car at the airport, about $100 for a rental car (because my employer gets an amazing discount), $150 for parking my car at the hotel (they charge $25 a day and the city of Santa Monica tacks 10% to the cost of the entire hotel bill as a special parking tax) and then my employer pays another $20 a day for me to park the car at the office.  And then there's about $5 in gas to cover the drive to/from the airport in L.A. and then 2 mile drive each way to the office for a few days.  This trip, I decided I was going to do L.A. without a car.

Lyft had recently gotten approval to pick up from Los Angeles, so I signed up with them.  (A few years ago, in some really nasty traffic here in Seattle, I had needed to change lanes and no one would let me, until this car with a furry pink mustache on the front held back to let me in.  They don't still wear the furry mustaches, but that act of kindness by a Lyft driver had stuck with me.)

My first ride wasn't the best introduction. The guy had a 3.5 rating and I watched on the app as he had trouble finding my house.  A lot of people have trouble finding our house, but if he'd paid attention to his GPS, he would have gotten here quicker.  He showed up in a very nice and comfortable Acura MDX.  He had the heater on to 80 degrees for the first half of the trip but I decided not to say anything.  He finally turned it down partway through.  His lane control wasn't quite scary, but I hoped it wouldn't set the tone for the rest of the rides.  Near the airport he missed the exit and had to slow and cross a painted median.  It was my first ride, so with nothing to compare it against and gave him a 4 with no other feedback.  After my other three rides, I might have revised that to a 2.  Hopefully he improves.

At LAX, I had trouble finding the pickup location at first and had to resort to some research on Google.  I knew I was looking for a brown sign, so I figured it was like these on the arrivals level:

But it turns out they're small round signs on the departures level:

Of course, I had problems with getting a signal and I was worried I was going to get rejected or a bad rating.  Fortunately, since Lyft told me what kind of car, its color and its license plate number, I was still able to connect with Mohammed even though our phone calls kept getting disconnected.  So got into his nice Honda and we drove to Santa Monica.  He had a rating in the high fours and was a really nice guy.  He drove well, with confidence and safety and in a very direct route.  I learned that he'd only been driving for Lyft for a few months, having just moved from Lebanon.  He was driving a lot, so that he could save money to bring his wife and five children over.   He said he only went to LAX when he needed a rest, knowing that there was so much competition at LAX (even with just Lyft serving the airport) that it would be between 30 and 60 minutes from when you arrived to when you'd be assigned a fare.

The next few days I used the Santa Monica Bikeshare to get to and from work.  There's a few large roads to ride on or cross (in the dark in the evenings) but it was fun and felt safe.  The final day I used the hotel's shuttle to get to work since I had all of my bags with me.  The guy who drove me was filling in for the guy who normally shuttled people around.  Turned out he was the hotel's manager of housekeeping, which wasn't even a full-time job so he had the same role at another hotel by the airport and that he had a 90 minute commute just for his two part-time jobs.

After work, I summoned a car from work.  The first Lyft drive assigned rejected the fare and then a second driver (Levon) was assigned who was there in a few minutes.  He theorized that the first driver wasn't registered to serve LAX.  Levon had just finished medical school, had $200k in debt and was driving with Lyft while interviewing with hospitals looking to get connected for a residency.  The flexibility of Lyft allowed him to book a lot of hours when he was available, but then take days off so he could fly to various places for interviews.  The first thing he said when I got in the car was "buckle up" - not in a "this is gonna be scary" way but in a "I care about your safety and the rules."  He too, was a competent and safe driver.  He pulled off one move I would have never even tried and it paid off awesomely when the GPS told him to do something legal and nearly impossible.  I was well-impressed.  His last fare, a trio of teenage girls had asked him to write a note for them posing as a parent excusing them from school but he declined.  Levon had gone to school with the founder of Uber which was part of the reason he went to work with Lyft and not Uber.

I had been worried about Seattle - I had read that a Lyft driver had recently gotten a ticket for driving someone to Seatac.  But the Lyft people on Twitter said that if it was in the coverage area, it was covered.  So, after deplaning, I made my way to the curb and summoned a lift.  I was told that the car would be there in less than a minute.  Again, I had problems with the phone, but the driver had stopped about 15 feet ahead of me, so as he got out of his car with his phone to his ear, I waved my phone and he waved back.  And off we went.  Roman had been driving for Lyft for only a few months and had only learned the day before that he could pick up people at SeaTac after dropping off his brother and then signing in and immediately being assigned a pickup at the airport.  The day he drove me he had gotten up at 6 am, drove up to Seattle, worked for two hours, made $80, drove home and got home just after his wife woke up.  They spent the day together and then in the afternoon he went back to work, planning to work until later into the night.  Roman's been married 11 months and likes Christian music and really loves talking to people, so loves getting to meet lots of people as a driver.  The last three drivers all spoke highly of Lyft, saying that they really felt like the company supported them, worked to constantly make things better and were really invested in their success.

These four experiences - even the first one - were so much better than the two taxi rides I've taken in my life.  One was straightforward, but I remember sitting on seats covered with duct tape.  The other taxi ride was much longer than it needed to be, we're sure.  These experiences were much closer to the few limo rides we've enjoyed.  I'm definitely sold on RideShare.

Lyft gave me discounts on those rides as a new customer so I was happy to give big tips to the drivers.
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