I spent this last Fourth of July on vacation in San Francisco, with side trips to Yosemite thrown in the mix. I found myself (along with the wife and in-laws) in need of transportation quite often, especially in the city. For a first time in the city, the public transportation scheme is a bit overwhelming. There is the large BART system, along with local buses, historical trams, and the famous cable cars. Navigating among the various systems seemed to be quite the chore and took much longer than I had estimated.
There must be a better way to get around the city without messing with a rental car and parking. It then occurred to me that this would be a perfect time to try out the latest transportation trend - "peer ride-sharing". The two most prominent companies are Lyft and Uber. After a quick search, I was able to get a $25 credit for a my first ride from Lyft, so Lyft it was.
Looking to get a 10 mile ride from Fisherman's Wharf back to my hotel, I proudly whipped out my phone outside the restaurant and hit the "Request Lyft" button, after which it found a driver and displayed the picture of both the driver and her very nice looking Mercedes. Driver will arrive in 4 min Not bad I thought. Several minutes later, I received a text. Your driver has arrived I looked around, but no driver. Luckily, Lyft provides the option to call the driver, which I promptly did. After a short conversation, it became evident that this driver was in fact on the other side of the city. I checked the map again and realized the pickup location was not marked as my actual location. Ooops! I apologized to the driver and she nicely cancelled the ride for me. I hit the "locate me" button and it promptly set my location as, well, my actual location. Stupid of me, I know. But I have to ask. Why would you ever set the pickup location as somewhere besides your actual location? I realized I had probably scrolled around the map to get oriented and unintentionally moved the pickup location as a result. At least give some kind of warning to the user maybe?
Anyway, after that small issue, I re-requested a lyft and within a few minutes I spotted the car - unfortunately not a Mercedes this time! We all hopped in and took off. I had already entered the destination while we were waiting for the car, so the driver already had navigation setup when she arrived. The driver was a young woman who drove part time to bring in some extra cash. She had waters and candy available for the passengers - a nice touch.
After a nice drive throughout the city we arrived at our destination. Since all the money is handled through the app, she was able to take off right away. Lyft then displayed the price, and I could add tip and rate the driver. Quite a successful trip.
After a few more Lyfts, I thought a few recommendations for Lyft to work on:
For some reason, I couldn't find the price information actually in the app, only on the website. Since every city has its own rate, it would be very useful to have the app show the pricing for the current city.
It would be very handy to have a price estimate given a start and end point - bonus points if it takes into account current traffic.
Hopefully, Lyft has thought about some way to reward their customers. Currently, there isn't much to distinguish Lyft from Uber or any of the other ride sharing services. Offering something like "Lyftmiles" to earn free trips would help incentivize customers into a specific service.
More Classes of Cars
It would be nice to specifically request a larger car if we happen to have luggage or other items that may not fit in a standard car. Luckily we got larger cars when we needed them so far.
While ride sharing sounds exciting and trendy, it still has many challenges to overcome. Notably, many states/cities are banning the service or ticketing drivers for operating a "taxi" service without a license. Or, here in LA, the airport is banning the service for operating without an "airport" pickup license. Even different government agencies can't seem to agree on a decision. I have a hard time reconciling "licenses" with liberty and the American way, especially in the name of "protecting consumers", but that is a subject for a different day. In any case, it is clear that many hurdles remain before ride sharing services can peacefully operate. But based on the popularity, simply sending cease orders will not stop this new lifestyle.
Try it out
Next time you find yourself in need of taxi, check out Lyft (or Uber). It'll be cheaper, faster, cleaner, and you might even talk to the driver. Also, shameless plug, here is a link to signup for Lyft and we'll both get a $25 credit.