Dangers of the Share Culture Pt. 1: Ride Share

City Lights Bookstore threshold, San Francisco

San Francisco has the greatest share culture I’ve seen. Everyone uses Uber, Lyft, scooters, bikes, and Air bnb. Here are some thoughts.

On the flight to SFO, everyone said ride shares, not taxis were the way to go. Problem was we didn’t know where the ride share pickup points were, and I had read a critique that the horde of ride share drivers had turned the airport into a mass of confusion to the point of nearly being banned.

So we took a taxi from the well-marked taxi stand. It was a great ride with a driver from Ukraine who had lived in SF for ten years. Very informative and friendly. He drove a direct route to our hotel in the Presidio, safely and courteously. It cost about $50, just a few dollars more than a ride share, and we would soon find out, it was a good decision.

On my first Uber ride, a year earlier, it was difficult to find the driver. Finally he arrived. We were four, but the driver asked if he could pick up another on the way. That meant squeezing another in the back seat. It was rush hour on one of San Francisco’s busiest streets, and the driver said the pickup was in the other direction. There was a tiny gap in oncoming traffic, so he floored into a u-turn, barely missing being clipped.

I said woh! Is that legal in San Francisco? He grinned and said he learned to drive in Syria. Since it was legal there, it was ok for him. Looked like anyone could participate in a “ride-share” culture, with zero credentials. Next, they’ll be driving down the sidewalks, like they do in Kabul. Made a mental note to take a taxi next time.

Next morning, back at the hotel, the clerk strongly suggested we use Lyft on our next trip to the Alcatraz dock. He said they were cheaper than both Taxis and Uber, and it was a San Francisco-based company. After the Uber experience, I was ready for something new, but preferred the taxi. Using the taxi app, we hailed a cab that said it was 10 minutes away. Lyft showed about the same. 12 minutes later, no taxi, so we looked at Lyft again and saw a driver was just 2 minutes away, so we hailed that. The taxi arrived 5 seconds after the Lyft. I told the driver we had a reservation at the Alcatraz ferry, had to rush, and thought he had gotten lost. He apologized with an understanding smile.

The Lyft diver was a trip. He rambled about his personal life and poor health. He lived an hour outside SF, and was between jobs, so driving for Lyft, but not making much at it. He got lost a few times on the ride to the ferry dock, one of the most famous places in the world. When we finally got close, we were on the wrong side of 6 lanes of rush hour traffic. He said we should get out and cross the street, even though there wasn’t a crosswalk. When I said I couldn’t see the ferry dock, he insisted it was right behind the warehouse across the street. Not wanting to risk crossing, I demanded that he drive us to the exact location. This had to take a couple side streets and zig zag his way back to drive in the opposite direction. Not being Syrian-trained, he demurred making a u-turn.

As soon as he negotiated the last turn, he pulled over, saying “the dock is here.” But we couldn’t see it. We actually got into an argument, because it was obviously not the dock. It was a warehouse with no parking, or sign of a tourist entity. Finally, he got confused about the fare, and charged us an extra $5. We were now late, obviously in the wrong spot, and dealing with a disturbed individual. So we took off on foot. Three long blocks later we arrived at the dock, just in time.

The Alcatraz tour was truly amazing, but getting there was a lesson in the share culture, that we would learn more about in the coming days. The big problem is that the sharing culture consists of part-timers with no professional training. So you’re expected to have low expectations to justify the low price — which delivers low quality, often from bumblers who don’t practice their trade frequently enough to really understand it, and may even be rude sociopaths who care nothing for customer service. But the logic is, hey, you saved $4, so go buy yourself a latte.

Reading more about how “share” drivers make barely minimum wage, and are decimating the professional taxi industry is a sad comment on the great digital culture.

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Robert Maier is an educator, author and filmmaker. He has made documentaries from Honolulu to Kabul, throughout Europe, and 49 of the 50 US states.

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Robert Maier

Robert Maier

Robert Maier is an educator, author and filmmaker. He has made documentaries from Honolulu to Kabul, throughout Europe, and 49 of the 50 US states.

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