On my recent travel to Los Angeles, to attend the historic RuPaul’s Drag Convention, one of the things I made sure to book, aside from accommodation and event passes, was transportation. Due to unforeseen circumstances I wasn’t able to plan for a road trip from Vancouver, British Columbia to Hollywood.
Driving on the US interstate on off-peak hours is one of my all time favourite to spend long vacations – it’s the truest form of escape from worldly issues, it’s just you and the road and perhaps while listening to a nice podcast or string music for white noise. I had over four months to plan for the DragCon trip but I was adamant at not taking a taxi again, since my experience the year before, even though it was generally descent, was very expensive. My one-way taxi fare from LAX to Hollywood cost almost US$70! Mass transit is out of the question. I’m never a huge fan of it, there’s a lot of waiting and you have to deal with a lot of variables. It’s something one can do without, especially if you have other options and on a time crunch.
So I rented a car, just to get me to and from the airport to my hotel, the convention, and for some sight seeing. One thing I didn’t want to deal with in Los Angeles are the traffic and parking situation. When I was living in the Bay Area in Northern California about seven years ago, driving was great! The traffic on Highway Hell (Highway 101) was atrocious on high commute! However, I knew the backroads and alternative freeways to get to my work, so traffic was never really an issue. And at one point I owned a sportbike, a Kawasaki Sport ZX600, which I drove through traffic if I was in a hurry. But in Los Angeles, no matter which backroads or alternative routes you take, you’re still going to deal with heavy traffic … unless, you go early, at dawn! And driving a motorcycle in LA is like a death wish. The rented car worked nicely for me, as I was able to visit places I haven’t visited in a long time. Though, I had to skip Santa Monica Pier because I soon as I was about to hit the freeway from Hollywood boulevard I was aghast at the sight of the traffic before me, the freeway was a parking lot! It conjured the opening sequence of “The Terminator : Judgement Day.” Just rows and rows of vehicles sitting there … idle. And it was only 1:30pm! I took the next off ramp and U-ied back to my hotel.
I had to go to two events on my trip where driving was not really a good option. Fortunately, the convention suggested alternative transportation options, Lyft was one of them. I had my doubts, since I really don’t trust “taxi service” that much. All my experiences has been below ideal. Dealing with expensive taxi fares is one thing, but then you have to put up with bad service; drivers who talk on the phone, drivers who play bad music, the rudeness, the smell, the sexual harassment, the attitude, and the nerve to ask for a tip even if they didn’t do crap – not even lending a hand to haul your luggage. And there’s the distrust, some drivers ask trick questions to gauge how well you know the area, then take you for a longer ride to bump up the meter.
Wanting to focus on the event and not my parking situation, I asked DragCon on what’s the best way to go to the Oprheum Theater, well, RuPaul replied “Taxi taxi taxi.” That kind of sealed it. I was ready to spend US$90 in taxi fare for my round-trip commute to the event. With a US$20 discount offering for Lyft courtesy of DragCon, I thought why not? I looked up Lyft online and I like the concept. Push comes to shove, I’ll take a regular taxi. Even though I was a bit apprehensive, I sucked it up and gave it a try.
I downloaded the app, signed up, and booked my first ride. The system matched my profile to possible drivers who where close to my pick-up location, and I was able to choose from them. I set my destination and it did some estimates as to how much it will cost. I was suspicious, because it was so much cheaper than a taxi fare. It was “short change” compared – i.e. $12 for Lyft vs $46 on a taxi! I booked my first ride. I was surprised at how fast my ride got to my location, within three minutes! And the driver was even apologetic about the “delay.” Seriously? I thought, this is too good to be true. I end up having a great conversation with the driver, which made the commute even a lot shorter. I didn’t have to use my credit card or hand any money, the app did all that for me. The app then charges my payment card after. Convenient! I booked another ride for my return trip, and then used the service again for my other event. I must have saved over a US$100 from using the service. What’s more, the convention offered a US$20 credit to use Lyft and the app gave me one free ride as a new member. Well, that’s more savings than I could ever wish for!
I heard interesting stories about the drivers, the city, and the service. Some drivers even have similar interests as mine and gave me tips on where to go. How cool is that?! There’s also another similar service to Lyft, Uber. Which I found out that they’re created by the same company. It struck me, Uber, is the company Vancouver taxi operators have been trying to demonized and prevent from operating in the metro. I can see why?
It’s about time the taxi industry get real competition! It’s time to shake the industry up! The bad service, expensive unscrupulous methods has to end! Not just that, the bureaucracy is thick! Taxi operators have to pay extra fees to venues like airports, convention centers, and hotels, just to operate. VIP lane my ass, it’s just code for “we’re going to charge you more.” And the experience isn’t any different from other Taxi service.
It’s not to say that Lyft will always be perfect. I did had one incident where the Lyft driver I picked cancelled my ride and I incurred a cancellation fee of US$5 and change. The thing is, when I booked the ride the app instantly alerted me that the driver was already outside. Impossible! How can he be outside waiting for me when I just booked him? I went out in less than a minute with no car of matching description in sight. He cancelled after three minutes and I had to book for a ride. I think, people being people, this guy was trying to trick the system so he gets compensated for no-show cancellations even without doing anything. I see this as a loophole in the service, but can be fixed by comparing time and GPS positions between passenger and driver. Then there’s the “shady” drivers. I avoided selecting rides from drivers who blurred their license plate photo in the app or who didn’t post any photo of them. I mean, how will the passengers know it’s you if you don’t show your license plate or photo? Trust can’t happen in this service if service providers are being mysterious. Other than that one cancelled incident, which Lyft did a on-time courtesy refund, my experience was pretty good.
I do hope Lyft operates in Vancouver! Heck, I might sign up as a driver. There are rules though, but I think it’s a great way to help fix a rotten industry. Just think, taxi drivers won’t have to deal with operators anymore, they can BE their own boss!
Get $250: Apply to be a Los Angeles Lyft driver with my code JOSH208703, and give 30 rides in 30 days (terms apply) http://www.lyft.com/drivers/JOSH208703 — Good until June 20, 2015!
Yes, Lyft and Uber … bring it!