The Old Way
For those of us who have taken a taxi ride, we’ve all experienced it: overpriced, unruly drivers, funky smell, tacky music, and plain old lack of respect. Pleasant taxi rides are so minuscule in number for me that it’s pointless to even consider it.
Bad service seems to be a universal thing among taxi drivers, it’s not confined to a specific place. I’ve traveled a fair bit, and it doesn’t matter if you’re in Al Khobar in Saudi Arabia, New York city, Los Angeles, Chicago, Puerto Vallarta in Mexico, Las Vegas, Manila, or Vancouver, BC … it’s the same issue. I’ve come to conclude that bad service is mainly engendered by the kind of people who gravitate to this kind of work. Maybe it’s the system (and regulatory body) putting pressure on the drivers that makes them behave as such, who knows? It doesn’t matter … it’s plain lack of respect for customers. Expensive, stinky, annoying, and bad driving – that’s taxi service in a nutshell.
I first heard of Uber – a ridesharing service where riders use a mobile app to request for a ride, of which is then routed to a driver, who use their own vehicle for the conveyance – about five years ago, I was very skeptical about it. I didn’t think it would be any different than a regular taxi. And riding with random people I imagine it would be so strange. Over the years, I heard more and more about it. But since I prefer self-drive in my travels, for the freedom and convenience, and the fact that there’s no ride sharing service in Vancouver, I never really had the opportunity to try it out locally.
Around December in 2014, the first ever RuPaul’s DragCon was announced. It’s a drag convention revolving around the reality television show, RuPaul’s Drag Race, was to be held in May 2015 before the conclusion of the show’s cycle that year. I was adamant at attending that convention for one big reason, to see RuPaul in full drag for the first time. And it so happened that the taping of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season Seven finale was held two days after the convention, so it was a no brainer for me. Of course, as usual, I rented a car as part of my trip itinerary. Knowing that it will be too problematic to finding parking in downtown Los Angeles, I tweeted to solicit suggestions on which is easier getting to the Orpheum Theatre, drive or take a taxi. Then god responded, “TAXI TAXI“, RuPaul tweeted. Since I knew taking a taxi will be expensive, I checked RuPaulsDragCon.com to see if they have any taxi discounts for convention attendees. I couldn’t find any, but I saw a discount for Lyft, another ridesharing service, and Uber’s competitor. I took a chance, downloaded the app, and signed up. I received a $20 credit applicable to my fare just for that. The app asked a bunch of personal but general questions, including taste in music, and a photo, which I accidentally not provided. It’s basically profiling you so it can match you with other drivers, to minimize social conflict? lol #racialProfiling
So I took my first ride to an engagement prior to the event to test it out. The result was astonishing. What would have easily cost me $30 in taxi fare for one ride was a meager $7.45 including tip. Most importantly, I end up having a great conversation with the driver. There’s always this “apprehension” when we first meet strangers in public (ok, I in particular), and that “first impression” we humans rely to assess strangers based on appearance – it’s human nature, don’t judge me. But all that … destroyed as soon as we started talking … and found out he’s normal. So I used the service again the following night. I saved as much as 70% in taxi fares that night. Me and my rideshare drivers had plenty of topics to talk about: tourist destinations, tips on other drag cabaret venues, politics, etc. It made the ride really short and pleasant. I became an overnight fan of Lyft. And I thought, the service would be great in Vancouver, BC. Later I found out they’re trying to get a license to operate but are having a tough time getting it.
Taking A Chance
The success of RuPaul’s DragCon 2014 meant a repeat of the convention the following year. And sure enough, I wanted to be part of it. More so since two drag entertainers I know personally made it in the show – Robbie Turner and Derrick Barry. For this trip to Los Angeles, I wanted to try something new, to not get car rental entirely and rely on rideshare. I was stepping out of my comfort zone. The mere idea alone made me feel uneasy. Not having your own vehicle, to drive wherever you want to go, is a huge inconvenience when travelling in the US – a driving country. The fear of getting stranded is real. Especially in Los Angeles where virtually nothing is walking distance. It’s a HUGE risk, and I took it. So I had to figure out where to get a ride from LAX to my hotel, then figuring out my rides to the convention and other engagements. I recalled the last time I took a taxi to LAX from my hotel cost me close to $80, including tip. I was adamant not to cough that much again for one ride but I was prepared for it. I read the transportation info Lyft shared to me on twitter for LAX, but it wasn’t clear enough. It was more geared towards the drivers, not passengers. So when I arrived at LAX, I asked the lady at the information booth where the rideshare pick-up area is located. And after waiting fifteen minutes for her to entertain me, she told me where to go, which was just the level directly above me. I don’t have a US data plan, so I relied on LAX’s free WiFi to book my ride. It took me a while to complete my booking since my connection was finicky. When my ride finally arrived, I found out he was texting and calling me. He thought I was “shopping” for drivers, and you know, some could really use a better mugshot, but I simply didn’t have a good internet connection and my phone was on airplane mode. The ride was all that I expected: pleasant and informative. And my fare? US$14.20! My ride back to the airport was the most expensive of all my dozen rideshares of the trip. It was at peak commute hours, but still cheaper compared to taxi fare – $40.68 including tip.
With the exception of a couple of rides, where one driver didn’t talk much and another ride when I tried Lyft’s “Line” option – where you share your ride with other passengers and split your fare at a fixed price – but end up waiting 45 minutes for my ride to arrive, the rest of my rideshare were pretty good. There was one occasion where my ride didn’t showed up but the Lyft app says he picked me up and I was on my way to my destination. It was freaky, like a Twilight Zone moment. More than one me? I want to meet that other me and congratulate him for being cool and awesome (cough). Fortunately, no matter how troublesome, it was rectified.
The best part about rideshare is having great conversations with the drivers. It’s often the case, at least for me. I tend to believe that the service attracts people of certain a attitude that is totally different from that of taxi drivers. They tend to be self-driven (pun intended), semi-retirees (wise), good natured, people with multiple jobs (responsible), or random people of all sorts of race and age. In North America you’ll notice that taxi drivers are usually minorities of South Asian or Middle Eastern in decent. I’m not judging, but that’s just what they tend to be.
My conversations with my Lyft drivers were as generic as points of interest, the weather, country of origin, careers, general information, or politics and the economy to as deep as relationships, family, life, and our place in the universe. I’ve learned a lot from them. Like, I’ve found out that they’re mostly new to the service. Most of them have been driving for less than six months, with one only two weeks – well, two weekends or two days. With just a couple of drivers who have been driving for a long time, one for two years and a month and one for a little over a year. With the exception of one driver, who drives full-time. The rest drives part-time to supplement their income. All of them signed up as drivers because of the flexibility. They decide what time they want to drive, which area in the city to offer their service, and the hours they put in per day.
I’ve also learned that rideshare service have tried operating in other countries but failed. Uber for example, tried in one country in Latin America (where one of my driver came from, I forgot which country) but stopped because of retaliation from taxi operators and drivers. Taxi drivers would block Uber drivers with their car on the street, dragged them out of their car, and beat them. Taxi drivers would vandalize their car. It’s shocking, but I was not surprised hearing this. An aggressive behavior like this from taxi drivers is not surprising, regardless where it is. I’ve also learned that Uber is going to operate in China, through a partnership of a local company. And then there’s this matter about car dealership using brand new cars on their parking lot for part-time rideshare. Like this woman was literally wearing a suite, driving me in a brand new car she took from her lot, for a part-time spin. She’s putting mileage on a brand new car she’s going to sell, so how’s that going work?
Ride And Free Counseling
Two of my most memorable rides were with middle-aged drivers who gave me great advice and wise words. One from a semi-retired lady, while heading to the Orpheum Theater, where we talked about life, karma, and good deeds. I told her about my goal to photograph the red carpet event at the Oprheum Theater, and my chance encounter with RuPaul the day before the convention that made it all happen. Dianne said, “It happened because you manifested it. You made it known to the universe and your intentions are pure.” She credited her daughter for the mantra, but I thank her for it. I totally get it. And I believe it. The ride was short, but she was very insightful. The other driver, who drove me to the airport for my return trip, gave me a lot of advice and encouragement about relationships. Sure, it’s something I’ve heard before, but the way he talked about it, using his own personal experience as an example, strike a chord in me. Well I did end up looking at Grindr briefly while at the airport, but you won’t see me posting an ad on craigslist or eHarmony any time soon. It’s just not for everyone, but I’ll keep my eyes open. Thanks to Cesar.
I think it’s foolhardy for taxi operators and regulatory bodies to impede ridesharing from operating in their city. It’s normal to feel threatened when something new comes along to challenge your old habits. But this change, ridesharing, is actually a good thing. This could actually turn around the negative public perception of the vehicles for hire industry as a whole into a positive one. If Uber and Lyft are making good business, even with discounted rates compared to the traditional taxi service, there’s no reason taxi operators won’t make it if they switch to this business model. And since it’s in demand, it will continue to flourish. So embrace it or perish. And to regulatory bodies, isn’t the point of allowing competition is to improve service and protect the interest of the consumers? Unless of course you’re deep in red tape, well that’s a whole different ball game.
Rideshare is here to stay, so get on with the program.