Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Sharing electric cars - What a great idea, says Uber and Evercar

One of the ideas that I pitched to Uber and Lyft in my book, Tales of UberMan, was to offer riders a trip in an electric car; or another green car like a hybrid, fuel cell vehicle, or something powered by a renewable fuel. Well, there are a few people out who agree enough in it to roll out these services.

Uber is trying it out in a few cities, such as Chicago where you can order a ride in an electric car. The service has ordered 25 BYD e6 electric cars so that Uber drivers can offer carbon emission-free rides to their customers. Other than this service, BYD cars are only operating, and for sale, in China. The brand has become the top EV seller in a market booming with incentive-backed EV sales. I'm going to try it out the next time I'm in Chicago.

Another one to follow is Evercar, which links up Uber and Lyft drivers who have electric cars. So far, it's being offered in the Los Angeles and San Francisco metro markets, but it's expected to expand to other markets in the future. Riders can download the Evercar mobile app and get linked up with EV drivers.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Semi-legal parking: What drivers must deal with in congested urban environments

In the not-too distant future, parking cars in crowded cities is expected to improve drastically. Self-driving cars will drop off riders and take care of the parking. Automated parking systems (APS) are starting to provide parking for cars on multiple levels stacked vertically to maximize the number of parking spaces while minimizing land usage.

The problem in large cities for local residents, workers, and those attending events, is that parking is going to remain an ever-increasing problem for several years. For those ridesharing drivers picking up riders or delivering meals, parking is taking a lot of perseverance and patience, laser-focused vision, and the risk of getting a parking ticket. It can mean pulling into a red zone, blocking a driveway, or using payment cards and dropping in coins at meters. The stress level can be high, and it can be quite a relief to find out you’ve dodged another parking ticket.

Part of the problem is that the cost of parking is going way up. Not that many years ago, it was shocking to find out you’d be paying $20 to park for a business meeting or social event in a big city. As for now, the average daily parking rate in midtown New York is $41, according to Bankrate. Honolulu is No. 2 at $38, followed by Boston at $34, Chicago at $32, with Los Angeles and downtown New York tied at $30 as the most expensive U.S. cities for parking costs. Metered parking cost has been shooting up, with drivers complaining about getting hijacked by a city trying to bring in more revenue through meters and parking tickets. Parking costs are on the rise in major U.S. cities as officials grapple with reduced revenue and political difficulties in raising taxes. Demand is part of it – drivers will pay more for parking when there’s absolutely nothing else available in crowded, congested cities.

As I’ve discovered driving for Uber, Lyft, and Postmates (a food delivery service), finding short-term parking can be quite stressful and sometimes costly. You might pull up for the passenger pickup and there’s no place to park, and you’ll be blocking traffic on a narrow street. What are your options? Park in a red zone or driveway? Circle the block looking for a decent place to park? Another scenario is that you’ve parked on a narrow street waiting for the rider to come out, and there are cars creeping up behind you. One of the drivers honks his horn, and others join the fray. You may have to leave that spot and circle around again, or call the rider.

Some riders seem perfectly comfortable making the Uber or Lyft driver wait five-to-10 minutes until they come out. Taxi drivers have been known for arriving at a home or office early and calling the rider to come out to their cab. Uber and Lyft riders are much more comfortable having the driver wait in an environment that might be tough to park and deal with the delay. It may be a generational difference for passengers – most of whom are Millennials riding with Uber and Lyft and who utilize food delivery services. The social rules of order appear to be transforming.

Food delivery drivers have to include short-term parking into their cost of doing business. Mobile-app food delivery services are taking off in cities now with UberEats, DoorDash, GrubHub, Postmates, Caviar, Seamless, and other services taking off. Drivers are independent contractors and have to build the cost into the trip. Suburban shopping malls are full of parking for drivers willing to take a long walk, but picking up meals at restaurants and stores in cities usually means looking for open metered parking spaces, or paying for parking garage fees. Some garages will allow drivers to leave the building for free if they’ve only been there less than 15 minutes. Other garages will require a payment of $2 to $5 for drivers to see that gate come up and freedom given from the parking garage – even if they’ve been there just a few minutes.

The future of mobility technologies is being carefully tracked by urban planners and developers, employers, owners of residential properties, university administrators, and event managers. Here are a few trends to watch for:

·       Green Parking Council is supporting development of sustainable, efficient parking garages. Examples include Propark America's green parking Canopy facility at Denver International Airport. BMW Group's DesignWorks USA and Green Parking Council worked with Propark on setting up the Canopy garage with LED lighting, EV charging, and alternative energy applications, including geothermal. Automation Parking Systems installed an automated facility in New York City in 2007 and has been working on improvements ever since. Robotic parking pallets are able to stack cars for efficiently using parking garage space.
·       More recently, the city of West Hollywood, Calif., opened up an automated parking garage attached to City Hall on Santa Monica Boulevard. The mission has been to remove the nuisance of driving around looking for parking. Drivers can just pull their cars into one of the small garages and the automated system does the rest. The city’s three-story automated parking garage with the capacity to house 200 cars was unveiled in May, and it marks the first municipal robot parking garage built on the West Coast.
·       Tony Seba, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Stanford University lecturer, author of Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation, and a two-time keynoter at AltCar Expo, had a few radical statements to make about the future of parking. Autonomous vehicles, along with carsharing services like Zipcar and ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, will be game changers. Annual sales of new vehicles will shrink, highways will open up, and many of the parking spaces we have in our cities will go away. Highway capacity can be increased four times when autonomous vehicles show up on our roads; there will be no need for 80% of our parking spaces as autonomous vehicles show up exactly when and where they’re needed by the owner, Seba said.
·       Mobile apps for parking are offering some short-term solutions. Parkmobile, ParkWhiz, ParkMe, PayByPhone, and FordPass, are among the services available in select U.S. cities. Drivers are able to rent spaces from their smartphones, and will be directed to finding the space. It takes away the hassle and frustration of trying to find a parking space on multi-story parking structure with unexpected costs appearing. Riders using Uber and Lyft will typically bring up the problem of finding and paying for parking spaces when deciding to go take the ridesharing option instead of driving. They’re also interested in having more accessible and affordable parking options for those times they will be driving and parking their own car.

Parking and dealing with the stress of driving for ridesharing and food delivery services is part of my new book, Tales of UberMan: An auto journalist shares his Prius with savvy riders. You can also read about some of the trends in the marketplace and new technology innovations in the book’s blog.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Best food delivery mobile app opportunities for drivers

There's been a lot of attention over the past year in social and news media on mobile apps for food delivery services. You'll always find something on DoorDash, GrubHub, Postmates, Caviar, Seamless, and others. I've been supplementing my driver income with food delivery, and here are a few of my thoughts on why it's been taking off:

  • The business model was borrowed from Uber and Lyft -- a similar mobile app; driving directions and alliances with Waze and Google Maps; it's all on the phone, from ordering to paying; there are special offers with local and chain restaurants, juice bars, coffeehouses, and fast food brands; and all the drivers are independent contractors passing basic vehicle and driving record checks. Uber has been getting into this biz for a few years and recently launched a separate app for UberEats.
  • It's all about living with the on-demand economy. You have to schedule your driving time for peak demand and when customers are more likely to tip (if they can tip on the app). Sunday might be great between 4:00 and 9:00 p.m., but it could be an awful day due to a holiday or something else.
  • Don't buy into the high-demand text message you get. You might be told there's a blitz, or something similar, going on right now in your city. It doesn't necessarily mean you're going to get more rides or be paid at a higher fare. However, it is a good idea to schedule your driving time during those surge hours, as you will occasionally make more per trip.
  • Patience is key, along with texting and calling a customer. You've got to read the order carefully and pay attention for special requests that may go way off the menu; or it might have a humorous and interesting name for the meal that's only known by regular customers. Communication is the key - ask questions and don't end up frustrated later when it goes sour and you get no tip and maybe a poor rating.
  • Decide what to do with late orders. More than once, I've left the parking lot with the meal and I'm about two blocks away - when I get a text asking for something else in the order. Do you respond, or just drive and deliver - mentioning it or not mentioning it? I've found it's better to do everything the customer asks for, as it makes for a much better way to get a good rating and a tip; and not get a bad vibe if you find out you're delivering another meal to that customer days later.
  • I've found that Postmates has been the best way to go in my area - Long Beach, Calif., and the surrounding areas. The customer demand is pretty strong; the mobile app is clean and well organized; Postmates staff will come through and assist you if a snafu pops up during the trip; and the staff I've met have been pretty good folks. Thumbs up.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Free Kindle and e-book versions of Tales of UberMan and a request for your review

For any of you who read Kindle books, my new book Tales of UberMan: An auto journalist shares his Prius with savvy riders is available for free through this Friday night, July 2. Tales of UberMan is my first-person account of being part of the revolutionary shift in mobility services coming from Uber, Lyft, ridesharing, autonomous vehicles, and the future of the auto industry and transportation. And there are few good tales, as you can read about in the “Top 5 worst and best Uber experiences” chapter and elsewhere. “Taking drinkers off the roads and listening to their sad tales,” is another chapter full of stories.

I have a request to make:  Could you browse through my book and if you find it valuable, post an honest review of it on Amazon? Reviews are essential for promoting my book to Amazon visitors, Kindle book readers, and media. You can get the book for free right now on Kindle by downloading the app if you haven’t already done so. You can also request a free e-book in PDF from me this week by emailing me at

To leave a review, go to the book’s page on Amazon and scroll down to Customer Reviews and click the button “Write a customer review.” Before you can post a review, you need to have an account that has successfully been charged for the purchase of a physical or digital item. You don't need to have purchased the book you're reviewing. There's a 48-hour waiting period after your first physical order has been completely shipped, or your digital item has been purchased, before you'll be able to submit your review.

You can also see the latest on clean transportation, Uber, Lyft, mobility, Tesla, electric vehicles, and more at Green Auto Market. See the right column for a spot to subscribe to the free weekly e-newsletter. And come back to this blog to read posts about Uber rides, ridesharing, carsharing, electrified transportation, and the future of mobility. My next book, Going Mobile with UberMan will dig into these topics.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Gett takes jabs at Uber for surge pricing in ad campaign

Gett, an on-demand black-car app that’s available in more than 60 cities worldwide, has launched a humorous ad campaign in New York City, taking aim at Uber’s pricing system.

Surge pricing can leap to 1.5 times the usual fare or higher, based on demand for rides at that time. Drivers are enticed to show up for pickups and make more income. In the ads, Gett emphasizes that it doesn’t have any surge fees. 

These surge fees can drive customers batty. Lyft riders have similar concerns but usually find Uber even worse. It might be 3:00 in the morning and they're either going to pay Uber maybe three times the original fare; so they check out fares from Lyft and taxis.

Gett is placing its ads on 570 subway cars, phone kiosks, digital street-level billboards, and bus shelters around the city. It will be one of the first companies to advertise on the city’s new LinkNYC kiosks, where people can charge their phones, connect to Wi-Fi and access city maps and directions.

On the social media front, the company’s Twitter hashtag is #surgesucks. On its website, Gett promotes its “Surge-vivors Hall of Shame,” in which people submit their Uber receipts during surge periods. The contestant who paid the most for a surge price will win a $1,000 credit with Gett.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Federal class-action lawsuit between Uber and drivers isn't quite over

The federal class-action lawsuit settlement between Uber and drivers is still being worked out in San Francisco. There's more to the story than we'd first heard about when the settlement was announced in April. Check out an article by The Rideshare Guy contributor John Ince on the recent slew of Uber lawsuits. He also looks into ‘interesting’ new updates to the Uber app.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Taking drinkers off the roads and listening to their sad tales

Welcome to my new blog, based on my new book, Tales of UberMan: An auto journalist shares his Prius with savvy riders.  I've been writing about Uber and Lyft for years in Green Auto Market. After taking my first Uber ride at SFO (and falling in love with it, swearing to never take a taxi ride again), a friend encouraged me to try out some part-time Uber driving. He got an incentive for doing so, and it didn't take much for me to get set up on the mobile app and have my background check done. After a few rides, I got used to taking people to work and school in the early morning and occasionally doing a late-night Friday/Saturday night drive in L.A.

A few months into it, my girlfriend Susan suggested I write a book about it. I'd told her several colorful stories about trips I'd driven. One of my riders loved the idea so much she suggested I call it Tales of UberMan, and I agreed. It was published a couple weeks ago on Kindle.

One of the main topics that comes up for Uber and Lyft drivers is taking drinkers home from a bar or party. It usually goes pretty well, but sometimes it goes bad. Here's a chapter of my book that delves into the subject matter, which I call "Taking drinkers off the roads and listening to their sad tales."

For Uber drivers working late on Friday and Saturday nights, driving “drinkers” is a big part of it. When you become an Uber Partner, you’re instructed on what to do if a drunk rider throws up in your car. Uber will pay for the cleaning.

I had a close call with one of my riders. I picked her up outside a club in Long Beach and drove her home near midnight on a Saturday night. She seemed pretty well intoxicated, and told me that she might be feeling the sudden urge to vomit. She would be giving me advanced warning if that were to happen.

She was doing so well until we were within a mile of her house. She suddenly demanded that I pull over right away, and I did so. I pulled into a service road off the main drag so that she wouldn’t be near oncoming traffic. The rider stuck her head outside the left passenger door and eventually had a couple of loud dry heaves. I could smell it, but was grateful to not find any vomit inside or outside my car after dropping her off. I drove for a few blocks with the windows down, and the smell fortunately went away. It did make for a good story to tell riders.

At the end of the trip, I was glad to have driven her rather than if she’d driven herself home from the club. She was not in any condition to do so.

During 2015, an alliance between Uber and MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) was announced. On July 1, an email was sent out to Uber drivers prior to the 4th of July weekend (well known for its party atmosphere). Colleen Sheehey-Church, national president of MADD, acknowledged Uber drivers for helping to protect the public from drunk and drugged driving. “On behalf of MADD and Uber, thank you. You’re making your city a safer place to live,” Sheehey-Church wrote.

I’ve done my time with drunken passengers, and some who’ve smelled like they’d smoked a lot of pot before taking their Uber ride. Along with a bit of belligerence from drunken passengers, there have been odd moments with stoned riders who wanted to hang out and talk. I had a ride a few months ago with a young woman in Long Beach on a Saturday night; she reeked of ganja and wanted to share a few laughs. It seemed like she’d been talking on her phone to someone else until she asked me to respond to what she’d said. “I didn’t know you were talking to me,” I told her.

One thing I’ve found with riders who’ve been doing a lot of drinking is that inevitably one member of the group is being a bit of an asshole. His friends try to calm him down and make jokes about it, but sometimes it gets worse. If you’re going to drive on a Friday or Saturday night, you can count on having somebody in your car who’s drank too much. Fortunately, it usually goes by without a hitch; but sometimes it doesn’t.

Once on a Saturday night in Santa Monica, I had an UberPool shared ride with a sober rider and then a drunk one who became very annoying. The first rider worked for a foreign embassy in L.A. He’d been here a few years and enjoyed living here, except for the traffic. We stopped to pick up the second rider and had to wait a few minutes, which got the first rider more irritated about being late for a social event in Hollywood. The second rider got in the car and seemed a bit drunk. His route was to Koreatown in L.A. He wanted to talk about deep and meaningful stuff – what was really going on in our lives. That is asking a lot – for people you’ve just met to share deeply about what they’re dealing with in life. After sharing some strange comments with us for a few minutes, the drunk rider conked out in the backseat. When we arrived at his destination, the first rider had to nudge him a few times to wake him up. After he came to, the drunk rider wanted to make sure we’d found the right address at the strip mall before he got out of my car. His next step was to make a call to a friend who guided him in the right direction. We were glad to get him out of my car.

Some of these stories took place early in the morning after sunrise, during the drinker’s hangover. In January 2016, I drove a young man from Belmont Heights to the Los Arcos neighborhood in Long Beach. He was pretty hung over and had quite an adventure the night before. He’d been hanging out that night with a buddy who was staying in a drug rehab facility in L.A. His friend had to check in back at his rehab by 5:00 a.m. They decided to go out drinking, and his buddy met a woman at the bar. The new couple took off together around midnight, and that was the last he saw of his friend. He hoped his buddy had made it back to rehab on time and wasn’t thrown out for being late or drunk. The rider had gone into a blackout after hanging out in the bar drinking with his buddy, but somehow safely made it back to his girlfriend’s apartment in Long Beach.

I told him about a bad memory I had that went back years ago to a New Year’s Eve. I was at a house party held by an old high school friend and his wife. I’d gotten very drunk and ended up knocking over a lamp on the dance floor. I’d blacked out and woke up the next morning in one of their bedrooms. It was empty and getting ready for remodeling; one of them had directed me to the room in a blackout as the New Year’s Eve party came to an end. I staggered my way into the living room with a horrible hangover to see my friend and his wife, and another couple, glaring at me. Right about that moment, I looked out a window and saw my car being hit by a student driver. I ran out into the street yelling as the car pulled away, but the driving instructor made the student pull over and wait for the police to show up. As I came back into the house, I got more glares from my party mates and saw their shaking heads. It felt like I had some pretty bad karma during my drunkenness that had brought this bizarre retribution to my car.

I told the rider that it could be worse. He could be in rehab explaining to his case manager why he came back late – and why he shouldn’t be thrown out on the street. His buddy might have had that conversation with his case manager. The rider agreed with what I’d said. I told him I haven’t had a drink in years, and I didn’t miss it.

One of the strangest and, initially, most tense experiences I’ve had as an Uber driver, was driving an alcoholic to pick up a beer on his way to work. He was a Latino man probably in his late 30s. He asked me to stop at a gas station minimart so he could buy a tall can of beer. After doing so, he asked me to find a parking space while he sat and had his beer.

He told me about having more than one DUI and being on restrictions with his drinking – as a driver and as an employee of his company in the South Bay area. He told me that his boss liked him enough for the good work he provided to the company that he was willing to be flexible – like having him showing up late for work smelling like beer.

He wanted to know if I drank, and I told him that I’d had a few antics years ago and had to stop drinking. I mentioned that it was good for him and other drinkers to have an Uber ride rather than get behind the wheel. He appreciated Uber for that service.

As we drove up to his office, his boss was standing outside the front door with his arms crossed. He looked like he’d been waiting for his employee, and my passenger acknowledged that his boss was definitely standing out there impatiently waiting for him. The supervisor walked his employee into the building, shaking his head and looking like a disappointed father. I was glad to see he’d made it, and had mixed feelings about facilitating him getting a drink and going to work.

While Uber management and MADD leadership might praise me for driving drunks and not letting them drive, it hasn’t been something I’ve been proud of. These two men that I just wrote about seemed to have felt alright about telling me about their drinking problem. It’s almost like HBO’s “Taxicab Confessions” where passengers feel safe and comfortable revealing their private lives. While we’re making a contribution by taking a few intoxicated drivers off the roads, we’re also down in the trenches – finding out what’s going on with people and their drinking and sometimes their drug use. If any of us drivers ever feel like drinking too much, or going back to it years later, these young men, and occasionally women, shine light on the cost of living that way.

There’s always the possibility of at least one rider being drunk and surly right in the backseat of my car, especially if I drove late at night. Uber management has seen enough of these hostile and dangerous episodes with drinkers in the car to send out the following guidelines to drivers in September 2015:

“The following is a guide to help you address a situation where the rider may have had too much to drink and it is negatively affecting the trip. Please note, these are merely compiled suggestions, while we encourage driver-partners to use them, you are under no obligation to do so. 

1. Uber strongly suggests that you try to remain calm and professional throughout every ride.
2. If a rider is attempting to provoke a confrontation, it’s best to remain cool, use non-threatening words and even a friendly tone of voice.
3. If possible, try to enlist the assistance of a sober (or less drunk) friend of the inebriated rider.
4. Try to strike up a friendly conversation with them - ask them general questions about themselves, offer to play their favorite music etc. Breathe and Smile! ;)
5. We do not recommend confronting the rider physically. 
6. If at any time you feel that your personal safety is threatened, we recommend calling the local emergency services in your area.”

In May 2016, I had another experience driving a drinker that really got on my nerves. He got in the backseat of my Prius with his girlfriend about 8:00 on a Saturday night. They just left a party in the suburbs and wanted to be taken to their condo in downtown Long Beach. During the ride, they went back and forth stuck in a dysfunctional dynamic. He was drunk enough to be making jokes and teasing her. Eventually she’d get overly assertive and demand that he stop talking.

If she was assertive and hardline enough with her intoxicated boyfriend, he’d drift off into somber silence and she’d get hooked into it. She became apologetic and tried to bring him out of his sullen, resentful state. Then the joking would start from the drunk boyfriend, usually some cutting comments about her friends at the party. She would get enough and drop the bomb on him again. That would lead to him going on and on about how much he loved her, and how great and beautiful she was.

His girlfriend would attempt to divert and calm him, like she was dealing with a little boy, by bringing up what they’d be having for dinner once they got home. He was fascinated enough to go on and on about what restaurant should deliver the food, and what they’d be ordering. Then he would suddenly change his mind, and want another meal from another joint. By that point, she’d have enough of him. Then it would start all over again. It went that way until they got out of my car, and the drunk tried to make nice and compliment me. I didn’t buy it for a second.

For the driver, driving drinkers brings up firsthand experience with social issues. We’re not therapists or rehab counselors (though I can’t speak for every driver). We do get drawn into the drama while driving. It would be impossible to ignore it; and there’s always the possibility of vomiting, screaming and yelling, and fighting taking place in the car. There’s also a level of tension over what this drunk person might be saying next, which the drinker sometimes plays with to his or her manipulative advantage.

Some of the Uber drivers I know say that you have to drive on Friday and Saturday nights for long hours to see any real money. As for me, I prefer early morning driving during the work week and doing something else on the weekend. That could include driving for Uber and coming home around midnight. I don’t want to deal with excessive drinkers who stay out late.