Thursday, September 22, 2016

Kids love cha and boba

Let’s say you’re a 53-year-old man standing in line to pick up a honey green milk cha bottomed out with plenty of boba, plus a serving of crispy dumplings. You’re clearly a generation or two older than everybody else, except the occasional parent tagging along with the gang.

Back in the day, this sort of social gathering might have taken place at El Torito’s during margarita happy hour; or at Bob’s Big Boy with a tableful of college buddies waiting for a double decker combo coupled with a thick milkshake.

Yes, there I stand waiting to order dinner for a customer of the Postmates food delivery service, where you do everything on a mobile app. I’ll be standing on the sideline waiting and waiting for that meal to be bagged with an attached receipt. On a good day, I find a stool to occupy while playing solitaire, sifting through news, responding to a text and an email, maybe chatting with a restaurant worker; and waiting, waiting, waiting.

Kids love cha and boba. It’s not all about the iced milk teas. Like I said, it could have been about drinking together; it could have been shooting pool, going to a dance club, a coffeehouse, or eating at the latest fast-food startup. It’s a place to go out on dates, hang out with your school buddies, co-workers, or your best friend. It’s much better than staying at home.

I got hooked up with Postmates after a college student recommended I go for it during an Uber trip to Cal State Long Beach. I was trying to get her to class on time and not get plugged up in traffic. She told me that her best friend was making more money delivering meals for Postmates than picking up riders for Uber. Hmmm….. very interesting, I said.

So I gave it a shot and attended a delivery driver orientation at a Postmates office near downtown L.A. In a room full of about 75 “new hires,” there was a woman in her mid-40s and me; the rest were probably 20-to-35 year olds.

The Cal State Long student had informed me that the food delivery company needed more drivers in the Long Beach area. That turned out to be true, and it was appealing to me. Demand for Uber and Lyft trips could typically be a bit soft outside of L.A., so having steady work from Postmates had its appeal.

Just like the roomful of attendees at the Postmates orientation, and about 90 percent of the riders I’ve dropped off for Uber and Lyft, most all of the Postmates customers are Millennials. They’ve used Uber and Lyft many times, and heard through peers that Postmates is a good one to try out. Tapping into special discount offers, including free meals, helps win some of them over.

After a few months of Postmates deliveries, the age gap became less noticeable to me. It became more about the function of doing the work.

For example, there’s a young woman behind the cash register helping me get the confusing dinner order figured out; or me waiting for my meal with a gang of Millennials impatiently waiting for the food to come up. There might be a 20-something customer texting me on how to get past the security gate and find his or her apartment, buried way back in the complex on a dark, poorly lit night.

It’s all about the food.

It’s clear young people in Southern California love Asian food and beverage – from cha to milk tea; from curry veggies to orange chicken; and yes, there’s more.

When I was in college, we all needed to try out Thai food or Vietnamese, which we loved. Years later, we’d go to a Korean barbeque for lunch during workweek, and try out the new P.F. Chang’s restaurant that fused Chinese with California cuisine.

I’ve yet to be won over by cha tea and boba (also known as tapioca pearls; boba, that is). I tried a fruit flavored tea drink packed with boba a few years ago; it doesn’t stand out in my memory beyond chewing the boba pearls.

Millennials love Postmates. They might use another delivery service, too, like UberEats, DoorDash, GrubHub, Caviar, or a local joint like a pizza parlor. It usually starts out for them by taking Uber and Lyft trips. They quickly get hooked using a mobile app to get their mobility needs met quickly and seamlessly. Once they pushed the button, the driver would show up within 10 minutes. One of their friends, or someone they’re sharing an Uber ride with, or their driver, recommends trying out Postmates. One or two meals later, they love it.

Postmates and the other new food delivery companies have basically copied the Uber and Lyft business models, linking up drivers to customers through their own proprietary software and mobile apps. They also bring a few restaurants and fast food chains into their network, throwing in a few discount deals to attract new customers into their marketing programs.

Here’s my take on why Millennials love Postmates and other delivery services:

Stay tuned for my next book, Going Mobile in the Shared Economy, to read the rest.........And I write a couple of good stories about driving for Postmates in Tales of UberMan

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Why is Uber Heading Toward Hybrids and Electric Cars?

Uber just made an announcement that its bringing in 20 Nissan Leafs to its fleet in London as a test project. It's being carried out to "look into the feasibility of running large numbers of electric private hire vehicles in the UK,” according to Energy Savings Trust, which is conducting the study.

The ride-hailing company says that 60% of Uber trips in London are being made in hybrids. Hybrids and electric cars have been visible for Uber in other trial runs. If you look at the Uber Partner website, you'll see a young woman leaning up against her Toyota Prius.

And here's another one: the partnership between Uber and Volvo will be carried out in Volvo XC90 plug-in hybrids. There are other similar examples out there in the market, including Lyft and General Motors preparing to test out self-driving all-electric Chevy Bolts.

Why are ridesharing companies using hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and all-electric vehicles in the test mode? Here's what I think:

  • Testing the economics. These cars are owned by drivers, who need to see financial gains from driving for Uber and Lyft. Hybrids and plug-ins means spending less on fuel. These cars, especially all electric, tend to need very little in maintenance and repair compared to gasoline engine cars; and less than hybrids and plug-in hybrids. 
  • Range is getting better: All electric cars have been getting better in the past couple of years. It's not just about waiting for the 200-300 miles per charge cars in the next couple of years. Plug-in hybrids are doing better, too, with more miles coming through the battery in the revamped Chevy Volt and other models. Hybrids themselves can do pretty well, especially the Prius. Mine can go about 475 miles on a tank of gas and get about 48 mpg.
  • Sustainability: Lots of consumers using Uber and Lyft, and car shoppers, are looking for clean cars that run on zero emissions, or near zero. It might be even more important than saving money on transportation. I've had a few riders tell me they love Uber and Lyft because they'll be taking cars off roads as more rides are shared; and if you ride in a hybrid or plug-in, that's less your emitting in greenhouse gases and air pollution. 
  • Trying out the new technology: Interested in buying/leasing a Tesla Model S, Nissan Leaf, BMW i3, Toyota Prius Prime, or Chevy Volt? You can try renting one at Enterprise or elsewhere, but there aren't many available. Taking an Uber or Lyft ride allows you to take a ride and ask the driver a lot of questions on what's it's like to own the car. The driver will tell you - honest conversation is part of the experience.
  • Ties in well with self-driving cars: I've heard a couple of experts on urban mobility talk about how electrified and autonomous vehicles would go well together; efficiency in managing and maintaining these fleets is the main point made. Fuel cost savings comes to play, and you can monitor and manage the recharging process more efficiently. That will be something to watch. I would say that the future of city transportation will be shaped by electrified, autonomous vehicles tied into mobility services like Uber and Lyft. Ridesharing, carpooling, carsharing...... lots of sharing and less car ownership.
Electrified transportation is explored in my book Tales of UberMan: An auto journalist shares his Prius with savvy riders. 

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.