25 June 2017

Disruptive Technologies: Governmental Regulations of Ride-Sharing Apps like Lyft and Uber

[Updated 25 June 2017 at 7:20 pm EDT with information on driver requirements and safety features]

As someone who's been using ride-sharing technology from apps such as Lyft and Uber for the past few years, I see a lot of misconceptions and misperceptions about them, especially by people who've never used them. Here are my thoughts, based on my real life experiences after having taken hundreds of rides with both services over the past few years. I'm not merely responding to the hype surrounding them based on stories I've read or heard about but my actual experiences.

People are afraid of technology and have a tendency demonize anything new and disruptive to the status-quo. We need to get over our fears of change and embrace new technologies and the world we live in, especially when those technologies make our lives easier.

Lyft and Uber are companies that have been operating for years and have had time to work most of the kinks out of their systems. They wouldn't have survived if serious issues persisted, especially with the speed at which bad -- and even sometimes decent -- apps fail. Nor would they have been able to garner such a wide and diverse fan base.

Being driven by technology allows these services to respond much more quickly to the market than more traditional services. All of the changes I've seen them implement have added value and increased usability. For instance, the ability to connect my calendar to Lyft so that I can select destinations with a single tap (provided I've entered that information into my calendar), or the ability to schedule pickups based on calendar appointments (ever try scheduling a pickup with a cab company a week or a month in advance?).

Consider these additional points I've been mulling over in my mind, that I've relayed to some legislators in New York State as it considers and readies itself to welcome these long-awaited services on a state-wide basis:

1. When I order a ride from Lyft or Uber, I know the name of the driver being sent to pick me up. I know what their car is going to be, and I know its licence plate. I also have a picture of the driver (and they have my picture, as well). If any of this information doesn't match, I simply do not get into the car and report the ride to the app (this has never, by the way, ever happened to me). When I call a regular cab, none of this information is available to me. In fact, there are times when I've gotten into a cab and the person's picture on the license displayed in the cab didn't match the driver. There's no way for me to report them without endangering my own safety as I'm already in the cab.

2. When I order a ride from Lyft or Uber I can be presented with an estimate of how much my ride will cost. Often, trying to get this information from a cab company, especially when rates are based on mileage as opposed to zones, is like trying to get blood out of a stone.

3. Using Lyft or Uber to order a ride, I know exactly when the ride will arrive. I actually see my ride's progress on-screen in a GPS-like fashion. I can go outside to meet the ride at precisely the time it's arriving. Compare this to traditional taxi service, where I have to wait outside, often in foul weather, where others might be waiting for a cab they've called to arrive. This also eliminates issues where multiple individuals are waiting for a cab and get into an argument as to which cab is theirs, as well as situations where other people "steal" "your" cab.

If I'm not outside when the ride arrives, I'm told exactly how much time the driver will wait for me (via a countdown clock in the app). If I don't appear or at least contact the driver within that time frame, I know that they'll leave and I'll be charged for the ride. This also is a plus for drivers as they know they won't be wasting time for a ride that never shows up; the passenger is charged for the ride (usually a no-show fee) if the driver has waited at the location for the requisite amount of time and the passenger is a no-show. GPS technology ensures that drivers aren't lying about their location, i.e. saying they were there but nowhere in the area (how many times have you been waiting for a cab to show up and the cab company keeps telling you that it's there, or "on the way"?).

4. If I ever leave something behind in a Lyft or Uber ride, I merely contact the company through the app. They know exactly who the driver was, and what the car was. They're able to have the driver contact me immediately. In some instances, the driver even discovered an item I left in their car before I have realized I left it behind. They contacted me through the app, and arranged for me to have them drop it off.

5. For drivers, there is much less risk of being robbed. All payments are done through the app, so drivers usually aren't carrying cash with them. The same goes for passengers, as there's less of a reason for passengers to carry cash with them.

6. En route, I know the quickest way to get to where I'm going. The apps involved use GPS navigation. When a driver picks up a passenger, GPS navigation mode is automatically enabled by the app until the passenger disembarks. This shows what usually is the quickest route. If the driver veers from that route in order to increase their fare, it's quite obvious.

7. If anything does happen, a complete record of the trip is stored on the servers of the respective app Developers. Law enforcement can serve a subpoena upon Lyft or Uber to obtain this information, which includes all driver information, pick-up point, GPS tracking of the entire trip, and GPS tracking of the driver after the trip ends.

8. Both Lyft or Uber, and I presume other similar apps, have ways to contact the company through the app in the event of an emergency that takes place during a ride. While I have never had to use this feature, two of my friends have. They've reported very positive results with this. And contact was immediate and seamless. One friend contacted the company because the driver was using language they didn't approve of. In that instance, the company was able to have another driver meet them so my friend could switch rides, with the original driver being unaware of this until the point where the switch took place.

9. As these services are electronic , expense reporting is much simpler and more seamless. Some of the expense reporting programs and applications have automatic tie-ins into LyftUber, and other such ride-sharing applications. For those that don't, I simply can forward the email receipt I receive for every trip to the application, which automatically transcribes the information from the email into the expense reporting system.

Additionally, the advent of profiles in both apps allows me to easily separate my personal and business trips and even set a different credit card to be used as the default payment for each. For instance, if I had a company credit card I could assign that to pay for all business trips, while my personal credit card would pay for all other trips.

10. I'm able to leave a rating for drivers, as well as include comments about my ride experience that are related to the driver anonymously. Apps like Lyft allow me to set a minimum rating for a driver, so that I'm never paired with one who has a rating below a certain level, e.g., four stars.

11. Similarly, drivers are allowed to rate passengers. Thus, "bad passengers" are weeded from the system. For instance, passengers who routinely cancel a ride, passengers who are abusive, Etc.

12.  Payment is handled through the system. Both drivers and passengers benefit from this. Passengers are able to disembark more quickly because they don't have to fumble with their purses and wallets to pay the driver, either via credit card or cash. They simply get out of the ride upon arriving at their destination. Drivers never have to worry about being stiffed by a passenger, because as soon as they mark the passenger as having disembarked, the charge is processed. It's a win-win on both sides.

13. If a passenger ever has an issue with their fare, they can request to have it reviewed. The one or two times that I had an issue, a prompt refund was issued to me, as well as a credit for future rides. Additionally, the two times (out of hundreds) I had a complaint about a driver and reported it to the application, I received not only a refund, but credit for future rides.

One time I received credit for a ride I hadn't even taken. The driver kept making stops, which increased the arrival time, and at one point even went in the opposite direction. I canceled that ride, and requested another, then reported the driver's actions to the company. Upon review they sent me an apology--with a credit for a future ride. Ever get that from a cab company for having to wait too long for the cab to show up?

14. Since passengers do not need to carry money with them, it's yet another reason to leave our purses and wallets at home. With the advent of mobile payment systems, it's all the more reason not to have to bring credit cards that can be stolen, or purses and wallets that can be left behind. If anything ever happens to one's phone, it's simply a matter of logging into a computer and sending a signal to have the device located and, failing that, wipe the information from the device. Of course, this presumes that people take minimal precautions, such as setting a PIN to open their phone.

15. Both Lyft or Uber have certain requirements about the cars drivers use and are a driving force behind the drive toward a greener, cleaner, more environmentally-friendly economy. Cars that don't meet passengers' expectations can be reported to the company via the app.

16. Fare-splitting is a cinch. If you're riding with a friend or business associate and wish to split the fare, simply enter their email or phone number into the app. They will receive a prompt to approve sharing the cost of the ride, and each passenger will be charged accordingly. It's as simple as that.

17. The horror stories that some have heard about passengers being attacked, etc., are few and far between. Those situations were handled swiftly and deftly. The drivers have been banned from the services. How often has a report of a passenger in a taxi gone unreported by media? The fact that passengers are using their phone to hail a ride provides greater safety, as well as impetus, to share any difficulties they've had. And online communities are quick to react to negativity. As such, companies using cloud technology are much quicker -- and usually more generous -- in their responses to those few customers who do have complaints.

18. Both Lyft or Uber require extensive checks for anyone who signs up to become a driver. Both companies require drivers to undergo criminal background checks, as well as DMV verification. Drivers Uber must meet number of additional requirements, as well (see Lyft's driver requirements and Uber's driver requirements). Additionally, both companies have implemented numerous safety measures (Lyft's safety and Uber's safety) that aren't available to either drivers or passengers of regular taxi services, some of which I've outlined above. These include:
  1. Critical/Rapid Response lines
  2. DMV checks
  3. Background checks
  4. Criminal record checks
  5. Vehicle standards
  6. Zero-tolerance DUI policies
  7. User ratings
  8. Additional insurance coverage
  9. Driver/Passenger profiles
  10. Anonymous feedback
  11. Anonymization of phone numbers when contacting drivers
  12. Always-on GPS
  13. Knowing who your driver/passenger will be
  14. 24/7/365 customer support
Of course, I haven't touched upon the benefits to our economy by individuals being able to have another option to increase their incomes or any of those aspects. I merely wanted to give you my perspectives as a frequent user of applications such as Lyft or Uber. Living in Yonkers, NY, I've had the luxury of being able to, on occasion, grab a ride from one of these services from my home. I wish I had that option all of the time and thankfully it will be coming even sooner now that the NYS Legislature has approved these services on a statewide basis.

One final point: I've heard from some parents who are concerned about allowing their child to get into a cab where the driver hasn't gone through a background check and been fingerprinted. My response to these concerns is this: These apps require the use of a smartphone. Why does your child have a smartphone, and why are you putting your child into a car without accompanying them? Why should the government even be considering regulations that allow you to abdicate your responsibilities as a parent?

I strongly suggest that those who are worried about these services at least try them out. And to help you out, you can use the links below to receive credit towards a free ride:

Lyft: https://www.lyft.com/invite/PETERCFRANK
Uber: https://www.uber.com/invite/gwobv

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