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It used to be if you wanted to get around town or to the airport and didn’t have a car, you’d take public transit or call a cab. But in the last six months, new options have popped up—rideshare services.
I decided to take these services for a test drive, with the help of KPLU news intern Simone Alicea.
The main rideshare companies now operating in the Seattle area are Sidecar, Uber, and Lyft, the ones with the fuzzy pink mustaches that seem to be everywhere.
Our first attempt to get a ride with Sidecar is unsuccessful. Ditto with Lyft.
On the Sidecar iPhone app, Simone gets the following message: “Usage is off the charts right now. All drivers are on rides.”
And the Lyft app tells her, “all drivers are currently busy.”
Now, this isn’t after the bars have closed or at the end of a Seahawks game. It’s noon on a Tuesday in downtown Seattle. We’re trying to go from Belltown to Capitol Hill.
We do have luck with Uber on our first try. Simone gets a text message: “Hi, Simone. Your Uber is en route. Raj, 4.8 stars, will pick you up in 6 minutes.”
When we open the app, we can see a picture of Raj, the 4.8-star driver.
No Smartphone, No Ride
Don’t even think about using most rideshare services without a smartphone. Before you even request a ride, you have to download an app, and register your name, a credit card number, and, in the case of Lyft, your Facebook account.
Simone, who is nearly 21, says turning over this personal information doesn’t really bother her.
“I’m part of the internet generation, so there’s so much data on me already,” she says.
At the end of the ride, we pay using the smartphone app. Uber gives us a set price. Sidecar and Lyft (yes, we did eventually connect with both services) has a “suggested donation.”
You also have the option of “rating your ride.”
For Sidecar, we have the option of choosing “good," “exceptionally awesome," or “pretty bad.” We give our driver, Fabio, an “exceptionally awesome” rating and then are prompted to answer the question: “What was the best part of your ride?” The choices include “nice vehicle” and “great attitude.” We choose the latter.
Fist Bumps and Pink Mustaches
Like the other rideshare services, Lyft says it embodies a different culture than traditional cab services. Our Lyft driver, Kevin, encourages Simone to sit in the front. And then he gives each of us a fist bump, a Lyft ritual.
Kevin talks a lot about drivers and riders coming together, about a sense of community.
It is, however, a community you can be booted out of.
Riders Get Rated, Too
Just as you have the option of rating your driver, your driver can rate you as a passenger.
“I rate everybody a 5, because everybody’s awesome in my book,” Kevin tells us. But, he explains, if you are particularly obnoxious or drunk or always give less than the suggested donation, you could find it difficult to get a ride in the future.
“Those sort of people would, at some point, be unwelcome in the community,” he says.
At the very least, he would no longer show up as a potential driver for you when you go to the app.
Drivers Drive When They Want To
Another way these rideshare services differ from regulated taxis in Seattle and King County is that the drivers aren’t professionals, they don’t have commercial licenses. They use their own cars and, in many cases, just do the job in their spare time.
Our Lyft driver Kevin, for example, is an actor. When he’s not available to drive, he just turns off the app on his phone.
Taking a Cab the Old-Fashioned Way
For comparison sake, we decide to take a taxi. Simone looks up the phone number for Yellow Cab and makes the call.
For her, the most difficult thing about using the taxi is having to actually call and talk with someone on the telephone.
“ You get that ‘Hello’ and you have to figure out what you’re going to say. I know it sounds crazy to you, but my friends and I talk a lot about how talking on the phone is the worst thing in the world,” she tells me.
For her, it just seems so last century.
A Question of Safety
We pay for our cab ride in cash—something we couldn’t do with the rideshare cars.
Of course, the flip side of that is the driver doesn’t have any information about us either, no pre-registered credit card or Facebook account.
Our driver, Yosef, knows about the dangers of driving a cab firsthand.
He has only recently started driving again, after being severely beaten last March. At the time, couple refused to pay him, then attacked.
“And I found myself on the ground, some guy punching me and the lady kicking me and they left me on the street like a dead person,” Yosef says.
The perpetrators were apprehended, but Yosef remains wary. He says he only continues to drive a cab because he really needs the money.
Taxi on Time, Price Comparable
In our experiment, the taxi did arrive quickly and the cost for the cab and the other services was about the same, between $8 and $10.
But Simone, who is in the younger demographic that the rideshare services seem to be aimed at, still prefers those services over a cab. She says they feel more like what she’s used to, similar to on line dating sites like OKCupid.
“When I’m sitting there in the car, rating my driver, it feels very social and like I’m deciding to go on a date with this person,” she says.
As for Seattle’s relationship with rideshare services, it’s complicated. The city and King County are trying to decide in the next few months if and how to regulate this new way of getting around.