Here's our "day in the life" video comparing the experiences of driving a taxi and driving for Lyft. You'll see that the drivers comment on many of the issues in the ongoing battle between taxis and ride services: the loss of business for the taxis, the lack of insurance for the ride-service drivers, and how Lyft and Uber have been able to exploit the weaknesses of the taxi industry.
One of the many interesting things about covering this story for a couple of years now is seeing the evolution of attitudes on the part of those on the front lines of the conflict.
To be sure, many cab drivers still despise Uber/Lyft and the part-time workers who have scooped up a substantial portion of their customers by driving their own vehicles, no less. And it’s true that some cab drivers would still rather pick up a drunken, carsick barbershop quartet than try to stake a claim in the “sharing economy.”
But over the past year, many who used to drive taxis have been jumping ship to the upstart companies, leaving their former employers struggling to fill shifts. Obviously, many think they'll get a better deal working on their own. (You'll see in the video that cab drivers start every day in the hole, since they are responsible for renting the cab.)
On the ride-service side, when I talked to a group of Lyft drivers in 2013, just about every one felt like like they’d stumbled upon the greatest part-time job in the world. Good pay -- $25-40 per hour -- plus a cherished ability to literally work whenever they want with absolutely no notice required.
Troubles Mount for TNCs
Eighteen months later, while the honeymoon may not be completely over, it’s at least on the return flight home where they're skimping on the peanuts. Fatal accidents, insurance gaps, lawsuits, criminal incidents, regulatory hassles and an influx of drivers leading to diminished pay, not to mention the grind of driving hour upon hour day after day, have -- as some cab drivers had predicted would happen -- combed a few hairs out of the famous pink mustache.
We picked John Han of Yellow Cab to follow around for several reasons. A former blogger on taxi issues, he’s as well versed on the issues concerning cabs, TNCs and how the twain have met as most journalists who cover the issue.
He’s also not an ideologue when it comes to the subject of TNCs -- he used to drive for Uber Taxi, a service that connects riders with cabs. And he attempted to join UberX by buying a car financed through an Uber program, but abandoned the effort when he couldn’t find the appropriate insurance.
Insurance factored into our choice of Lyft driver Mike Banko. He’s just about the only ride-service driver we’ve met who’s willing to be named in an interview, let alone in a video. That’s because so many drivers are fearful their personal auto coverage will be canceled if their insurer finds out they’re using their vehicle for ride-service work. You’ll see in the video that Mike tells us straight up he hasn’t informed his insurance company about his job.
One thing you won't see in the video, but is an important part of any day in the life of someone who hauls passengers for a living: When we accompanied the drivers on their shifts, it was easy to see how dangerous driving in this crowded city has become. Both these guys appeared to drive very safely, yet traversing the city streets, dodging pedestrians, bikes and vehicles, it was not hard at all to imagine something occurring that would forever change multiple lives in the blink of an eye.
I'm not sure the TNC drivers fully understood that when they originally signed up -- but I think those who have stuck with it now do.