A Real Rideshare: Former Taxi Driver Loves to Give People Free Rides
When Uber and Lyft first came on the scene, we called them "rideshares." That does not make any sense. You don’t “share” a ride with Uber or Lyft. You pay for one.
The Associated Press now flat-out tells reporters not to use the term "rideshare" for these companies. Instead, it says they should be called “ride-hailing” services.
So, if you want to truly share a ride in San Francisco, you can't do it with Lyft or Uber. But there is one option: Jeff Steeno.
It’s easy to ride with Steeno. First, you don’t need any money. It’s totally free. You don’t need an app or a smartphone. There’s no number to call. You don’t even have to flag him down. Just yell when you see him coming.
Steeno says, “What passengers usually do is just yell out 'free ride.' I love that. I think of like Free Bird. It always makes me think of that.”
If Steeno is going your way, and doesn’t have to pick up his kid at soccer practice, he will give you a lift.
You can’t miss Steeno on the road or in person. He has long, white unruly hair and a psychedelic tattoo on his forearm that says "Happy Everyday." His old Mercedes has a DIY paint job — bright colored streaks and a big yellow smiley face. On the side it says “a free ride is just a free ride.”
I’m catching a ride with Steeno to the beach. We’re going at a relaxed, undetermined speed. Really, I have no idea how fast we are going, nor does Steeno. His speedometer doesn’t work. Neither does his odometer. It stopped somewhere around 200,000 miles.
On the dashboard, Steeno has glued all kinds of keepsakes -- rocks, a waving Hello Kitty, cacti. If we do happen to get into an accident, you'll definitely feel it, he says, with a laugh.
Steeno used to give rides in a better-maintained car. He was a taxi driver for a couple of years. That’s when he started giving free rides -- one a day to a random passenger.
“Usually it would be some old lady in the middle of a night with a kid going to the emergency room,” Steeno says, “or somebody I just thought was super interesting.”
Steeno now teaches at a middle school. He says he gives free rides so he can keep meeting people and hearing stories. His first free-ride passenger did not disappoint.
Steeno says, “He's like, 'Well, before we go I need to tell you something.' He said, 'I am a son of Satan.' " That did not faze Steeno. “So I just said, 'OK, I am going to Sixteenth and Potrero. Is that OK?' He says, 'Yeah, that's fine.' ”
To get a ride, some people write notes on Steeno’s car. Literally, on his car.
Steeno says, “I was sitting at the coffee shop across the street, and I see this guy walk over to the car. He looked like a real skinny version of Johnny Cash, from the back, you know long black coat and a guitar over his shoulder. And he's writing on the car in ballpoint pen, saying, 'Hey I need a free ride to Boulder or Berkeley.' ”
For the record, Steeno does not do out-of-state rides. But he might drive you across the Bay to Berkeley.
Steeno says this whole thing is about more than giving people a free ride -- he’s had only a few dozen passengers in the last couple years. But he has connected with all kinds of people who see his car and its message.
Steeno says, “Nobody has ever looked at the car and frowned. Everybody smiles, they take a picture. Even people driving in a car will pull up next to me, roll down the window and say, 'Hey, can I have a free ride? And I'm like, 'Dude, you're in a car.' ”
One thing Steeno will not tolerate during a free ride is payment. It's against the rules, but Steeno says everyone still tries to give him something.
Steeno says, “They offer money, they offer marijuana, if they're eating something they'll give you half of it. People aren’t used to the idea, or don't get the idea that something is free.”
Steeno is thinking about setting up a Facebook page so he can share his ride with more people.
Until then, he says, “If you see me in this big old Mercedes, just ask for a ride and I'll say yes."