Sunday, March 30, 2014



HELLO FOLKS: Hope your year is going well so far. I’m still here, just busy with work and school that I have even less time to devote to my blog, but I’m still here and available to answer questions, if you have any. I may not have posted an entry lately, but rest assured I do go back in here from time to time to see what you have to say about the things I write about.

For this post I decided to try something different, and instead of you asking the questions, I will. I recently conducted this interview below for a school project for one of my broadcast journalism classes and decided the topic was so compelling that I posted the interview here on my blog. It is in audio format, so the 10-minute tape is a few paragraphs below, and the transcript, if you prefer to just read it instead, is even further down.

It seems getting some kind of transportation from the launch of an app from your smart phone is getting easier all the time. I remember the days when a Palm Treo phone ruled the world, and you could order a taxi by using an app like Taxi Magic to hail a cab. I also remember the days when Zipcar first came out, where you can rent a car by the hour, GAS AND INSURANCE INCLUDED, and make reservations for the nearest car in your neighborhood by launching the app to find the nearest garage. Depending on the time of day for as cheap as $7/hour, it could sometimes be cheaper than hailing a NYC cab to hustle across town in a Zipcar. But it recently seems that getting a ride around town is now on a totally different level . . .

“Lyft” is an Android or iPhone app that is a ride sharing service, which unlike Zipcar, where you share a Zipcar-owned car with other subscribers on an individual basis. With Lyft and Sidecar, instead of sharing the car, you share the ride in someone else’s private car with them driving in exchange for a fee. This is also opposed to a traditional taxi or limo fare where a professional driver in an owned or leased taxi or black car/limo is paid by providing car service, where you pay for both the car and the service combined. Have I already gotten you confused?

Well, apparently the LAX Police aren’t. For the past several months the Los Angeles World Airports Authority (LAWA) Police have been pulling over ride sharing car owners at LAX for various violations, strictly enforcing a state law that allows the state’s airports to apply different rules when it comes to regulating traffic that leaves the airport with extra fees and surcharges.

In this crackdown, there have been a handful of arrests at the airport, and hundreds of tickets issued to drivers from such phone apps like Lyft, Sidecar, and Uber. This crackdown doesn’t affect passengers who are looking for a ride. But it has had a significant impact on the drivers looking for passengers at the airport. Most of the violations are for things like not having the right insurance to carry passengers and not collecting the airport pickup surcharge. If the police start there, then that opens a whole new can of worms for the police to start looking for anything and everything once they stop a car for those violations alone, and from a legal standpoint, it’s all legit.

It is one thing to implement summary enforcement on professionals like a bus, truck, taxi, or limo driver, whom are all held to a higher standard, but another when the police start pulling over passenger car drivers for the same issues that effect professional drivers as well. It does grab the attention of many, and the impact has been jarring. Many of the tickets have been dismissed in court, but that doesn’t marginalize the experience of being pulled over by the police, sometimes with strangers in your car, served a ticket at roadside, and then going through the system for some kind of disposition and resolution. Apps like Sidecar and Uber have stopped some drivers from making airport transfers from the airport. Many ride sharing drivers have gone to social media to share their experiences about getting pulled over by the airport police, and getting tickets for things one would think they would never be cited for driving their own passenger car.

I interviewed “Jerry Gonzalez,” a Lyft driver who came forward anonymously to share his stories of what it is like to be a Lyft driver, and to explain what are the challenges he and his colleagues face when they pick up a passenger at LAX. He agreed to do the interview under the following circumstances:

1.  The interview would be 5-10 minutes long conducted at a time and location at the driver’s convenience.
2.     The conversation is recorded with the driver’s knowledge on the interviewer’s iPhone in the driver’s presence and is subject to examination by anyone requesting or inquiring about its authenticity.
3.   The pre-determined purpose of this interview was to discuss the law enforcement related controversies of Lyft driving, particularly at LAX.
4.     Depending on the broadcast quality, the driver understood that this conversation and transcript might be posted on the interviewer’s blog at a later time as it contains valuable content of a police related nature.
5.     The driver understood that this interview was primarily for a college assignment.
6.   It was understood that this interview would be done anonymously with the driver using a fictitious name to protect his identity from recrimination either by authorities, Lyft, or his personal car insurance company.
7.     I promised to protect the driver’s true identity.

Click here to listen to his story:  

Here’s the transcript:

Thank you “Jerry” for joining us to share some of your experiences with us.

Q.   Tell me in your own words what is Lyft and how did you get involved in it?

A. Sure, Lyft is a ride-share application through your smartphone that passengers are able to download from the website and set up to get service. I’ve been involved with Lyft for the past six months. I made a mental note to myself to use them the next time I went to the airport and I did. I really enjoyed them. I enjoyed their friendly service; it’s such a different experience than riding in a taxicab. At some point another driver asked me if I wanted to become one and here I am.

Q. How do you get paid? How does that process work?

A. What happens is at the end of each Lyft ride a passenger gets a fare and we get paid once a week 80% of our fare and 20% goes to Lyft. If there are any credit card issues, Lyft pays the driver anyway if the charges don’t go through.

Q. So if you get stiffed in some way Lyft will cover that expense for you.

A. Yes if the credit card gets declined, that is correct.

Q. What are some of the positive experience that you had with Lyft; are there any unusual experiences you had? You often hear about the dynamics of a taxi cab driver; is the dynamic similar to that of a cab driver? Are the dynamics of your job similar to that?

A. I’m sure it is. I can’t speak for cab drivers, but my Lyft experiences have been very positive. It’s always been interesting, like I have several passengers who are actually bicyclists who have gotten flat tires and they’re out in the middle of the road in the middle of the night in a panic trying to get home and they call Lyft. It gives me a lot of satisfaction to be able to pick them up and rescue them; put their bike in the back of my car, and get them home safely. At one point a female bicyclist called me her “nighttime savior.”

Q. Have there been any negative experiences being a Lyft driver?

A. Yes there have been, as far as negative that would involve picking up young adults in West Hollywood coming out of the clubs intoxicated. The negative experiences have been when I ask them to please put on their safety belts and they decline. I remind them that this is the state of California law and not me trying to be mean. One time there were these three passengers who refused to put their seatbelts on so I went ahead and informed them that their Lyft ride had ended and told them to please exit my car.

Q. So you threw them out right on the side of the road?

A. No, I didn’t throw them out; I actually asked them to leave. I forewarned them three times to put on the safety belt and they refused. At that point I figured you know what? If they aren’t concerned about their own safety to argue about it with me, why should I take the risk to give them a ride? So at that point I ended the ride and asked them to get out of the car.

Q. So it ended that way?

A. Correct. At first they tried to backpedal, and said, “oh we’ll put them on,’ but at that point I had ask them three individual times to put them on, that they refused, so at that point I didn’t want to argue any more.

Q. Since we are talking about safety, let’s talk about your interaction as a Lyft driver with the police. I’ve read a lot of controversy lately between Lyft drivers and the police, particularly at LAX airport. I understand that they can be quite aggressive in their enforcement over there, and I also understand that there are extra laws over there that pertain to you that are causing the enforcement, and why they are out there. What has been your experiences, or those experiences with other Lyft drivers, as far as the police at LAX?

A. Sure I’ll first give you my experiences and then those I’ve heard from other Lyft drivers. My experiences have always been very positive. We’ve been told by Lyft management that when we go to the airport to remove our mustaches from the front of our cars.

Q. What is that mustache?

A. It’s a pink mustache that we put on the front of our grilles and it’s for branding and marketing purposes. Its like Nike has their swoosh and Lyft has their mustache.

Q. Is there any meaning behind the mustache?

A. It’s just about recognition and safety because what happens is a lot of passengers and drivers when they request a lift they’ll pick up passengers and the passengers will know that this is their ride with the pink mustache. Some of the other services don’t have branding like we do . . . so anyway we were told to remove our mustaches. My experiences have been very positive. I’ve never been harassed by the police because I’ve adhered to the guidelines that Lyft has forwarded to us. On the other hand, I have heard of other drivers that have been harassed where in most of those cases they haven’t taken their mustache off. Recently the police at the airport have been cracking down on these ride share companies coming into the airport, primarily for two reasons: one is insurance, the other is the airport needs to collect their $4 pick up fee for any transportation company that brings a passenger into the airport.

Q. The $4 collection fee seems to be the focal point as to what the LAWA Police seems to be enforcing, is that correct?

A. Correct.

Q. Now what about the insurance?

A. The LAX police want to ensure that any transportation company that picks up passengers is insured, that they have commercial insurance. My understanding from what I’ve read is that my company Lyft has a $1 million liability coverage for any incidents that occur while on our way to pick up passengers or while we have passengers or in our car. I personally believe our current insurance covers or meet the requirements of commercial. What’s been happening it that Lyft has been having an issue with the $4 fee. Lyft has finally agreed, and said fine, let’s deal with the fee. I understand that Lyft is now in the process of negotiating the fee with the LAX police to get that resolved, so that we can go there without incident to pick up passengers.

Q. Do you know how those negotiations are coming along? Are you anywhere close to an impasse where you’ll be able to go to the airport and not worry about being pulled over by the police? 

A. Two weeks ago Lyft sent out an email to all the drivers indicating that they were in the process of negotiating with the police department to settle the $4 fee. So that’s news to me because at first they were trying to fight it because Lyft felt that the $4 fee was for taxis and we’re not considered a taxi service. We went through the California Public Utilities Commission to identify our business model and they identified us as a transportation network company, not as a livery service. My understanding is that any citations or any legal fees that any drivers incur during this ticketing process, that Lyft will cover them. The contention is the citation number that gets issued to these drivers for operating illegal taxis, gets kicked out of the courts because we are not a taxi service. So even though the police at the airport are citing drivers, I have not heard of them going further than being dismissed.

Thank you Jerry Gonzalez for joining us and for sharing your experiences with us with Lyft the smart phone app ride sharing service.

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