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Monday, July 11, 2016

Should Lyft Drivers Be Excited About New Leasing Option Coming to SF?

Posted By on Mon, Jul 11, 2016 at 12:05 PM

  • Mike Koozmin
For as much as the gig economy is vilified in San Francisco and beyond, with earnings promises seemingly never living up to corporate assurances, it’s still an employment option used by thousands and thousands of folks every day. So any incentive for the little guy is worth noting.

Which brings us to Express Drive, a vehicle rental service for aspiring or existing Lyft drivers. Launched earlier this year in Chicago, Baltimore, and a few other cities, it’s been so successful that it’s expanding to more cities, including San Francisco, and it actually looks like a decent option (even if looks can be deceiving).

The partnership between Lyft and General Motors is slated to launch this summer in the city, according to an announcement from GM today. It will also come to Los Angeles and Denver later. GM says in these three cities combined, more than 130,000 people have applied to be Lyft drivers but did not have qualifying cars. (It’s unclear how many were in San Francisco, as there was no city-by-city breakdown.)

Driving for ride-hail apps like Uber and Lyft can be challenging when you don’t actually own a car, or your vehicle is too old to meet company standards or too small. Or maybe you just don’t want to put all that mileage and strain on your precious Prius. Many leasing options already exist, but Express Drive could be the best value. Of course, you have to really drive for that to happen.

The system only benefits the driver/lessee in a meaningful way if they spend a lot of time on the road — as in taking at least 65 fares a week. That’s when all the rental, maintenance, and insurance fees are waived, but the driver still pays for gas. If you take between 40 and 64 fares a week, you’d pay a flat $99 fee for the vehicle. And when it’s under 40 rides per week, the $99 fee is charged along with 20 cents per mile. Other lease options can cost $120 to $200 a week, plus gas and maintenance, so Express Drive is a better deal for frequent drivers. This rideshare blog did a nice analysis of the service back in April.

In smaller markets it might be challenging to achieve those fare numbers, especially with Lyft, which is not as big as rival Uber even though it’s been making headway on that front. But San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area is a top market for ride-hail apps, so Express Drive will probably be huge here. Hopefully people will be able to make a better living than the poor souls driving for Uber in these three markets.
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Friday, June 24, 2016

S.F.'s "Vision Zero" Isn't Stopping Bad Drivers, Or Hit-and-Runs

Posted By on Fri, Jun 24, 2016 at 12:33 PM


What we know following the deaths of two cyclists Wednesday in San Francisco is that both were biking legally, the streets are considered high-injury corridors, and advocates say the city isn’t following through on its Vision Zero promises to end traffic fatalities by 2024.

We also know the actions of both drivers in the separate collisions were woefully illegal, including fleeing the scene in each case. That begs the question: No matter how many improvements are made to streets in the name of protecting pedestrians and cyclists, will drivers stop running red lights or making illegal lane changes? And will they stop trying to get away after the fact?

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Facebook Workers Ditch Shuttle, Drive to Campus

Posted By on Tue, Jun 14, 2016 at 12:54 PM

Today is a good day to drive. - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Wikimedia Commons
  • Today is a good day to drive.

Are San Francisco’s notorious commuter shuttle activists driving more tech workers into cars? That probably sounds infuriating or laughable, but it could be true.

“Facebook disclosed that their car commute trips had spiked in recent months, adding about 400 more cars to San Francisco streets, due to new San Francisco rules changing shuttle stops.”

That nugget comes via the Friends of Caltrain Blog, as reported by Streetsblog SF.

Those new rules started Feb. 1 and were born out of the SFMTA’s pilot program regulating such vehicles, which one could argue was born out of people’s displeasure with the shuttles that were becoming more and more common on city streets after years of unfettered operation.

Or, perhaps slow-moving government finally caught up at the same time activists started making headlines.

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Friday, June 3, 2016

It Didn't Go Well For the Proposed Uber Settlement Yesterday

Posted By on Fri, Jun 3, 2016 at 1:55 PM

What a deal. - FLICKR/DENNIS
  • Flickr/Dennis
  • What a deal.
It doesn't look great for the proposed $84 million settlement the lawsuit filed against ride-share giant Uber by the hundreds of thousands of its drivers, after the judge overseeing the case said Thursday the settlement gives him "serious concerns." 

In 2013, Uber drivers filed a massive class-action suit against the $62 billion company, alleging Uber was withholding tips and classifying drivers as independent contracts while treating them as employees. A few weeks ago, not long before the possibly momentous trial was to begin — the result of which could have threatened the very basis for how workers are classified in the Silicon Valley gig economy — Uber reached a settlement with the drivers' attorney, Shannon Liss-Riordan.

Under the terms, Uber drivers could collect tips but will remain contractors. On top of that, drivers could not file further lawsuits challenging their employment status and certain work conditions. In return, drivers would receive a settlement check ranging from between $25 to $218 — while Liss-Riordan's firm would pocket $25 million. If Uber went public, the settlement would increase from $84 million to $100 million.

That led to a revolt, with both the lead plaintiff and hundreds of drivers asking Judge Edward Chen to reject the settlement and remove Liss-Riordan as attorney, and other attorneys, filing separate actions, guessing that the damages in the case could be worth more than $1 billion.

On Thursday, Chen subjected both Liss-Riordan and Uber attorneys to some withering scrutiny,
putting the former adversaries on the collective defensive.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Good Uber: Company Offering Car-Free Incentive to New Parkmerced Residents

Posted By on Wed, May 18, 2016 at 1:24 PM


It appears Uber, the convenient villain in the morality play of our lives, has actually done something good. The highly valuable gig economy giant is using its untold heaps of money and network of non-employee drivers to offer new residents of Parkmerced — the planned community of apartment high-rises and townhomes near San Francisco State on the west side — a $100 a month transit subsidy for going car-free.

It can be used for any type of transit sans personal vehicle as long as at least $30 goes back to Uber services like the new carpooling feature Uber Pool. And to make that last part more palatable, Uber plans to create a “geo-fence” — no, not like the awful dome TV show — around Parkmerced to ensure all Uber Pool rides to and from the village to nearby BART or Muni stations are a flat $5.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Brief, Unsafe Traffic Reaction to the Frisco 5

Posted By on Wed, May 11, 2016 at 11:48 AM

Walking in the bike lane. - ARNO ROSENFELD/SF WEEKLY
  • Arno Rosenfeld/SF Weekly
  • Walking in the bike lane.

After the "Frisco 5" hunger strikers left their post in front of the Mission police station on Friday to go to the hospital  — where, the following day, their 17-day protest ended — barricades were quickly erected, blocking the entirety of the sidewalk around the station.

This as done to apparently to ward off future protesters, but it also forced a violation of traffic rules, as it forced pedestrians to walk in the street and bicycle lane to get up and down busy Valencia.

Guarded by several officers at either end, the barricades were up through Tuesday afternoon — four days after the the camp had been cleared and the sidewalks dutifully power-washed by Public Works crews — and officials have yet to explain exactly why.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

BART's Train Supplier is Missing Deadlines, Losing Contracts, Seeking Bailout

Posted By on Tue, Mar 22, 2016 at 7:00 AM

Will we ever see it run? - BOMBARDIER
  • Bombardier
  • Will we ever see it run?

The still-mysterious electrical surge that knocked out almost 10 percent of BART's fleet of rail cars could not have come at a worse time. (There is probably no good time; a less-awful time may have been, say, six years ago, when far fewer people rode BART.)

The evil current is breaking a key part — an electrical semiconductor called a thyristor — in BART's already-ancient fleet of rail cars, some of which are already past their recycle-by date. Conveniently, BART has no spare thyristors and has had to order new ones... which won't be delivered until August.

In the meantime, BART has resorted to pirating thyristors from some of its old cars... of which there are literally none to spare. BART has over 669 cars in its fleet and is supposed to run 579 on a daily basis, but was down to 521 as recently as Friday (though 557 were available on Monday).

All of this to say that BART's $1.5 billion, 775-car "Fleet of the Future" cannot arrive soon enough — and that it quite possibly will not.

Bombardier, the rolling stock giant contracted to build the fleet, has missed key deadlines to supply rail cars to agencies in Toronto and London, the latter of which yanked its contract. Best yet: Bombardier is currently seeking a billion-dollar bailout from the federal government in Canada. And as it is, Bombardier is already months late in delivering to BART its first prototype car.

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Friday, March 18, 2016

Report: With Eye on Self-Driving Cars, Uber Buys 100,000 Mercedes

Posted By on Fri, Mar 18, 2016 at 2:18 PM


The word out of Germany today is San Francisco-headquartered Uber is buying 100,000 Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedans — not for the world's largest and most obnoxious rap video ("I got 99 problems/but an employee ain't one"), but in order to prepare for the not-too-distant future where taxis — and Uber drivers — are eliminated with self-driving Uber vehicles.

The news first broke via a German publication, Manager Magazin, which noted that both Uber and Daimler (the parent company of the German luxury auto of choice) have been investing "heavily" in autonomous technology: Uber hired away most of Carnegie Mellon University's robotics team, and Mercedes has an S-Class that's able to navigate traffic by itself, Engadget notes.

For Uber — notorious for treating its workers poorly, as if they were excess, unwanted baggage only here by way of necessity — the end goal seems clear: a sentient fleet of Ubers, sans drivers (the company already has one, after all).

And while the original report, sourced from anonymous sources, is now being refuted by anonymous sources, apparently Mercedes wasn't the only automaker Uber approached. 

Tesla was another. No matter who supplied them, "[Uber] wanted autonomous cars," an anonymous source told Reuters. "It seemed like they were shopping around."

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Thursday, March 17, 2016

The $3.5 Billion Reasons Why BART is Tweeting Honestly

Posted By on Thu, Mar 17, 2016 at 2:08 PM

click image Now that makes cents. - FLICKR/MICHAEL MANDLBERG
  • Flickr/Michael Mandlberg
  • Now that makes cents.

BART is making nationwide news today — for at least some of the right reasons.

On Wednesday night, following the first of what promises to be several days of hellacious commutes — thanks, it would appear, to a section of track along the Pittsburg-Bay Point line that's spiking in voltage, knocking almost a tenth of BART's fleet of train cars out of commission and shutting down two stations entirely — the regional transit agency began engaging riders in a direct and straightforward manner. 

Transit agencies "getting real" — or at least real millennial-friendly, with GIFs replacing graphs and emojis not off-limits — has been a thing for some time. (Rest assured, LA Metro: Nobody can touch you.) BART's turn towards straight talk was refreshing enough to earn the agency praise from national publications like New York magazine and Vox. "Wow," Gawker mused. "Finally some honesty from the government."

But there's a real pragmatic reason why BART is speaking plainly to its people: those same people are likely to be asked to tax themselves on BART's behalf this fall.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Lyft Drivers Reject Settlement, Want Employee Status Instead of Cash

Posted By on Tue, Mar 15, 2016 at 2:05 PM

Keep the stache — I want a job. - FLICKR/SPUR
  • Flickr/SPUR
  • Keep the stache — I want a job.

Lyft drivers unhappy with their status as independent contractors say a recent $12.25 million settlement in an employment classification lawsuit merely allows the ride-hail app company to continue doing business as usual.

Today, the Teamsters union is expected to file an objection to the settlement, which has yet to receive a judge’s approval, in U.S. district court in San Francisco, according to The Guardian. 

The class action lawsuit covers about 100,000 drivers, some of whom say it’s more important to be considered full-time employees of Lyft in order to receive benefits like overtime pay, expense reimbursement, minimum wage, Social Security, and workers’ compensation.

Due to the number of drivers covered in the lawsuit, the average payout would be $60, with some longer-time employees receiving up to $1,000. It also means Lyft does not have to reclassify drivers as employees.

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