As part of an ongoing no-car month experiment (not owning or leasing a car for the last eleven months), I’ve relied heavily on the freelance taxi/ride-sharing service Lyft. Overall my experience with Lyft has been good. The drivers are generally courteous, friendly (but not too friendly), and drive safely. In turn I try to be a good rider, being ready when drivers arrive, not slamming doors, and tipping (which Lyft allows in-app; their competitor Uber doesn’t). I like most of the drivers I meet, and I almost always give 5-star ratings.
But here’s the thing–if there’s any complexity to a pickup or drop-off location, most Lyft drivers will get it wrong. Lyft drivers rely almost entirely on GPS, and even though GPS navigation is a miraculous invention, it fails consistently with large buildings, detours, poor cell-service areas, and even some straightforward locations (GPS often ignores the street I live on and directs drivers to one block away from my house).
This generally isn’t the fault of drivers. Talking to Lyft drivers, I’ve learned they cover extremely large areas. A typical Bay Area Lyft driver day might include the East Bay, San Francisco, San Jose, and even Marin. It’s impossible to know all these areas like the back of your hand. Even if there was a will and a way to implement some sort of ambitious driver training program like London’s The Knowledge, the average Lyft or Uber driver’s range is just too vast. The majority of the time, these drivers are navigating areas they don’t know well.
GPS navigation works pretty well, but that isn’t good enough. There is some kind of minor or major navigation problem with the majority of my rides. And I pay for those problems–the virtual meter is always ticking.
Navigation problems include:
- GPS directs to wrong pickup/drop-off spot (this is mostly some weird bug with my home address–it happens about a quarter of the time).
- GPS recommends an inefficient, indirect route. Maybe the GPS system thinks it is “saving time” by avoiding traffic or stop lights, but the weaving around, adding-extra-left-turns GPS directions in my traffic-free residential neighborhood are pointless and annoying. Sometimes I tell the driver to take a more direct route, but my “override” only works about half the time (either because the driver doesn’t speak English well, or because the GPS directs them back onto the inefficient route before I can intervene).
- Big buildings. Though Google Maps seems to have it right, yesterday a Lyft driver was directed to the back of 1000 Oak Street (the Oakland Museum). Since I’m using crutches at the moment, we had to take the long way round to the front entrance, adding a few bucks to my ride. I had a similar problem getting picked up at the Kaiser Center by Lake Merritt after a client meeting. The driver kept getting near my location at the front entrance, but it was only after a ten-minute phone conversation that he managed to pick me up.
Once again, not the fault of the drivers. The way Lyft works, drivers have to go to where the riders want to go, and that often deposits them in unfamiliar areas.
I’ve only taken Uber a few times, but I experienced a similar rate of navigation issues from that small sample.
What can Lyft do to fix the issue? Here are a few ideas:
- Let drivers specify the areas with which they are familiar. Don’t connect drivers with riders who need to go outside of those areas.
- Compile a short list of “frequent issue” pick-up/drop-off locations for each metropolitan area, and train and test drivers on how to effectively navigate to and from these locations.
- Make GPS navigation smarter.
With the demise of City Car Share, ongoing navigation problems with Lyft, and my apparent inability to use bicycles and skateboards without injuring myself, I’m thinking the no-car experiment may soon come to an end.
Has your experience been different? Similar? Let me know in the comments.