Lee-Phillips.org
Why I Still Use Taxis
Lee Phillips
November 1, 2018

When I lived in Washington, DC, the taxis were forced to use an antiquated “zone system” rather than meters. The drivers hated it, but Congress refused to let the city modernize the fare system, because the government staff didn’t want to give up their $3 rides within Zone 1, where most of the Federal offices were clustered.

Now they have meters, as I discovered recently when visiting DC and taking a cab for the first time in a few years. So the nearly-free rides are over. My driver said he was happy about the new system, as the old one was kind of insane. Also, they can now take credit cards. Despite the higher fares, he thought that everyone was happier. I didn't ask him about the new form of competition he and his colleagues were facing: Lyft, Uber, and who knows what else. Speaking of those devils, why was I in a taxi at all? Don't all the hip people just Uber and Lyft around town nowadays? I was in a taxi because Lyft, perhaps detecting through deep learning AI my lack of hipness, refused to send me any cars.

I'd heard so many bad things about Uber that I decided to try Lyft, which seemed to have a better reputation: fewer assaults on passengers, happier drivers, that kind of thing. I downloaded the app to reserve a car to take me from a hotel at 5:30 am to an address about seven miles away. I resist installing apps, and certainly never had to in order to reserve taxis, but I understood why one was needed to use Lyft, so I decided to bite my lip and increase the attack surface of my phone.

The app was clumsy and confusing. I managed to make the reservation, but it took a while to figure out how to confirm it and view the details. This is their only interface with their customers: there is no phone number and no way to send a message to anyone. The only way to interact with the service is through this terrible user experience.

And there was a weird glitch. I was not in the same timezone as the hotel. The reservation time appeared as 3:30 am rather than 5:30 am. I deleted it and tried again, but the same thing happened. Was Lyft being clever, and displaying the time in the timezone of my phone? It would indeed be two hours earlier at my current local time. But that’s not how people do travel. Times of planes, etc. are always displayed using the timezone of the place where you are doing the thing. Anything else would be useless and confusing. Wasn't Lyft a business that had something to do with travel? I decided to wait until I was in the hotel timezone, to see whether the time of the reservation changed.

At the hotel, I checked the car reservation: still 3:30 am. I deleted the reservation again, and made a new one for 5:30. Lyft’s system is simply broken for making reservations in a different timezone. And they had to go out of their way to break it, because just not doing anything clever and accepting the time that the user enters would work the way people expect. Anyway, the app indicated that a driver had confirmed that he would be there.

He wasn't there. No car showed up. At 5:45 I asked the hotel clerk to call a taxi. He picked up the phone, tapped a few keys—the taxi company used an automated phone system—and told us it was set. In two minutes a taxi arrived and took us where we needed to be.

I rage-uninstalled the Lyft app. We took taxis to various appointments all over the area. Taxis are expensive, and it was adding up. I was urged to try Lyft again. I installed the app. This was a different phone. It installed, and accepted and confirmed a request for a car. But then it didn’t. It said my payment method, that I knew to be valid, was invalid. I tried another valid method, and got the same complaint. It popped up a bizarre dialog asking me to enter another payment method with the same billing address as the last “invalid” one. I uninstalled the app and called a local taxi (after Googling “taxi”). The cab arrived in four minutes, and took us where we needed to be with no fuss. I paid with one of my “invalid” payment methods.

Taxis have never failed me. Sure, I’ve had a New York City cab driver who spoke no English and had no idea where Grand Central Station was. But that’s just part of the fun. (I’m old enough to have delighted in the big Checker cabs with the jump seats.) They are expensive. But sometimes you can’t afford to miss your flight or medical appointment. I’ve taken countless cabs to airports at all hours, phoning or using a web interface the night before, and they have never failed to show up nor even been late. The cars are in good repair and the drivers know what they’re doing. That’s why I still use taxis, and won’t be bothering with Lyft or similar amateur car services again.

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