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Fly-by-night outrage

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For some reason, the Flywheel app works better for the Flywheel cab company’s drivers than it does for drivers of other cab companies. (Mike Koozmin/2015 S.F. Examiner)


After gleefully watching the #DeleteUber movement gain traction on social media for a week, I was curious if there would be any residual effects from the boycott when I started my shift on Thursday. Even though most of the protesters were switching to Lyft, some folks did recommend Flywheel. A few even kept it old school and suggested flagging down one of the hundreds of empty cabs rolling around The City …

As I leave the National yard that afternoon, I check my Flywheel phone and get the same error: Can’t connect to server. It’s been over a week now. From what I’ve read on Hackers, it’s affecting many drivers, but only those who don’t drive for Flywheel Taxi, the cab company, that is, not the app.

Fortunately, the outage doesn’t interfere with the user end of the app. People can request rides, and drivers, especially those who work for Flywheel Taxi — again, the cab company, not the app — are still receiving orders …

Without Flywheel, I hunt down fares the old-fashioned way. I work the Financial, Union Square hotel lines, SoMa and the Mission. When dropping outside the metro area, I have to remind myself not to linger, as I usually do with the Flywheel app open, and hightail it back downtown.

The next day, the Flywheel phone is working again. Hallelujah. It’s a busy Friday night and I get two requests.

Saturday starts off slow, as usual. When a Flywheel request for the Opera Plaza with a $5 guaranteed tip comes in, I beat it up Franklin. An older woman approaches my window. She goes into a spiel about how she requested the ride for a friend who has a broken leg and wants to know if it’s possible for her friend to pay me directly, instead of reimbursing her later.

Whatever. I tell her to cancel the ride and offer to help her friend with the crutches.

“It wants to charge me $6.”

“I’ll cancel it on my end then.” I hit a few buttons. “OK, done. Bye.”

At the San Francisco Playhouse, I help the lady with her crutches into the building. She hands me $15 folded up, grandma style.

At the next red light, I glance at the Flywheel phone. There’s a notification on the screen that I can’t take mobile orders for two hours and forty-seven minutes.

What the hell?

I’m suspended?

For trying to help a couple old ladies?

Once my indignation subsides, I remember this happening to other drivers. They lock you out to prevent you from canceling Flywheel calls to pick up street flags instead. But I’ve never done that. I’ve driven past five street flags before to get one Flywheel customer. I believe in Flywheel. They’re beneficial — nay, crucial — to preservation of the cab business. I even promote cool features in the app most users aren’t familiar with, like the option to use Flywheel on a street hail. Which is a cool feature that lets you tap a few buttons in your phone during the ride and when you hit your destination, bounce.

I like Flywheel. I just wish they’d lay off the TaxiOS and focus on marketing …

Later, still in time out, I’m driving empty down Turk towards Civic Center. As I cross Larkin, a girl flags me. She shoves an overly intoxicated hipster dude into my backseat.

“22nd and Potrero.”

As I head down Polk, she says to the guy, “I just don’t get it. You knew we were day drinking. With all your experience, you should be able to pace yourself better.”

The guy mumbles something unintelligible.

When I pull up to their building, they start to exit the vehicle without paying.

“Will that be cash or card?” I ask quickly.

“Oh yeah …” The girl pauses. “I was ordering a Flywheel when you drove by.” She starts digging through her purse.

“How are we gonna do this?” The guy struggles to open his door.

“I use Flywheel all the time,” the girl says as she digs deeper. “Fuck Uber. I didn’t have to delete their stupid app last week cause I never had it on my phone.”

I laugh.

As she continues to rummage in her purse and the guy leans out of the cab head first, I think about the option to pay through the Flywheel app. She seems sober enough to figure it out. But I look at the prompt on my Flywheel phone with the remaining time clicking down. I’m still in the corner with the dunce cap on.

“Here!” She hands me a debit card just as the guy hits concrete.

Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. Write to Kelly at piltdownlad@gmail.com or visit his blog at www.idrivesf.com.

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