I hate taking taxis in Miami-Dade, but I depend on them. Without a car, I sometimes need a quick ride to events and to the office, which unfortunately has no convenient bus or trolley stops nearby.
But the rights of passengers who use taxi services in the county are rarely acknowledged. I've had cab drivers start the meter at $7, and when I've argued that they should set it at $2.50, they've kicked me out. Another driver cursed me out because I didn't have exact change even though it wasn't my fault he couldn't break a $20 or accept credit cards. One time I was told to get out of a cab when the driver didn't deem my ride worth his time -- he wanted a passenger with a more lucrative fare.
So I don't feel much sympathy for Miami's cabbies. That's why I'm excited that Lyft has launched in Miami and is willing to stand up to Miami's Taxi Drivers Association and Miami-Dade County politicians.
The service launched yesterday at 7 p.m. When I opened the app, there were about 11 drivers available. All I needed to do was click "Request a Lyft" and a car would swoop me up.
I decided to use Lyft this morning. Around 9 a.m., there were zero drivers available. I'm not sure if that meant they were all busy or nobody was on call. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like you can put yourself in a queue and wait until a driver becomes available. To request a ride, there must be an available driver.
Finally, around 10:20 I saw one available car somewhere in North Miami, 16 minutes from my Edgewater location. I clicked to request a pick-up. No response from the driver. I clicked again. No response.
I walked away for a minute and returned to try again. This time the driver accepted my request. It seems the app gives the driver the power to respond to or ignore a call. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be a problem if the passenger has to be somewhere on time.
The app alerted me that Jeniffer would be my driver and told me the make, model, and color of her car. This is a particularly welcome safety feature. The last thing I wanted was to get chopped up and thrown into the Everglades. Also, I'm not sure whether this is a mandatory procedure for drivers, but Jeniffer called me seconds after accepting my request to confirm my address and give me an estimated time of arrival. (The app actually lets you know how far away a car is.)
The app's estimated time was more or less accurate, give or take a couple of minutes. And once the driver arrives, the app alerts you. Here was where I was faced with an etiquette dilemma: Do I ride in the front passenger seat with Jeniffer or ride in the back as I would a standard taxi? Unsure of what to do, I opted to be friendly and grab the front seat -- this is a peer-to-peer service, so what better way to connect with my peer than to chat with her for my 1.7-mile drive to work.
Jeniffer said she's a 30-year-old FIU student studying business administration who is using Lyft as her sole source of income. "I really like to be friendly and meeting people. I've always worked in customer service, so I love it."
She said Lyft recruited her after she saw a Facebook ad. "I saw it on Facebook. I did my research on Google and saw the good reviews from Lyft, so I applied and they called me for an interview."
I was only her second passenger even though she started yesterday at launch. Unfortunately, though she saw a lot of ride requests yesterday, she said most were canceled because they came from curious users who were checking to see if Lyft's serviced had begun.
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Once we arrived at my destination -- which, by the way, is not communicated to the app; you just tell the driver where you're going -- it was as easy as just saying, "Bye!" The app calculates the cost and charges you automatically. My "suggested donation" was $7, which is about the same a standard, county-licensed taxi costs me. Price aside, convenience wins out here. I knew who my driver was and when to expect her, and Jeniffer felt more like a friend who was giving me a ride.
Would I use it again? Definitely.
By the way, Lyft is running a promotion. If you use the promo code 2WEEKSFREE or LYFTMIAMI, you can bank some free rides up to $25.