by Joe Váradi
I had car trouble one morning a few weeks back, and in a bind I called a ride sharing service — Lyft is my go-to as the only such service I ever tried — to take me from my home to the train station.
I live in a quiet residential community about 45 minutes north from New York City, and I wasn’t even certain if I would get a ride in time, but sure enough as I fired up the app, a magenta-colored car icon showed up about 15 minutes away, idling near Westchester County Airport.
He was at my house in less time than that, and I realized that for a change I’d make it to the station with time to spare.
I had a lively and pleasant conversation with the driver, whose name I learned was Nick — I think that shows up on the app, but either way I worked an intro into our small talk. He told me that he had driven up from the Bronx, that he had been driving mostly in the city and was now starting to explore the suburbs of Westchester.
I remarked off the cuff that customers may be fewer and farther between in my town, and that he may have more luck in White Plains, or further north in Mount Kisco or Ossining.
At the end of the short ride, I punched in a tip and a 5-star rating into the app, wished him well and got out.
Less than 30 minutes later, at 7:21 AM EST, I received this email:
I was stunned, and spent the rest of the Metro North ride replaying the 6-minute conversation between Nick and me, in my head.
I came up with nothing.
I responded to Lyft Support with an email of my own:
Must be a mistake, I had a pleasant conversation with Nick the driver. I would like to hear what the alleged offense was.
It took several hours for my follow-up to work its way through the customer service queue. By early afternoon, this boilerplate non-response arrived in my Inbox:
Soon after I attempted to call — and then to contact via text — the driver himself.
The above correspondence would be all I’d ever hear about this “incident”.
Was this a mere fat-finger error on the driver’s part? I’m sure Lyft collects feedback from drivers just as they do from passengers. Did he hit the wrong button in haste?
Did he make a disingenuous report against me? If so — why? Perhaps to game the system, to obtain some form of credit from the head company?
Was he really offended by something I said? Nick was possibly mixed race, Latino or African-American — I neither asked nor thought about it much during the ride. Did he somehow perceive my giving him pointers about doing his business in predominantly white neighborhoods as condescending?
It is true that the towns I suggested to him, especially White Plains and Ossining, have relatively higher minority populations and higher population density compared to the more affluent surrounding communities, and in my mind I equated this with a higher likelihood of finding customers who do not drive their own cars.
Had Nick done the same calculus in his head and concluded that I was directing him to “poorer”, more ethnically diverse neighborhoods?
I never did find out.
That’s all I got, folks. If you have insights or similar experiences, would love to hear from you in the comments.
Shout-out to the team at Lyft. I still use and like your service (uber all others, wink, wink) … if you can shed any light on the above, please send me a private note.
All stories in the Metro North Gothic series are based on actual events either observed or recalled while riding the Metro North Harlem line between Westchester County and Grand Central Station.