Every week I commute between Knoxville, TN and Roswell, GA. The trip is about 200 miles and is typically completed in 3 hours and 15 minutes as I drive from home to our apartment and vice versa.
Last week I tried something different. I traveled from Knoxville to Roswell using various forms of transportation. The experience surprised me in several ways so I thought I’d write this article. I hope to keep this short, but be prepared for the ride of a lifetime as I give grades to the Megabus, Marta, Uber and Lyft.
Although my grades only represent my one night of travel, remember that people and companies only get one chance to make a first impression. The impressions I experienced will stick with me for a long time. Trust is a hard thing to earn but it is easily lost.
The Megabus Grade
The Megabus was the best part of the trip, and the competition wasn’t even close. The ride cost less than $30, it was fast, smooth and the driver was a pro. The total time needed was about 4 hours from downtown Knoxville to the Peachtree Marta station in downtown Atlanta. This even included a stop in Chattanooga. So far, so good, I thought.
I liked the ride so much because I got to watch Monday night football on my laptop. I liked it even though that game sucked. The Philidelphia Eagles physically dominated the Chicago Bears all night long. I even realized that I’m going to have to find a new NFL team to root for.
Even with all that going on, I was even able to write a great article that nobody has read so far. I predict that one day someone will read it and appreciate that article (Figure 0)! I’m telling you that this article is a classic.
The Grade: A, maybe even A+. Nice Job Megabus, I’ll definitely be seeing you again!
The MARTA Grade (The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority Trains)
The term “Rapid” is a misnomer. There is nothing rapid about Marta. The R should stand for Rabid, since I thought I got bit by a bat or some kind of skunk that was carrying rabies.
Upon arriving at the train station at 10:30 pm on a Monday, this is what I experienced. First, I had to take a piss like a racehorse because I didn’t take the time to go on the Megabus. I didn’t take the natural break because I figured that the Marta train station would have bathrooms. I thought this was a logical assumption.
What I didn’t realize is that the bathrooms were locked at 7 pm every night in the Marta station. I have no idea why that is the case.
In the mean time, my bladder was about to explode and I envisioned myself as a person pissing all over the train tracks, causing some kind of short circuit in the system. It reminded me of the time Jett just whipped it out and let the golden stream fly off the side of deck (Figure 1) like little kids have been known to do!
Secondly, the train map and schedule (Figure 2) isn’t exactly clear, even though I am a very experienced geological map reader. The map is fine but there are no schedules to go along with it!
Since I was dropped off at the Peachtree Center and had to go north on the red-line to North Springs, I thought that would be a simple thing to do. Unfortunately, none of the routine commuters at that time had any idea if that was possible.
Nobody knew if the train actually went to North Springs at that time of the night. I guess you could say it became my mission to find out if it did. The only thing we could determine with any certainty, is that there would be a train on the gold line going to Doraville.
The only recommendation the commuters could give me was to do either 1 of 2 things. The first, was to call for an Uber ride right then to take me the 22 miles north to my apartment (Figure 3). The warning they gave me, however, was this: “That will cost you a lot of cash.” I’ll have to save the Uber grade for the next section.
The second choice, according to the commuters, was to take the train north to Doraville, which is closer to my destination. They figured it would cost me less to do this and I would be able to get home from there. Since I already paid the $3.50 for the train ticket, I figured it would be worth it to take the train.
After waiting about 45 minutes for the train to arrive, I eventually started moving. It was about another 20 to 30 minutes later when I arrived in Doraville.
After spending a few minutes looking around for Dora the Explorer and Boots (Figure 4), I decided I better find a a way to get home by myself. Dora apparently does not live in Doraville, but she does know how to read maps – this much I can promise you.
With an hour and 15 minutes to move about 14 miles north, the Marta does not deserve a good grade. I also do not think it is possible to go from Doraville to the North Springs Station at that time of the night because all the trains stopped in Doraville. Apparently conductor Dora needs to sleep sometime!
The Grade: D. Marta needs to improve their route documentation (particularly the scheduling) in the train stations.
The Uber Grade
I must admit it, I have never taken an Uber ride. I know what you are thinking – this guy is not cool. That’s OK with me because this just means that I’m still sane enough to drive myself.
In preparation for taking an Uber ride, I downloaded the app to my phone when I was cruising on the Megabus. Even though you might think I’m not cool, I whipped out my phone and was about to hit the button to catch a ride from the Peachtree station. I did this because of the advice the commuter gave me: Take an Uber from right here, right now!
Well, what I saw staring back at me from the screen was a big, bold message. It said –
“You are subject to Surge pricing 2.1X. You can wait at least 30 minutes for the pricing to be reduced.”
Well, the words told to me by the commuter instantly echoed in my head: (“That will cost you a lot of cash!”).
Being the astute mathematician that I am, I immediately determined that the $3.50 train ticket was probably going to be less than the 2.1*”A lot of cash”.
I was tempted to whip out Alteryx and run a predictive model to check that assumption, but I just sat there and waited for the train to leave for Doraville. All the while I was secretly dreaming of ways to relieve myself without anyone noticing.
The Grade: D. Uber shouldn’t hit a first time customer upside the head with a message like that. They should just give you the price and apologize later. I never could tell how much that trip was going to cost me because it was hidden behind that big bold warning message. If Uber wanted to dissuade me from using their service, they accomplished their goal.
The Lyft Grade
While I traveled the straight and narrow path to Doraville, I hatched a new plan. Since I work for a certain car company that invested heavily in the Uber competitor called Lyft, I decided to spend my hard-earned money on this type of ride. I figured I’d be investing in my own future. I installed the app, with the promise of getting a $20 credit for a first-time customer.
Once I hit the termination point and couldn’t find Dora, I hit the button to have a driver pick me up. It was now past midnight and my normal 3 hour trip was already over 6 hours old. There were a lot of people outside the train station being picked up by these types of rides. I figured this would be easy as I watched person after person leave quite expeditiously.
The first problem I noticed was this. The app told the driver to pick me up at some address that it determined I would be at. I have no idea on how or why the app made this determination. It is still a mystery to me.
The app then indicated to me that I was far away from that address. In fact, the address was in the opposite direction that I was walking as I exited the train station, and it was across a bunch of train tracks. There was no way for me to get there from where I was, especially since I didn’t have any way to elevate myself and fly across the train tracks.
Now the funny thing is this. The app showed me as a little red dot, directly in the parking lot in which everyone else was getting picked up. This parking lot is exactly at the exit point of the train station. I thought it would be easy for the driver to find me based on this accurate map of my location. I was wrong.
About 20 minutes later, as I watched my driver slowly creep to the address originally specified by the app, I decided that I had better call him to tell him where I was really located. Apparently the app is not able to transmit my actual location to the driver. I thought that was the purpose of the app. But then again, since I’m a virgin with respect to this new form of technology, maybe I was misinformed.
I explained the mal-functioning of the app to the driver, and I tried for the next 30 minutes to direct him to the nearest intersection I could find. I felt like I had to apologize for a phone application that my company invested in. Eventually, I walked out to the road to find the intersecting road names and he used his GPS to find me (the app was no help at all!). After 3 miscues, he eventually found me about 20 minutes later.
Maybe it is just me, but I found this experience to be a little less than satisfactory. I think I must be becoming an old curmudgeon, but luckily I can still laugh about it and poke fun at the ineptness of these companies.
Once I got the driver to find me, he delivered me home without any issues. The trip cost me $29 bucks and the $20 credit was no where to be found. I guess Lyft just decided to add a little insult to injury as a way of retaliating for the recent article I wrote about Microsoft’s Power BS software (err Power BI).
The Grade: D-. Lyft needs to fix their app. The functioning of that app was pathetic, embarrassing, and cost me an extra hour on my trip. Lyft should have paid me to ride with them. The driver, however, gets an A. He was awesome and I’d ride with him again, assuming someone fixes that app.
In case you were wondering, I’ll always give it to you straight in this blog. I will not piss on your head and try to convince you that it is raining. That is just not my style, although on that night, I probably would have tried to do it!
I finally got home in 7 hours and 30 minutes, very glad to find the bathroom. Now if that story doesn’t piss-you-off, I don’t know what will. I hope you had a good laugh about my misfortune that night!
My only regret is that I didn’t think about snapping screen captures of the ridiculous situations I found myself in with Uber and Lyft. It isn’t always easy to recognize in real-time the degree of ridiculousness that we are experiencing. I guess I was too dumbfounded to believe it could be true that the Lyft app worked as poorly as it did. It was a truly eye-opening experience.