Booking Trips for Parents?

Breaking news! Aug. 20: An appeals court has allowed ride-hailing giants Uber and Lyft to continue treating their drivers in CA as independent contractors while an appeal works its way through the court.

This is a California registered Prius sporting a lot of stickers supporting AB5 for Uber and Lyft drivers.
Fewer ridesource cars… more stickers!
photo credit: Pymnts.com

Dear Ms. Smartphone:   A few months ago, your column mentioned booking trips for parents with the smartphone app and that has been a lifesaver. My Dad lives out-of-town and needs to get to the hospital for chemotherapy treatment. He likes the independence this gives him even though he has a flip-phone. But, I notice that there are fewer Uber and Lyft vehicles on the road now because of the pandemic. Do you think I should hire a personal driver? Honestly, this could not come at a worse time for us. J.S., San Francisco

Dear J.S.: So true-  you can book a ride for your Dad, and give him wheels when he doesn’t have keys. But, as you note, because of the pandemic there are fewer drivers on the road and economic activity has dialed down. Surely Dad will wait longer to get a ride. But, before you wait your turn on Uber or Lyft, perhaps there is a non-profit that will help? A friend of mine runs a charity that provides free medical transportation for cancer patients in Massachusetts.

If this charity was here in California, there could be problems beyond the economic slowdown and fewer ridesource drivers.  Beginning August 20, the ridesource (aka, ridehail) services might shut down because of the state’s AB5 law.  The law specifies that Uber and Lyft must classify their drivers as employees, and provide benefits like a minimum wage, worker’s compensation, unemployment insurance, and more.  Uber and Lyft have fought the ruling and say that more than 80 percent of their drivers are part-time and work less than less than 40 hours a week.

Finding Alternatives:

But, back to Dad. You should prepare well in advance of his appointment and contact the medical office. They often work with transport providers and Medicaid. Ironically, those contracts may be with UberHealth and Lyft, like the charity I mentioned.  Medical facilities should be able to offer links to community resources, to social workers, and local councils on aging. Just be persistent!

But, if it’s affordable, maybe you should indeed contract with a  driver looking for outside gigs. Medical vans do not tend to be as convenient as Uber or Lyft, and the scheduling needs to be done hours, if not days in advance. Riders say they feel a loss of control and freedom.

Voting Your CHoice:

But, you and your Dad get a chance to weigh in, assuming you are registered to vote in California. On the November ballot Proposition 22 creates a hybrid category for rideshare drivers that will keep employee benefits lower. Meanwhile, Harry Campbell, a ridesource industry insider, has given a nod to an insurance company called ‘Kover’ which already provides health insurance and layoff insurance for drivers. Campbell’s own quote, based on his revenue, was $61.00 a month.

The “time-out” for Uber or Lyft, if it occurs, will not last forever. Campbell reports that their business quickly restores once they come back into the market. What I worry is that people like your Dad who depend on ridesource will be the most impacted. Not only do they need a trip to the doctor, but well-being also depends on having local, connected travel. Sometimes the trip to the doctor is essential, but so is the visit to get an ice-cream cone. 

How to Find A Local Business

“Looking for out-of-town information….coming up short”

two logos on a page: the yellow pages 'let your fingers do the walking' and now siri, 'let siri do the talking'.
How we search for a business has changed

Dear Ms Smartphone: How should I find a local business?  My family wanted to take a rafting trip together so I went online. Most of the places are about 60 miles from my home.  I searched on Google and picked the one with a good web site and nice pictures of the river. When we got there, I discovered there were other rafting places nearby that were open and had better boats. Unfortunately, they did not come up in my search or at least I don’t remember that they did. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I preferred it when we searched the Yellow Pages. Bernice, S. San Francisco

Dear Bernice:

Do you remember the slogan, “Let your fingers do the walking (through the yellow pages?” Well, today it’s “Let Siri do the talking”! 

Your question is interesting, because indeed, how we search for information and how we discover things in the community have changed so much. As of 2011, nearly 70 % of Americans rarely or never used printed phone directories (the yellow pages), and since then most have gone digital. Even if you liked to use the yellow pages keep in mind that you needed a local directory to search a business even 60 miles away.

Not So Local!

Several years ago there was a scam in digital searches. Say you were looking online for a towing service or locksmith. The address would not pop up and people naively thought they were reaching a local business. Instead, the online connection was to shills far away. Sometimes these nefarious characters took credit card information online and never showed up, or, subbed out the work. 

Since then, search engines like Google, Bing and others have cleaned up their protocols and make it more evident when you do a local search that you are reaching a local business. In terms of your specific search for rafting trips, a couple of things might have gone missing. 

Keywords (and Key Phrases)

First, the businesses that display top-most in the search, like the one you selected, could have bought an ad placement. Here’s how it works:  The business owner bids on keywords and pays a fee to display their name at the top of the list if someone searches choice terms like ‘raft’ or ‘water adventure’ or ‘canoe.’ There’s a tiny icon that says ‘ad’ when the listing displays on your screen, but it certainly easy to overlook it if you are in a hurry.

That said, local businesses do not have to pay to have their listing posted on Google. The listing is free and Google gives them a free web page and map links.  But, without the keywords, the listing may display further down the search page. 

It takes a little bit of digital savvy for a business owner to understand how to get listed and show up on the map. In your case, the other rafting companies may have ignored this, or simply didn’t care. In this link you will find a funny, perhaps sad, discussion between Google business and a locksmith– the locksmith said he just wanted to fix things, he did not know, or care to learn, about posting things on a computer. 

Searching is a 2-way street

The onus to search is a two-way street. To get the full listings you want for a far-away community, the geographic location needed to be specified. Sometimes we turn off the GPS on our devices,  and forget to include the place-name in our searches. We all tend to stop searching after the first few listings display, but the first ones-up are the paid-for-ads.  Other local businesses (e.g. the other rafting businesses) may be several pages deep and require more effort to find.


I would like to think that younger people (the Digital Natives) dig deeper in their search requests and do not stop at the first results. But, maybe not. Do you recall how many businesses in the days of  Yellow Pages called themselves “AAAAAlocksmith, AAAAplumber and AAAArafting? When it comes to finding things, both then and now, a little knowledge helps float the boat.

Should Teen Remove TikTok?

A Mom is wondering where she and her teen stand on this issue….

A juxtaposition of the tik-tok corporate logo and a tick-tock kid's toy clock from Fisher Price.
TikTok: not your average learning toy !

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Should my teen remove Tiktok from her phone? During the lockdown she and her best friends have been getting together and making up choreographed dances. It’s a lot of fun and I love being their audience. The app has helped us keep active and share things. Even though we like it,  I am concerned by what I read. It doesn’t seem good and I don’t want her to have spyware on the phone. Should I ask my teen to take the app off her phone, or am I just having a knee-jerk reaction? Madeline, Novato

Dear Madeline: This one is above my pay-grade, as the expression goes, so I will just offer some general comments. I am reading and watching the same stories as you.


I would use this occasion as an opportunity to talk about social media with my teen. The political fray gives you a chance to remind them that social media is more complicated than the plot of ‘Games of Thrones.’ On the Internet, nothing is permanently private, and what teens post, in drips and drabs, (ie, their digital exhaust) could become a permanent record. That might not seem so important in ninth grade, but it could become a liability for employment later on. Moreover, postings can be manipulated and changed without direct permission. Kids seem to naturally understand the idea of song covers- most of the time a musical reinterpretation (the cover) is creative and good, but it could be juxtapositioned for bad.

You, or the Algorithm?

The second issue I would discuss with my teen is the “pop stardom” that might lure them to TikTok. Music, dance, and humor come naturally, and getting that 15 seconds of fame is like, well, getting into an Ivy League school, but better. When you commit to social media, you also feel obligated to package and promote yourself. But, sometimes, it’s not about us, but rather, about the the algorithm; how does it know just what to show you and when? Whatever your teens social investment in  TikTok, there will be new venues to be conquered: just this week Instagram announced Reels, a brand new video feature.

As we grow more accustomed to smartphone technology and become more sophisticated with it, apps like TikTok might appear very primitive. Slapstick comedy is often an entry point during the infancy of a medium. Do readers, or their grandparents, remember vaudeville performances at movie theatres or Alan Funt’s “Candid Camera” on television? One source says that TikTok is like future social media in which the least amount of effort is expended to be a content creator with a shot at viral fame or at least a few laughs.

You, or Where you Go?

So, while the content may be simple or funny, the underlying app may not be. The content is delivered within a smartphone (aka computer) that could potentially be advanced, at the data collection and surveillance level. In reading why India banned TikTok, it was ostensibly because Indian soldiers were involved in a crash with Chinese troops in the Himalayas. We civilians don’t know whether the app was tracking the soldiers’ movement through hidden code or whether this an international row motivated by political tensions, the economy, or something else.

One of the issues that goes unsaid in social media is that the content and posts of individual users is probably not that significant to providers- but information harvested from their devices could be. It’s a plus when we want to track Covid, but dangerous in other situations. A malicious app could contain code that extract the names of contacts, recent phone activities, the usage of other apps and more.

It’s hard to read the clock-face of TikTok, but it does make sense to talk though these ‘timely’ issues with your teen and listen to what she has to say. No doubt teens are one step ahead, neither turning to Microsoft or Instagram, and instead, trying out brand new platforms.