How Uber and Lyft are Riding into the Future
After a joyful evening in the bars downtown with your friends, you’re ready to head home. Not having a set plan, you’re contemplating potential ways of transportation. Your friend’s car is parked around the block, but driving is out of the question. Unfortunately, you also don’t quite live walking distance away. In the Netherlands, where I’m from, I would simply ride my bike. Cyclists are the number one priority on our roads. Here in Santa Barbara, however, the roads aren’t biker friendly at all, especially at night. So, what is your plan? Unless you have a Designated Driver you’ll probably end up sitting in somebody’s car with the magical yellow-lit “taxi” sign on its roof…
When I arrived in Santa Barbara two years ago, I noticed that taxis play a big role in the everyday life of Americans. Since then I’ve made quite a few taxi trips as well, but recently I got introduced to a new way of cabbing. Instead of calling a taxi whenever I need a ride, I now request a “ride-share” on my smartphone. You might have heard of the terms Uber, or Lyft; they are examples of companies who provide ride-sharing services in Santa Barbara.
This is how it works
The ride-sharing companies have built a smartphone app that connects the passenger to the driver. As a customer, all you need is a smartphone and a credit card. As a driver, all you need to provide is the car. Uber and Lyft work as the middleman. When you desire a ride, you simply:
- Open the app
- Tap on the screen with your finger to request a ride
- Wait until the driver arrives
Not only is it that uncomplicated, it’s also extremely efficient. You can view the arrival time, which in my experience has always been fairly fast. The app also allows you to estimate your fare before even requesting a ride. While waiting you can track the driver’s car on a real-time map until it reaches your doorstep. You leave your wallet in your pocket, there is no cash involved. It’s a lot cheaper than your regular taxi, and Uber now also gives you the convenient option to immediately share the cost with your friends in the car!
What I personally find very interesting though, is the new incentive system. To a Dutch person it doesn’t make any sense to tip if you aren’t completely thrilled about an experience, while in the United States it’s not just polite to tip; it is expected. Employees often live off of their tips rather than from their salaries, a serious issue that employers need to deal with and not the customers.
Uber and Lyft are progressive in this matter through implementing a rating system rather than a tipping system. Uber doesn’t even allow tips, while Lyft still suggests a “donation”. You can give a driver up to five stars, and the driver can rate you as well. Maybe this is one of the reasons why Uber and Lyft drivers are generally known as being super friendly.
Like every new way of doing things, these advancing ride-sharing services were destined for debate. The traditional taxi industry now competes with a highly modernized twenty-first century taxi service, because it never stayed up to date with evolving technology. If you give people a choice between a Walkman and an MP3-player, most will go for the latter.
The utility of ride-sharing services far exceeds that of traditional taxis, but the legitimacy of ride-sharing services has been questionable since their beginning. Even though California passed a vote to officially legalize these new companies last year, there is still a lot of controversy about them. Customers taking Uber and Lyft rides should be aware of ambiguous insurance and safety policies. Taxi companies mainly argue that ride-sharing services are unregulated and thus are unfair competition. Lately Uber drivers claim to be underpaid, the math just doesn’t seem to add up.
I want to find out if these premises are true, at least for the taxi, Uber, and Lyft drivers here in Santa Barbara. If you are still interested at this point as well, make sure to stay tuned for next week’s follow up interview with the drivers of Santa Barbara!
P.S. A new similar app called Shuddle has now entered the ride-sharing market. They provide rides to children with busy parents, or as they like to say it “scheduled rides for busy kids.” Has it gone too far?