(An excerpt from the zine Behind the Wheel 2: Notes from an Uber/Lyft)
As appealing as Uber sounds, I still have reservations about signing up. Based on numerous articles I’ve read, Uber seems like an unscrupulous company, along the lines of Wal-Mart or Amazon. And Travis Kalanick, the CEO, comes across as an antisocial, libertarian scumbag who’d stab his own mother in the back to get ahead. He probably has a cum-stained paperback of The Fountainhead under his pillow that he strokes gently as he falls asleep at night. The name of the company itself, Uber, implies more about the megalomania of Kalanick than the service they provide. And this whole campaign to recruit Lyft drivers is beyond unethical. Participating in it feels wrong. I keep asking myself, Do I really want to associate myself with a company run by a guy who longs for the days of driverless cars so he can get rid of the “middle man,” i.e., drivers?
My other concern is the Uber gestalt. Even though they perform the exact same service, Lyft and Uber offer different experiences. Lyft promotes their drivers as “Your Friend with a Car.” Passengers ride up front. Like a friend. Drivers are supposed to greet passengers with a fist bump. Like they would, conceivably, with a friend. Drivers play music and engage the passenger in conversation. Since that’s what friends do.
In contrast, Uber’s motto is “Your Personal Driver.” Passengers ride in the back. They tell you where to go and, after that, there’s no implied interaction. Unless the passenger wants to talk, Uber drivers are supposed to maintain that invisible barrier between them and the “client.”
My Lyft passengers talk to me about Uber all the time. Most people in San Francisco use both apps, depending on price surging, availability or the kind of experience they’re in the mood for. I’ve had numerous passengers tell me that if they’re going to work, or in work mode, they take Uber so they don’t have to deal with any annoying conversations. But on the weekends, when they’re going out, they take Lyft because it’s more fun.
I imagine I’ve talked to, or at least tried to talk to, every cab driver I’ve ever had. Unless I was unconscious. If I’m confined in a small space for longer than a minute, I can’t help but start a conversation, however brief. I can usually make it through an elevator ride, but at stores, I talk to cashiers. At restaurants, I chat with waiters. At bars, if things are quiet, bartenders. On buses and trains, my fellow passengers. I’m a compulsive talker. So as I contemplate the move to Uber, I’m more than a little nervous about whether I can contain my incessant need to gab.