Dear Self-Indulgent Jackass …
How the ubiquity of on-demand car services turned me into one, but I can’t blame them.
Today I was running late for work, so I ordered a car service to pick me up. I know, I know. I’m not fancy, but do treat myself to an @Uber or two every couple of weeks … okay, maybe a few more times than that (#dontjudge). Anyway. Back to the story.
In a rush I quickly hop on to my iPhone and open the Uber app. Within seconds there is a driver dispatched to my building. Knowing I have 3 mins. before it arrives I finish getting ready (hey, I still had to put my pants on) and head downstairs in the elevator.
As I step out of my building I noticed I missed a phone call, or two, from the driver—our elevator is a complete dead zone. Assuming a black SUV or car was picking me up, I began to scan the street and notice an SUV right in front of my building.
I’m thinking to myself “perfect, no waiting.”
So I head towards it and open the back door (waiting for the driver to open the door makes me feel useless). I pop my head in the door and ask if they’re here to pick up “Robert.” Would hate to #UberJack someone else’s car.
In looking up at the driver I see a woman’s face and she is completely speechless. On the verge of horrified, but more veering towards the “WTF!?!?” look. I scan the car and notice that there is a bunch of papers and boxes in the back. Either I just got a really messy driver or it’s not my pickup, or for that matter, NOT an Uber at all.
It quickly dawns on me that she’s not my driver nor a car service and that she must be thinking who the fuck is this person.
I immediately say, “Oh my god, you’re not my car service. I’m so sorry. I thought you were here to pick me up.” Her face quickly changes as she realizes the mistake I’ve made, and that I’m clearly a jackass.
But instead of making haste and closing the door, I awkwardly kept it open longer to say, “You know I am sorry, but at least you have a great story to share with your coworkers at work today.” We both smiled and I closed the door.
Stepping away from the car I notice my Uber pulling up behind the black SUV.
I open the door and ask if he’s there to pick up “Robert.” He says, “Good morning Mr. Robert.” I proceed to get in to the car and tell him where I’m going.
He says, “But of course” and offers me a bottle of cold water.
Everything is now back to normal.
As I was typing this amusing episode I realized the story was less about on-demand transportation services and me being a jackass (which I totally was), but more about the cultural impact these services are having on everyday people and the world around us.
The services themselves, especially Uber, are great examples of how software can disrupt the way we do things. In this case, how we make choices to move from point A to point B.
In a very short time Uber has transformed the way in which we think about and interact with transportation services by combining geo-location information, a robust booking service, and the ubiquity of our mobile phones. Broken into its most basic units Uber’s platform changed things in three fundamental ways:
- It exposed a hidden marketplace; its mobile-based software showed there were empty cars with drivers that could take a client and that there were also willing passengers. The driver and passenger just needed to be connected. So it facilitated connecting the two—or more appropriately it connected supply with demand.
- It reduced the friction of payments; anyone who has ever taken a cab with just enough money knows how incredibly nerve-racking it can be to not know if you’ll have enough for a tip based on the route the driver takes. So it removed this tension point by having one’s credit card already connected. Now neither party needs to worry about payment.
- It made the trip more fair; there are times in which the driver and passenger may come into conflict, where one’s treatment of or interaction with the other is less than professional, or even less than civil. A simple action of being able to rate the other person creates consequences. So it empowered both the driver and the passenger to be able to rate the social actions and Uber the ability to remove bad actors from their system.
Three relatively simple changes that have been so disruptive that Uber has expanded their service to include not only black cars / SUVs, but also taxis and have even extend it into ride sharing programs with everyday cars and people as drivers. Each of these extensions will confront pre-existing industries and ultimately shift the way we see “public” (private) transportation.
However, there is a much more profound cultural shift occurring, one that might not be so obvious and it’s not just jackassery.
The shift in how we see cars.
From status symbols and the manifestation of personal freedom to unnecessary burdens and the personification of individualism in a growing age of community and collectiveness. These shifts are not limited to a specific group or demographic set, but are occurring across different population segments with a multitude of drivers. Some are structural, others cultural.
We saw above how on-demand transportation—whether it’s Uber, Lyft, or Zipcar—is changing the perceptions of how urban dwellers see and utilize cars. And there is a growing body of evidence that a parallel shift can be seen in the next generation of teens due to a different, though complimentary, set of factors. This is captured in a April 2012 report by the Frontier Group and U.S. PIRG Education Fund.
“Sixteen to 34-year-olds in [U.S.] households with incomes of more than $70,000 per year are increasingly choosing not to drive as well, according to the report. They have increased their use of public transit by 100 percent, biking by 122 percent, and walking by 37 percent.” ~ Why Young Americans Are Driving So Much Less Than Their Parents, The Atlantic
Today’s teens are driving less—both in absolute and per-capita terms—and some teens aren’t driving at all because they either don’t own a car or do not have a driver’s license. Reports show that these changes are not limited to the U.S., but that miles driven and licensing rates have also fallen in other developed nations.
Whether it’s by circumstance or choice teens are shifting their perceptions regarding the necessity of and desire to have cars. They’re replacing the need to drive with social technologies which lessen the need to physically congregate, emerging technologies which provide real-time access to transportation services, and / or an increase in public transit options, such as bike sharing programs.
So you’re wondering how a story about me being a self-indulgent jackass has led to a discussion about the disruptiveness of on-demand transportation services and the growing perception by teens that driving is not as important as their parents’ generation. It’s due to the fact that my actions in many ways were a result of these larger cultural shifts. Seeing a car not as an individual’s possession, but as a collective resource there to be shared.
As new on-demand transportation services disrupt existing industries this changing environment will gain new consumers that are shedding their ties to traditional car ownership and view transportation in different ways than the generations that proceeded them. This new “normal” will result in changes in transportation investment—in the past U.S. transportation policy was defined by growth; as driving increased, system capacity expanded—by policy-makers and the doubling-down by service providers. Thus creating an entirely new transportation ecosystem.
And just think one day soon our shared cars will drive themselves.
Mental note: Dear Self-Indulgent Jackass, not all black SUVs are there to drive you around. Maybe if you had your shit together you would’ve taken the Metro on time. Avoid being that guy. Kthnxbai ~XoXoXo