Happy Holidays!

With the holiday season fully upon us, you may be doing your fair share of shopping, partying, and imbibing. And in the process, especially with the last activity, you are hopefully hiring others to do the driving by summoning rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft. I myself occasionally use Uber, especially when I’m in congested, parking-scarce San Francisco. But, since September, I’ve started taking up a different seat in the car—as a part-time driver for both Uber and Lyft.

Like most drivers, I wanted to earn some extra income and there are few opportunities as flexible as rideshare driving—you can literally give just one ride and quit for the day. But, naturally, given the work I do in traffic safety, this is a fantastic opportunity to do field research and be involved on the other side of the wheel, so to speak.

Having worked as a part-time rideshare driver (and I also do occasional food deliveries for Uber Eats) for only a few months, I don’t have a wealth of experience. But already, I am seeing some very interesting patterns and issues emerging.

My very first passenger ever was an Uber customer, a teenager I picked up at a local high school. The third trip was another high school student who needed to go to a grocery store. For my fifth trip, I was called to pick up someone at a local hospital emergency room, an elderly Asian woman who was quite frail, didn’t look too well, and needed a ride back home. The next day I went to a Seattle hospital to pick up a woman who was 37 weeks pregnant coming from an obstetric checkup and looking she was about to burst at any moment.

By the end of my second day of driving, I was nearly overcome by a huge sense of protectiveness for my passengers. When you stop to really think about the value of what they do, rideshare drivers have an enormous mission to provide safe transportation for all of their passengers, but especially for these most vulnerable populations. That’s a responsibility I personally take very seriously.

Rideshare driving can be quite pleasurable and is a decent source of income. I really enjoy it—it’s incredible to meet amazing people and very rewarding to provide a service as vital as transportation. But it’s also not without its difficulties and risks. One assumption by passengers is that driving is easy—after all, everyone does it, right?—but rideshare drivers have many added demands and stresses that regular drivers don’t experience.

One is that we are required to constantly multitask, monitor, and respond to our driver apps (which can be incredibly distracting in themselves), navigate with GPS systems that sometimes go wonky, and find and interact with our passengers, all on top of the usual driving challenges (and often these can go beyond the usual in the case of major events or rush-hour congestion). And we handle all this knowing that we are constantly under the scrutiny of passengers who might rate us unfavorably for the most minor real or perceived slight or incompetence.

Summoning Rideshare Driver

Other things I have noticed is that there is quite a scarcity of safety information or training for drivers on how to do their jobs safely. Certainly, Uber and Lyft have boilerplate info and generic warnings not to text and drive, and to drive safely, but how many of us actually know what safe driving is, let alone what it involves and how to execute it? I’m smelling an opportunity here, and in the coming months, I hope to forge connections with Uber and Lyft to address these issues.

Another aspect of rideshare driving I am noticing is the unrelenting psychological push by the rideshare companies to keep working and driving—through bonus incentives offered per set numbers of trips (sometimes only if performed consecutively) and notices warning of the adverse consequences of lower acceptance rates. While in themselves, these are not necessarily problematic, I believe that when they’re couched in a context that already thrums with the beat of urgency to get to the next passenger and destination in a timely manner with driver ratings at stake, combined with the fact that we’re often driving in situations where risk and the opportunity for distraction are elevated (crowds, rush-hour, drunk passengers), this can result in situations where safety can quickly be compromised and sometimes to the point it becomes an unconscious habit.

These are only my initial observations; I look forward to seeing how they’ll evolve in the coming months, and I’ll write more in the future on this topic. In the meantime, I hope you as passengers enjoy your rides, and please treat your drivers well. Don’t distract them unnecessarily when you are seeing that they might be having difficulty in driving or navigating. When your ride is complete, please don’t swing open your door without looking to see if a vehicle or bicycle is coming. And please, please, if at all possible, don’t ask us to pick you up or drop you off in live lanes—that is, where there is no place to safely pull over without holding up traffic. It’s very dangerous for both of us.

And don’t forget to tip or compliment your driver if you feel we deserve it—you don’t know how much we appreciate it. It just makes our day.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your experiences with Uber and Lyft. Please feel free to comment here or email me a personal message at [email protected].

Here’s to a safe and wonderful holiday to you!