by BOB MCKINNEY
Over the past eight years here I have at times highlighted my evolution (as well as my frustrations) with all matters technological.
In an early installment I explained — and maybe bragged a bit — how I did not have a smartphone or a GPS. Now I have a smartphone with a GPS (and a very pleasant voice who gives me directions).
I’m about to engage in a “digital declutter” based on a book I’m reading titled “Digital Minimalism.” I’ll tell you more about that in a few weeks and will include a review of the book and some steps I will have taken to make technology work for me rather than the other way around.
Today, however, I’m going to revisit one of my technological advances, about which I first shared here in February 2016.
In that column I described my first experience with Uber, the ride sharing service that, along with its main competitor, Lyft, has grown exponentially in major cities over the past few years. Both companies are now worldwide and have infiltrated smaller markets as well.
I’m not sure how it came to be called “ride sharing,” since it’s pretty much a car for hire, but that has become the accepted terminology.
I have come a long way since my first Uber ride, when I stood on a street in downtown Nashville and hailed a driver from my phone to deliver me to the place my car was being serviced on Nolensville Road. I was nervous about it after having already had one failed attempt.
But it all worked that day, and I now use both Uber and Lyft. I don’t have a preference as to either and I’ll usually check to see which one is cheaper.
My wife and I use ride sharing when we go to other cities, but we also ride locally on occasion, using it, as I did that first time, when a car is being serviced, or for going to the airport or downtown events.
Although round trip to the airport can run between $40 and $50, it is usually comparable to or less than leaving a car in one of the airport lots, depending on how long we will be gone. And you can’t beat being delivered right to the gate. A downtown trip is probably a little more than the cost of parking, but the convenience is worth those few dollars.
Sometimes I can’t believe I’m so willing to get in a car with a stranger. I have never taken a taxi locally, but I’ll hop in one of these cars without a thought.
I guess it comes down to convenience and predictability. To take a taxi, I have to flag it down or call for it, and the meter continues to run until the trip is complete.
With Uber or Lyft, I order it through the app on my phone and the out-the-door price is revealed to me. After I’ve ordered the ride, I’m told approximately when the driver will arrive. Payment is simple, as my debit card information is already programmed into the app on my phone.
Uber and Lyft have changed a lot too. After successfully disrupting the taxi business, they commanded their own infrastructure. Airports now have designated ride sharing pickup and drop-off locations, as do many large sporting and entertainment venues.
I am fascinated by the folks who drive for these companies. In my non-scientific study, I’ve found they tend to be part-timers, with many doing it to supplement income from another job or jobs. I have had a handful of drivers who are retired.
I always try to engage them, and have had mixed results. Some are friendly and enjoy sharing stories about their driving experiences, and some are more reserved, making clear they are happy to drive, but not so much so to talk.
Most are good drivers, and most cars are clean and comfortable, so if they don’t want to talk, I’m happy to be alone with my thoughts.
When ride sharing started, it was clearly a no-tip affair, another advantage over taxi rides. The price was the price, and there was no gratuity.
That changed a couple of years ago and now a tipping option pops up shortly after the ride, at the same time you are asked to rate the driver. It’s added to the total charged to your payment option (debit or credit card), so the convenient feature of no money changing hands remains.
The rating system is huge for the drivers, and I’ve had some of them bluntly ask me to give them five stars or tell them why I would not do so. I have a bit of a problem with that, because nobody’s perfect, but unless there is some woeful deficiency, I’ll usually do it because I know it’s a big deal to them. I’ve only had a couple that I could not, in good conscious, give five stars.
The drivers also rate the riders. I have a 4.85 rating (on a 5-point scale) from Uber, but I can’t seem to find my rating on Lyft. I don’t know what keeps me from having a perfect 5 for Uber, but I’m not going to stress over it.
Maybe one of the drivers thought I was too nosy.
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at email@example.com.