Editor’s Note: Cynthia has just begun driving for Lyft and has been driving for Uber for 5 months. She is writing a series of articles about the difference — with links to all of them at the bottom of each article. None of the articles are comprehensive, of course, but hopefully the overall comparison from the series will be one of the most comprehensive comparisons out there.
As a part-time Uber driver, I have come to realize two notable clean transportation benefits it offers. First is that it offers a nice window for broader electric vehicle (EV) education and advocacy — if the driver is an EV driver. Additionally, Uber itself teaches drivers to drive more efficiently (specifically, this is in order to provide a better ride for passengers, but the positive environmental effect is there nonetheless).
Uber & Lyft as a Cultural Intersection, A Moment in Time
Sometimes, there is no conversation except the simple confirmation of location. Polite and impersonal is good for many people. A good driver may sense if there is a time to talk or not.
I generally mention that we are in an all-electric car, as a slight educational tool and effort to promote EVs. This stimulates a line of questions many times — How long does a charge last? Where do you charge? How far can you drive on a charge? How long does it take you to charge?
A Lyft or Uber ride is a cultural cross-section, a moment of interrelationship that lets us reflect on society. It is very supportive and tantalizing at times. Both riders and drivers can enjoy the discourse.
Not always, but typically I become a gently nudging EV educator if given the opportunity. Air pollution is a topic I like to bring up — I strike that conversation if it seems smooth enough to do so.
There is also the ability to include more co-travelers using Lyft and Uber, by selecting the economical option of sharing the ride with similar-destination riders. Aside from money, one plus: The experience of diversity is a key to social tolerance and acceptance. I’ve heard of a “love story” from such an experience — two young people who met in an Uber while sharing a ride and now share their entire life.
Smooth Accelerations, Smooth Brakes
Uber keeps daily records of an Uber drive as part of the automated evaluation system. Included in that, the Uber app shows how smooth your braking and accelerations are — constantly. This feedback centers the driver’s attention on the issue of a smooth ride/drive. Of course, sharp braking does happen if a car jumps out in front of you too harshly in traffic — there is no alternative and that keeps everyone safe — but that is surely built into the evaluation system to some extent. The important thing is that riders + technology keep track of the driver’s quality — continually.
Efficiency & All-Electric Driver Range & Destination Issues
From my previous story, Uber vs Lyft — What Are The Differences For Drivers? (Part 2: Efficiency & $ For All-Electric Drivers), there’s more to the efficient driving benefits than the push to accelerate and brake more smoothly. There are benefits but also challenges related to using an electric car or trying to save gas. It seems like those should be included here again since the focus of this article is the green angle (efficiency intersects finances and the environment):
My all-electric Nissan LEAF is great around town. I have wondered how other drivers made much money once they added in the cost of buying gas. However, I also realize they do not have to stop and charge up between every few riders. I do, because I’m afraid as soon as I don’t charge up to a full 100% charge, I’ll get a trip that is too far for the LEAF. There’s the possibility that I will get that rider who wants to go far out of town, or maybe not so far, but still too far.
Furthermore, a longer trip makes me lose time. The problem is, with these good longer fares out of town, I have very limited if any options for charging before returning to Sarasota. Even if I have plenty of charge to return to Sarasota, I have to get back there and charge for a while before taking more riders. That puts me in a spot of losing money. To be honest, driving for Uber has made me think a bit more about EV plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt. A Tesla would be wonderful as well, but I am not sure Uber or Lyft would support a Tesla car payment.
Now, I could easily accept a rider back to Sarasota on that return trip, but I can’t see where a rider is until I accept the request. How can I know when accepting a rider that they do not want to go further away from Sarasota? I don’t know until I pick the rider up. If I accept the rider, I am obligated to the trip. I might then be somewhere too far to drive safely back to Sarasota to charge. Uber and Lyft do not want drivers cherry picking — a driver cannot see the destination of a rider until the pickup is submitted — and I understand some reasons why, but this can hurt earning potential for drivers, especially electric car drivers.
Find riders towards a destination
One potentially helpful feature for all-electric drivers (and other drivers) exists in bigger metro areas, like St. Petersburg (a bit north of me, and where I sometimes am for other work). Uber offers a feature called Find riders towards a destination. It allows a driver to pick up only a passenger who is going toward the driver’s own destination.
This should be offered everywhere for all kinds of reasons, but it is not. Drivers sometimes may have to return home for children or show up at another job on time. This feature ensures the timely and convenient resolution of said issues, which is particularly helpful for those people who are driving longer hours.
The option also helps an electric car driver ensure they will get a rider on the way to a charging station and not one going out of range, so it is an especially EV-friendly application in that regard.
However, using this feature affects and limits earnings possibilities. It could actually lower a driver’s revenue. It doesn’t let you benefit from surge pricing — when you use the app, you can’t get a bonus rate from surge pricing.
Lyft offers a similar feature in all regions (smaller cities as well). The earnings potential is again limited with this feature, though, as a ride towards a destination cannot be used for any earnings increases (from high rider demand at “Prime Times” or in regard to rides that count toward becoming a “Power Driver”).
That is not very energy/environmentally efficient since it essentially discourages people from genuine or semi-genuine “ridesharing” — even though it does make actual ridesharing possible (as opposed to on-demand, app-based taxi service). Hopefully this option will become more lucrative as the software develops.
As it is it, this is not an especially earnings-friendly application. Still, it should be offered in out-of-town locations (cities other than your home city, including smaller ones — I would find it useful for trips from Nokomis back to Sarasota). It would make it possible to at least pick up an out-of-town rider if the driver could set the destination back to their home city. Overall, it might increase pay for some drivers if it allows them to squeeze in one more trip here or there.
Though, Lyft and Uber should consider that by taking earnings abilities away with this feature, they discourage electric car drivers as well as others from using it more.
The Cultural Intersect
My Lyft rep also advised adding some extra conveniences such as water to the ride — that human touch and concern can go a long way. It is no wonder I was intrigued enough to sign up for on-demand taxi driving — I have long remembered Pedro Almodóvar’s work Women On the Verge of Nervous Breakdown (1988). I could not forget the sympathetic, empathetic, zany taxi driver who nurtured the lead character in the film throughout her verge of a breakdown.
Driving is a writer’s dream as character study. I could say more but instead offer the following as notes (note that some are NSFW and not everyone’s flavor of humor):
That scene noted above from Women On the Verge of Nervous Breakdown (1988) — not in English since I couldn’t find an English version on YouTube.
Also, catch Night on Earth as it examines short poignant humorous vignettes around the world in taxis at the same time — my favorite is the Italian taxi driver scene (cut) complete with Roberto Benigni, or the contented driver Winona Ryder plays, an aspiring mechanic:
Humorous. Colorful. Captivating. and Human.
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