Rolling up to school in a fuzzy pink mustached car might have been mortifyingly uncool in the second grade, but these days it’s a sign of savviness. With their ease of use, Rideshare startups like Uber and Lyft have begun to reshape the way people get around. The companies have even wheedled their way into everyday conversation as the latest case of the noun-turned-verbs trend—“Google the directions and we’ll Uber or Lyft there.”
The differences between apps like Uber and Lyft, and more traditional Taxis boil down to several key factors—they’re convenient, they’re safer and they emphasize the relationship between passenger and driver. The free apps allows users to request a ride, track where they’re going via GPS navigation and pay, all on their smartphone devices. When a user requests a driver, the driver’s photo and car are shared, along with an estimated time of arrival—thus students dining out in Brightleaf on a Saturday night can spend more time conversing and less time waiting.
The apps also promote greater accountability. Drivers undergo rigorous three-step criminal background checks before they get behind the wheel as well as ongoing reviews of their driving records. Furthermore, the fact that most drivers have full-time jobs and drive for Uber and Lyft for fun suggests a selection of people excited to meet others and makes for lively conversation during the car ride.
Uber and Lyft could also bridge the divide between Duke students and the broader Durham community. By making it convenient and relatively cheap to move around, these apps can entice students who might otherwise be deterred by time and financial constraints, away from their dorm rooms and into the city to explore. Moreover, students with cars looking for jobs could become drivers, getting to know the streets and people of Durham in their free time. Either way—as passenger or driver—students utilizing these Rideshare services would be encouraged to interact with their Durham neighbors, facilitating greater understanding that could slowly pop the Duke bubble.
Convenient and revolutionary as it may be, Uber and Lyft are not perfect. Although the fact that the process from start to finish can be controlled on a smartphone is one of the great appeals, it also excludes those without smart devices, potentially establishing a certain socio-economic stratification. The recent explosion of legal battles between taxi companies and their new competitors also raise questions about the effects of the unregulated companies on the entrenched system. Without the regulations levied on taxi companies, these new Rideshare apps are able to provide the same service with a 20 percent price differential—a reality that jeopardizes jobs in the taxi industry, which employed 233,000 drivers in 2012. While these concerns are valid, they are inherent in the nature of competitive markets. Rather than ban them, competitors should seek to find new ways of driving progress in the industry.
The weekend awaits—Uber or Lyft into town.