Wheels in the Head: Ridesharing as Monitored Performance
Ridesharing services offer on-demand rides much like taxicabs, but distinguish themselves from cabs by emphasizing the friendly, social aspect of the in-car interaction. Crucial to the ability of these companies to distinguish themselves from cabs has been the insertion of smartphones as “social interfaces” between drivers and passengers, restructuring social interaction through an allegorithm the productive co-deployment of a socially relevant allegorical script and a software-mediated algorithm). Much of the affective labor of ridesharing drivers consists in maintaining this affective framing and internalizing the logic by which their performances are monitored. In this article the writings of three ridesharing drivers will be drawn on to illustrate the ways drivers develop and evaluate their own performances as ridesharing drivers.
This scholarly article in Surveillance and Society (available as a free PDF) by Donald Nathan Anderson explores the “social interface” as part of driving for Uber and Lyft, and how the companies utilize algorithms to remotely monitor – and ultimately control – the behaviors of drivers and passengers.
Back in August 2014, I wrote an inflammatory blogpost entitled “Your Uber Driver Hates You” covering the news that Uber drivers rated their passengers and most users had shitty ratings. Which helped explain why some folks would have a hard time getting picked up.
I followed that post up with a whimsical listicle on Buzzfeed called “Ten Reasons Why Your Uber Driver Hates You,” using various gifs to create – what I thought – was an amusing guide for Uber passengers on how to improve their ratings.
It got a shit ton of traffic, and loads of comments. But for some reason, when I visited the page today, there are no comments. Maybe it’s just a glitch or something, but the thing got some visitors.
This is the first six days:
The rest of the month:
While I’m sure those numbers don’t mean much to the big sites that generate 100s of thousands of page views per day, it’s not bad for someone with just an idea and an internet connection.
But I am pissed off about one thing…
Even though I was the first blogger to use the term “your Uber driver hates you,” numerous articles have come out since August 2014 on higher trafficked sites using the exact same title and basically pushed me down in the search ratings.
Not surprising, of course, since this is how media works. Those who toil independently, whether online or in print, will always get painted over by the broad strokes of the mainstream media.
Anyway, the reason I’ve been rummaging through all these old posts is because I started a new site to collect images from the “your uber driver hates you” sticker campaign.
You can check out the early stages here:
When you get in an Uber, you have no way of knowing whose car you’re getting into. It could be anyone. Even a mass murderer.
It’s easy to jump on this horrible tragedy and make it Uber’s fault. Jason Dalton was obviously mentally ill before he started driving for Uber and went on his killing spree that left six dead and two critically injured. Plus, he’d only been doing Uber for a short while. His ratings weren’t even that good. And since he hadn’t been driving long, the recent price cuts couldn’t have possibly sent him over the edge.
Still, the fact remains: had Dalton been in a taxi, with all the associated identifying markings of a taxi, his wanton murders while picking up fares wouldn’t have lasted six to seven fucking hours before he was apprehended.
A taxi would have been easily identified and located almost immediately. Taxis are painted in bright colors, have top lights, phone numbers, cab numbers, permits and other easily identifiable markings that would have made it a cinch to find him after the first shooting occurred.
In San Francisco, taxis even have numbers on their hoods and roofs so they can be identified from air. Not to mention that drivers go to an office to pick up the keys to their cabs. They are vetted daily and their behavior is monitored by staff of the cab company as well as other drivers.
Cabs also have GPS trackers in them. Two-way radios. And there are always other taxi drivers on the streets who can be notified to look out for each other. It’s very difficult to drive a taxi under the radar.
People who think they’re safe in an Uber (or a Lyft) are fooling themselves.
At least Uber has finally admitted in court they are not as safe as cabs. Cause even though Dalton had a long history of driving violations, he passed Uber’s “industry-leading” background checks.
So now, when you get in an Uber, you are literally getting into a car with someone who could possibly be a mass murderer.
Sadly, I doubt this incident, or the many, many others, will stop most people from using Uber. Because… well, most people are stupid and lazy.
Photo by Trevor Johnson.
Her rating is 4.2.
I accept the ride automatically, like I do with all my Uber requests. The ping comes in and I tap the flashing icon on my iPhone as quickly as possible before it expires. I don’t even look at the passenger name. I’m too busy fighting traffic to reach the pinned location. But at a red light, I press the link in the Uber app that opens up the passenger info screen. That’s when I notice Julia’s rating.
In the four months I’ve been driving for Uber, this is the worst passenger rating I’ve seen. Even though very few Uber passengers have five-star ratings, they’re usually around 4.8 or 4.7. So as I approach Hyde and O’Farrell, I can’t help but wonder why Julia’s previous drivers had rated her so low.
I pull into a bus stop, hit the hazards, and look around. Nobody in sight. Maybe that’s the problem. Making your driver wait longer than a minute will definitely cost you a star. In the Tenderloin, two stars. At least. I’m lucky I have a space to pull into. Otherwise I’d be double-parked in the flow of traffic, getting honked at by spiteful cab drivers or possibly rear-ended by a disoriented tourist. I wait five minutes, watching my side mirrors in case a bus approaches. Just as I’m about to cancel the ride, my phone rings.
“We’re on Jones, between Eddy and Turk. Uber messed up our address.”
A likely story. Probably doesn’t know how to use the damn app. Inputting the wrong pick up location is another way to lose a star.
“Okay. I’m right around the corner. See you in a sec.”
Fortunately, I don’t have to circle four blocks on the one-way streets downtown. Just take a left at Eddy and a right on Jones. Pull up behind a double-parked taxi. A woman and a man wave at me. I unlock the doors.
“Sorry about that,” Julia says, as she slides across the back seat. The man climbs in next to her.
“No worries.” I pull into traffic. Glance at the cabbie eyeing me wearily. “The app can be a little janky at times.”
“McCallister and Baker,” the man tells me. “Do you need the exact address?”
“Nah. We’ll sort it out when we get there.”
I turn right onto Turk and head towards the Western Addition. I figure they’ll give me the silent treatment. Like most Uber passengers. Which, in the ratings playbook, is another lost point.
“How’s your night going so far?” the man asks.
“It’s cool. How you guys doing?”
“We just came from the Power Exchange,” he says.
“Do you know the Power Exchange?”
“A sex club,” Julia says with a hint of derision.
I can’t tell by her voice if she’s telling me because they’d wandered in by mistake or on purpose. “Really?”
“Yeah. But it was lame,” the man tells me. “We were the only couple there.”
“Just lots of dudes jerking off,” Julia says. “Following us around and asking if they could join in.” She laughs. “It was so gross.”
“There was that one woman giving a blowjob,” the guy points out.
“Ugh. But she was so fat and the dude was covered in hair… I had to turn away.”
At a stoplight, I glance in my rearview. They are an attractive couple. She’s made up like a three-alarm fire and he’s got the international man of mystery vibe down pat. In a club full of dudes looking to wank it to people having sex in public, I can see how they would be popular.
“Was this your first trip to a sex club?” I ask, since they seem inclined to converse and I’m curious.
“Oh yeah. And probably the last.” Julia laughs.
“It’s not like we were able to do anything,” the man says. “Whenever we started making out, the guys would swarm.”
“We left after twenty minutes,” says Julia.
“I guess that was something we needed to experience so we’d never have to try again,” the man tells her.
“I mean, if circumstances were different…”
“Oh, sure… but they’d have to be very different circumstances…”
Their voices go lower. It’s obvious I’m no longer part of the discussion. I focus on driving. Watch for errant pedestrians and wobbling bicyclists. I tap my fingers on the steering wheel at the lights. The Pixies are playing on the iPod hardwired into my stereo, but the sound is barely perceptible. I keep the volume low and faded to the front speakers when I have passengers in the car. Nobody likes rock music anymore. It’s all about deep house, EDM and dubstep, which I had to google after hearing the term mentioned constantly.
When I get close to the couple’s location, I ask which street they’re on, Baker or McCallister.
“Baker,” Julia says. “About halfway down on the right. Next to that streetlight.”
I pull over in front of an Edwardian apartment building and end the ride. “Have a good night.”
“You too. Drive safe.”
“I’ll do my best.”
I rate her five stars. Like I do with all my passengers. Unlike most Uber drivers, I adhere to the philosophy: live by the rating, die by the rating.
I go back online. Head down Divisadero and wait for another ping.
Image by Irina and Kelly Dessaint.
Bitching about taxis is so 2012.
Not only has Uber disrupted the way people get around town, they’ve also given everybody a new target of contempt. And just as their name suggests, Uber isn’t your run-of-the-mill whipping boy. No, they are the ultimate shock absorber for disdain.