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.
Due to an oversaturated market, drivers need to work long hours to make decent money. So instead of making the long commute back home, only to turn right back around, they sleep in their cars.
One morning, around 4 a.m., I’d just dropped a fare at Geary and Webster when I happened upon this scene. The Safeway parking lot was full of Uber/Lyft vehicles, many of which had sunshades or towels covering the windows.
I’ve seen this situation elsewhere, in other Safeway parking lots, as well at the rest area on 280, just outside the city. It seems that wherever there’s a place to park, there’s a place to sleep.
This was a very interesting project I participated in with a few other cab drivers. The idea, as conceived by creator Lexa Walsh, was to have people from diverging points of view get together over tea and hors d’oeuvres and talk things through.
The project gathers artists, writers, tech workers, “sharing economy” laborers (Uber and Lyft drivers, AirBnB hosts) and their critics (taxi drivers, tenants rights activists) together in a hospitable environment so each may share their positions in a safe yet open and critical dialogue. Each position will be respectfully held in the space.
Besides taxi drivers, there were supposed to be a few Uber/Lyft drivers, but she wasn’t able to find any willing to participate. So we sat around the table, drinking tea and talking about the problems we face because of the onslaught of unregulated/untrained drivers.
Some of the quotes were commemorated on plates that hung in the backroom gallery at Adobe after the talks.
Remember when UberX and Lyft were referred to as peer-to-peer transportation? Or what about Lyft’s former motto: “your friend with a car?”
When I first started driving for Lyft in February of 2014, it was all about pink mustaches and fistbumps. That’s long gone. Now it’s “rides in minutes.” Although they still refer to their drivers as being part of a community, we know that’s bullshit. Lyft has grown up. It’s no longer about competing with Uber and taxis, but also the bus, with their discounted LyftLine service.
Uber, which was never one to be confused with anything remotely associated with a community, refers to itself clearly and succinctly on their website as “on demand” transportation. Enough said.
But this rampant forms of convenience doesn’t stop with cheap rides in other people’s cars. There are the bus lines like Bauer’s, who bill themselves as “intelligent transportation.”
And there’s Chariot, the private shuttle service who uses the tagline: “Your commute, solved.” Apparently, Chariot offers riders the ability to crowd source the routes you want. And who doesn’t love crowdsourcing?
Since Driver 8 and I had so much fun discussing the pros and cons of driving Lyft and taxis at the Next:Economy conference last month, we went to Medium’s offices and did a live debate on their Backchannel site.