A Ride With Uber
Written by Winter Trabex.
A light spattering of rain fell on Friday morning. The day promised to be a warm day by Pennsylvania standards- fifties going into the sixties. The morning sky was gray. Sounds of birds chirping and car engines roaring filled the air. Small raindrops fell on my week-old smartphone as I sat on the steps in front of my house looking for a black card with a with white U on it.
Several circumstances conspired against me driving myself that morning. For several months, I had made a point of saving up money. I knew that when March came, I would have to deal with a large car repair bill to keep it legal. Pennsylvania requires that auto mechanics look at several aspects of the vehicle to determine if it is in compliance or not. Though I had saved up 1000 dollars, I found myself taken aback when presented with an estimate of 1500 dollars. For that much money, I could hop over across the state and buy a car at the auto auction where I got the car I have.
With no way to come up with five hundred dollars on a week’s notice, and no way to legally drive a vehicle to work, I found myself in a bind. Suddenly, I had to walk everywhere I went. I had to start thinking outside the box: I looked at food delivery services, I considered Amazon for my toiletry needs, I looked at Uber and Lyft to take me places I needed to go, when I really had to go somewhere.
From the outset, I intended not to rely on the charity of others. Long experience though the years has taught me the vast difference between someone acting out of self-interest as opposed to someone acting out of altruism. One produces cheap, efficient, effective results geared toward consumer experience. The other produces results geared towards the satisfaction of the giver, with no thought to what the recipient goes through.
As a result, I decided to use Uber to go grocery shopping. My favorite grocery store, Wegman’s, doesn’t deliver. So I downloaded the app, created an account, entered my info, and set my destination. Though the store is within walking distance, it sits on a very busy four lane road that is impassible by foot. So there I sat watching as the time estimation on the phone ticked down to one minute.
In what seemed like no time at all, the driver arrived. The van he drove exceeded my expectations. I realized at once that though I had aspirations of becoming a driver myself, I wouldn’t be able to do so in an eleven-year-old police car that really showed its age on the inside. Uber is a job you do when you already have money, or a loan on a vehicle. It’s not for those looking to get going with another career from scratch, as is the case for many people in my area.
The driver had a name I couldn’t pronounce, which was fine with me. I wanted to give him a hug anyway. He seemed like a guy who had been driving taxi in Harrisburg, the state’s capital city, for a while. Though he had water bottles in the car, I assumed they were for himself as he didn’t offer me one. As I was headed to the grocery store anyway, I didn’t mind. I wanted coconut water.
The drive was over in a flash, as was the shopping trip. With two reusable bags full of food- including my favorite, wild caught shrimp- I sat on a bench outside the store looking for my return trip driver. The guy who drove me home drove like he was from New York. He didn’t seem to know the area well, and he was impatient with other people. We had a near miss on the way out, but I gave him a five-star rating anyway. I suspect that the incident, such as it is, can be put down to acculturation more than bad driving.
When I got home with two grocery bags in tow, it suddenly struck me: without any warning, a century of tradition had been wiped clean. In 1915, if you wanted to get somewhere, you either had to walk, ride a horse, or have a car (which at that time would hardly even function). The owners and manufacturers of cars had entrenched themselves into an oligopoly, one which was very difficult to break. In many places in the world, public transportation had not yet developed to the point where people could think about giving up their cars. Taxi services became available, but the government clamped down on such services by the creation of an absurdly expensive medallion system. Buses were similarly regulated through the creation of the federal CDL licensing system in 1986. Prior to this, each state had its own licensing system.
Each innovation disrupted a previous system of business. Henry Ford disrupted horse owners, horse breeders, carriage makers, and cab drivers. Buses and taxis disrupted companies like Ford, who saw potential profits slip away when people stopped buying cars. Uber disrupts taxis and buses and car dealerships. This is why all sorts of people are upset with Uber who, based on my personal experience, doesn’t break any laws whatsoever. Or, if a law is breached by Uber’s operation, such a law should be abolished. I’ve never yet seen a plausible argument made for legislative restrictions placed upon non-violent voluntary interactions.
Because of Uber, I find myself wondering if I even need a car at all. When I need to move anywhere, I can use Uber to go to a U-Haul location. Then I can rent a U-Haul vehicle to move my stuff to another location. The day may come when no one will have to buy cars at all. Provided that work is done at home, or is within walking or biking distance, then I no longer have to use a car at all.
The environmental implications of this are staggering. Fewer cars on the road means fewer emissions into the atmosphere, less gasoline being consumed, less raw materials being needed for the production of new vehicles, less energy needed to produce them, less environmental waste produced by factories who make cars, among a host of other benefits. If any demonstration was really needed as to why free market capitalism might literally save the world, Uber provides the best answer anyone has yet thought up.
For me, it means I get to eat shrimp and drink coconut water. For another person, it might mean the difference between being able to go to the hospital or having to call an ambulance; Uber is far cheaper, by hundreds of dollars. For the rest of the world, Uber might mean a shift from having to divert one’s personal resources to the acquisition of vehicle towards only paying for only what is really needed. What if you could cut out your car payment entirely and pay only 10 to 15 dollars every week on Uber? Would a savings of hundreds of dollars be worth it? What would people be empowered to do if they had that much money to spend or save every month? The world may soon find out.
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