It all started with my first Uber ride over Labor Day weekend in downtown Chicago. Despite taking several trips over the years, I had never downloaded any of the popular transportation apps. Usually we take a taxi or shuttle from airports to hotels and then walk the pavements of big cities.
Timing of trips is key to making this system work. Well-placed sunny days in New York City and Chicago are perfect; sweltering August days in the Big Easy – not so much. Had we used a super-convenient Uber or Lyft during one of those journees chaudes, the trip would have been more enjoyable.
While Uber and Lyft have become almost indispensable to many travelers, traditional taxicabs have been more-easily forgotten. A June 2017 article in USA Today says traditional cab drivers saw a 40% decline in their revenue in the last three years. NYC reports a 30% decrease in ridership in that same time; LA ridership was down 43%.
Safe to say that taxicab drivers do not share my newfound excitement of Uber.
But here is why I can say with confidence that Uber was not only convenient and affordable, it brought conversation back into many aspects of my vacation. Before scheduling each ride – decisions ranging from the “Do we need one?” to the comment after all the doors were shut, “Don’t forget to tip!” – each interaction required real human communication. This human interaction continued as we ducked in and out of Ubers during our trip to the Windy City. I watched the interaction between my family members and the Uber drivers. Even during the short rides, we had the opportunity to meet people originally from all over the world. Each driver had a different story, but each expressed pride in his current city. Each had a nice (sometimes new) vehicle and driving for Uber was his second job. We learned new perspectives about the city including historical tidbits, recommendations for hotspots and what was trending in the city.
What didn’t happen was what usually happened in previous trips, where everyone got out a cell phone and the vehicles went silent. “Crickets!” as my daughter would say. So, on this trip, maybe it was the novelty for most of our group to ride in Uber vehicles. Maybe it was the congeniality from the drivers or the scheduling of spontaneous rides or the affordable fares. Whatever it was, the human interaction was back in the Windy City and conversation was a breeze.