The Person Behind the Wheel: Considering the Heroism and Humanity of Your Rideshare Driver
By Lauren DiRuggiero, Senior Director of Communications at Octopus Interactive
Dave Kremnitzer started driving for Lyft in Washington, DC in 2014 after a 40-year career as a letter carrier for the US Postal Service. His son introduced him to the rideshare concept when they shared an Uber to a Pittsburgh Pirates game. As Dave approached retirement, he saw an opportunity to not only supplement his income as a rideshare driver, but also to stimulate his social skills with the chance to interact with his passengers. Anybody who remembers the program “Taxicab Confessions” on HBO will recognize the unique dynamic that unfolds between a hired driver and passenger; it’s an intimate encounter with another human being, isolated in space and time, that leads to often revelatory conversations and connection.
Since he began driving over six years ago, Dave has completed over 21,000 rides with Lyft. He still says what he relishes most is the opportunity to meet new people and learn a little bit about their lives. Rideshare drivers broadly report multiple needs they satisfy through their work — not just for income, but for social connection and stimulation. After a year during which so many of us have longed for human connection, Dave’s outlook is pretty understandable.
Uber went live in San Francisco in 2010, making the rideshare industry a little over a decade old. In that time, the rideshare concept has totally transformed human mobility. Uber alone has grown to provide rides to more than 90 million active users per quarter (pre-pandemic), and, like Google, the service has become so ubiquitous that it’s now used as a colloquial verb: “I’ll Uber to the airport tomorrow.”
With all of this swift adoption and market penetration, it’s easy to forget the workforce that keeps the platform running: the strangers that are on call at a moment’s notice to ferry us anywhere we please in their personal automobiles. Like the rest of us, rideshare drivers had to grapple with unprecedented uncertainty during the past year. Many of these essential workers had to choose between maintaining their income and exposing themselves to the risk of intimately interacting with the public.
Cassie Utecht has been driving for Lyft in the Denver area since 2016. Like Dave, she says that the chance to connect with her passengers is a deeply meaningful part of her daily experience. Most passengers, she says, come in pairs, and often they will loop Cassie into the intimate conversations they have in her back seat. In her professional role, Cassie has gotten to hear about their hopes and dreams, marriages and divorces, victories and tragedies.
After too much debate, rideshare drivers have been formally categorized as “essential workers” in most states, which put them in line for an early chance at a Covid-19 vaccination. We should be happy for them, not just as fellow citizens, but as service providers who swoop in to serve an essential function when we need them.
It’s likely that we’ll all appreciate simple things with a fresh perspective as the economy and social sphere return to life in 2021. It’s fair to venture that we’ll all hug our family and friends a little closer the next time we’re all able to gather together.
When that happens, spare a moment to consider the driver who took you to the airport or across town to your parents’ house. Rideshare drivers have had as challenging a year as any of us, and they’re still standing strong to get us where we need to be. Maybe bear that in mind when prompted to leave a tip or chat with the stranger at the wheel. They might need that ride more than you do, and not just for the money.