Uber Fast- Rideshare Slow?

J. Gould photo
Senior w/ bum leg meets Uber

Rideshare is fast paced. Yet,  as Uberhealthcare and Lyft Concierge expand into  new markets, and health care  in particular,  I wonder whether they need to slow things down, literally. 

For the past two years my colleagues and I have periodically offered a class  called “How to Rideshare” and it is held at the library or senior center. The course is divided into three sessions, because we have learned that seniors need time to process the information and practice.  These  students are not “digital natives.” It takes time  for them to get comfortable with smartphone basics, store a credit card online, understand cellular data versus WiFi, and position a virtual  pin on a virtual map. We have developed the class from scratch, using seniors to pretest our method, We also discovered the need to spend a lot of time going over the safety issues because seniors come full of worry….you can practically see the furrows in their brow. 


A specific concern keeps many seniors  wary of rideshare…. They fear that the drivers have a criminal record and will physically harm them. I don’t know the source of this anxiety, but I hunch that it originates from two concerns: first, trepidation about new technology, and second, an exaggeration on the part of the taxi industry of the rare rideshare trip that goes bad. Our classroom time dispels this safety issue. We describe the rigorous background checks (particularly in states like California and Massachusetts), we mention that Uber and Lyft provide millions of trips on a daily basis,  and we describe the advantage of cashless payment and an always-on, always trackable GPS.

We dispel the idea that rideshare is not safe for seniors.


But, there is a different aspect of rideshare that continues to put older people in harm’s way. Seniors are slow, and the rideshare business is fast.

In a recent training session, the students, probably age 70 and older (we don’t ask)  had completed a five hours in the classroom, and were now excited to take their first road trip. The students successfully used their smartphone to get an Uber vehicle. For this session our destination was an ice cream parlor  located on a fairly busy street; Uber had provided ride credits, and the ice cream store had provided complementary cones. It was to be a happy graduation.

WIthin minutes a young Uber driver, in a late-model 4 door sedan pulled up, and I hopped into the front seat, while my students, two older ladies, opened the rear doors to settle into the backseat. Except that one of them didn’t. This particular elder had a bum foot and needed to walk with a cane. She was mobile on her feet, but in a dragging sort of way.  Meanwhile, the young Uber driver made a timing mistake- he waited the requisite period of time for an average passenger to load, and assumed that the lady was in the car. Without turning back to look at the passengers, he released the brake. The vehicle  started to lurch forward while our bum-footed passenger had only one leg inside the door. She was in mid-air, suspended between the street and the car.

The story has a happy ending because the Uber driver grasped the gravity, immediately  braked the vehicle before it could roll further, and sprang out to the rear door. There he  lifted the hapless rider  under her shoulder blades and wedged her into the backseat.

It was a fearful trip back to our classroom-  like travel in slow motion. As we waited for the trip to end so we could assess her condition, we distracted ourselves with talk about the Uber driver’s four month only baby boy, aptly named Miles. At the end of the trip, 15 minutes  and  5 miles later, we all breathed a sigh of relief as the lady with the bum foot took a step, then another, and hobbled away intact. No physical damage seemed to have been done, but we were all shaken up.


I don’t know that this student will ever ride again…and I certainly know that the experience gave me second thought about how to teach rideshare to elders. Maybe there were safety concerns that I had cavalierly ignored.

Rideshare is clearly a tough business to slow down, because the faster a driver turns around passengers, the more trips and the more revenue. At the end of the day, I do not think that rideshare and older people are incompatible, but I do wonder how to mesh them better. I am reminded that as the rideshare business, Uber and Lyft, reach out to more elderly and medical riders, there is an apt proverb. It goes:  “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Hotrod Sinners and Phone Beginners

Parents cringe when kids get their first smartphone. They have valid concerns about the hours kids will spend on the phone, as well as the accidental, or deliberate, exposure to the digital perils of cyber-bullying, cyber-porn, and more.  

Yet these smartphones also bring parents a peace of mind that an older generation never experienced.  Although there are still far too many vehicle accidents, young people are getting their driver’s licenses later and waiting longer to get behind the wheel. Fewer parents now spend restless evenings waiting up, praying that their kid and the car return safely from a nocturnal adventure.  


Smartphones have replaced cars as the status symbol for young people. Phones are changing the rulebook of how teens and parents work out growing pains. In this two-part blog we will highlight some of the differences, and center here on the more easily observed car/phone trade-offs.

The average age for acquiring a personal smartphone (in the US) is only ten, but there is a forceful movement to wait until eight, as in eighth grade . Smartphones have become a teen rite-of-passage. An earlier generation of Boomers, and to some extent Millennials, used their cars as the opportunity to establish independence and connections outside the immediate household. As John Zimmer, the  co-founder of Zimiride, and  president of Lyft observes

The independence once represented by the car has been replaced by cell phones and social networks, which are now at the forefront of people’s expression of freedom and access.


So, what are some of the differences between coming of age today, and coming of age when wheels ruled the road?


ENVIRONMENTAL: The environmental record is not so green for Baby Boomers and older Millennials. Their transportation preferences locked them into big-oil, and the affection for drive alone leaves behind an oversized carbon footprint.  With smartphones, today’s teens are far more eco-friendly, and cut their fossil-fuel travel trips  by doing both errands and entertainment online instead of taking  travel trips.  As the trend continues, there is an important sea-change just ahead: The convergence of the smartphone and the automobile is occurring with self-driving, autonomous vehicles. As you might imagine, polls find that teens and young people embrace the technology. Older people, the Boomers, are resistant to self-driving cars, and when you dig into the reasons, they say it threatens their freedom and independence .


FINANCIAL: Most rites of passage invoke some sacrifice or exchange of funds, and in this case, the younger generation wins again. Boomers were motivated to get a car and incurred the added cost of fuel, maintenance, and insurance. That often required the need to get a first or second job in addition to schooling.  David Murdock, who hails  from an older generation, quipped, “ We take better  care our cars than we take care of the maintenance of our bodies.”

Today’s teens still crave the ownership ritual, but it comes with less of a financial strain.  Twelve year olds to twenty year olds are registered for the family cellphone contract, and do not have to work as hard to afford the trendiest phone or heavy -duty data plan. They may even have extra change left to playfully try out stylish phone cases, headphones, and downloads.


CONFIDENTIAL: One of the pivotal differences between phones and cars cuts deeper. Boomers will recall that they did many private things in their own cars, or in the car they borrowed from parents. Cars became an indoor vehicle literally for the private consumption of alcohol or other illicit substances. Backseats were also legendary on date-night as the go-to place and, for many different reasons, teen pregnancies soared in comparison to the rates today.  When all stationary activities were exhausted, there were also trips! The Boomers, as teens, could visit with friends or travel to a site that their elders had specifically forbidden.

Today’s teens may be starting earlier, but there is a similar penchant to forge trails that are private and beyond the prying eyes of adults. Snapchat and messaging sites often provide a ‘teen-preferred’ space, by virtue of being edgy, and/or tricky to navigate. The back seat of the car may have been supplanted by the camera on the phone,  i.e. teens  sending, receiving, and forwarding sexually explicit message and images. There is a subtle similarity: Like young drivers who do not pay full attention to the road, teenagers on their phone may not be thinking about the risks and repercussions when they are deep into sexting. I Curiously, the demographics are different today:  women in relationships are more likely to sext than men, and that may explain why an older age group, 18 the 24 years olds, are the largest users.

 DIGITAL LITERACY: No matter what teens once did in cars there is one blockbuster difference. We used to expect parents, backed by strict hours of classroom time and in-vehicle instruction, to make young people driver-ready.  In an earlier blog we suggested the idea of a provisional license for smartphone users  and on our Facebook page, SmartphoneZen, we noted  the application of Yondr bags so that students were less distracted in the classroom.

Teens know how to use a smartphone and they are usually more proficient at it than their parents. But, they often lack the knowledge to use it mindfully and with purpose. These are skills that need to be taught. Since the nineteen seventies there has been a small movement to teach media studies in the school curriculum. However, it has never been widely adopted. Incongruously, most middle schools and high schools did make room in the academic curriculum  for classes on sexual health and body awareness.

Here stands a new opportunity: teens going online today  encounter a lot of information about sexual health and awareness, including cyber porn. That information is in full sight. For example,  The New York Times cites an older study (2008) that 93 percent of male college students and 62 percent of female students encountered online porn before they were 18.

So, if the smartphone is the new vehicle, and the classroom is the new setting, this might be the opportune moment to pair the two. Parents and educators  take note:  We  need a curriculum that is part of a larger umbrella where kids learn to use their phones in ways that are mindful and responsible. We need to help kids mature alongside their digital freedom and independence.