Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Down with Lyft?

"LYFT" drivers are sent a pink mustache put on the grill of their cars in order to be more easily identified by users.
It's 2am in LA and you've been drinking a little too much. You walk out of the bar and see a row of eager cab drivers parked out front, just waiting for your business. You almost get in one of the cabs, but you remember that your water bill AND your rent check are due tomorrow and you don't want to come up short. So you back away from the cab and pull out your smart phone and arrange for a "LYFT."

Apparently the above scene is happening more and more in Los Angeles these days and it is causing quite a stir between cab drivers, the city of San Francisco, and the owners of the LYFT smartphone application. In an article recently published by the New York Times, Ian Lovett chronicles the battles between the involved parties.

On the one hand, there's the cab drivers. One cabbie in the article reported losing as much as 20% of his income due to the app and many cab companies are upset because they pay a significant amount of their income to the city for permits and taxes that the grad student moonlighting as a cab driver doesn't have to pay.

Then on the other hand, there is the city who is calling this application/ride sharing program dangerous. The article tells us that before cabs had partitians as many as one cab driver every eighteen months was being murdered and this program is dangerous for drivers and riders alike! . . . However, the city sees how ride sharing programs like this could significantly cut down on traffic. The city has sent cease and desist to users of the app, but they are currently fighting with the app company. 

Then on a magical third hand, there's the application owners and the drivers/users. This group suggests that because there is no set price on the ride, just a suggested donation (and apparently drivers rate how well riders pay) it isn't the same as a cab fare. Furthermore, the cute-pink mustached cars, the company argues, have not only been given the permits to conduct their business, but they're helping the city and the environment at the same time. 

Sounds like someone is always unhappy no matter what happens and, frankly, I don't have an answer! However, this company reminds me a lot of the trend of couch surfing. I've had lots of friends who have successfully couch surfed, connecting with strangers across the world via the internet and arranging to crash for the night on their couch--often leaving only $10-$20 if anything. I, however, refuse. When I went to Europe I busted my butt babysitting before I left so I could stay in hostels--not because I was too good for a couch (beleive me, the hostels I could afford were by no means glamorous), but because the safety concerns were a little too great for me. 

As I thought about this article during this week's reading, I wonder if people enjoy the LYFT app and Couch Surfing because they see these services as a means of controlling their reality. Lemke writes that "Watching a film on a large screen, the divergence between sense data and fictional illusion diminishes; we can experience terror or a sensation of falling while watching a fabric screen and siting in a fixed chair" (89). I wonder if a similar opposite effect takes place in the human mind when a person decides, from the comfort of her own familiar laptop/smart phone, to use one of these services if the familiarity with the device (that has almost become an extension of the human hand in many cases with younger people) creates a sense of security in users when the situation they're going into may or may not be so safe. 

But, of course, we can't ignore the cost factor. I wonder if users feel, for lack of a better term, they are somehow sticking it to the man. If so, in addition to coming out ahead financially I think users like this are looking for something more than just a hotel key or a cab ride--perhaps they're looking to interact with "real life" people, rather than a corporation that they view is taking their hard earned money. 

Either way, I'm not too eager to jump in a stranger's car, but who knows!

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