Driving Strangers

By | February 20, 2019

I was at work late tonight and missed my train, so I splurged for a ride home. My driver was pretty talkative, and told me he had done 8,900 rides and tracked the resulting data meticulously.

He volunteered a number of observations that struck me.

Demographics. His most common passenger is a solo female rider. He had a number of hypotheses for this, but none of them struck me as obviously correct. One hypothesis that might be incorrect in his particular case, but correct more generally, is the urban gender divide. Ridesharing is primarily an urban phenomenon, and my intuition is that women outnumber men in urban area (I’m having a surprisingly hard time finding a link that discusses this, though). San Francisco has a basically equal gender distribution, though.

Phones. Clear age divide in riders who talk to the driver. People under 25 look at their phones the whole ride.

Tipping. Older riders are more likely to tip. I think of this largely as a form of self-imposed price discrimination. Shared ride customers are less likely to tip.

Duration. Rides in San Jose (a less dense city) tend to be much longer.

Lost and Found. Charging your phone in the car increases your likelihood of leaving it behind by 5–10x, according to this driver.

I wonder which of these observations would impact self-driving cars. The male-female divide caught my attention, especially because of perceived safety. As an engineer, I think mostly about the safety of the virtual driver system, but female passengers in particular might also consider the safety issues related to entering a stranger’s car.

Tipping seems important for a few reasons. It’s a form of price discrimination that will probably vanish with autonomous driving systems. It’s also a kind of Coasean division, like franchising. This driver seemed really concerned with providing services that would generate tips in his car, in a way that I imagine would be hard to scale to a whole fleet.

This particular driver has a blog at drivingstrangers.blogspot.com, in case you’re interested to learn more.


Driving Strangers was originally published in Self-Driving Cars on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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