Uber and the “oh, I already payed for the ride? great!” experience

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Leaving aside the controversy about some of Uber’s operation, this is a post about a specific aspect that I find truly remarkable in an Uber ride experience compared to a conventional taxi ride: the experience of the payment process (or the discreet absence thereof).

A conventional taxi confronts you permanently with the taximeter ticking away as the ride progresses. The meter ticks away, the price increases and you have no idea how high it will climb when you get to your destination. Will there be additional charges and what for? Will the driver accept your card? What tip should you add on top? The taxi driver at the end of this ride reveals itself in the role of the check-out clerk: presenting you with the check, swiping your card or taking your cash.

None of this is part of your experience in an Uber or Lyft ride. The payment process is banned from the actual ride experience. You contract the price before you commit to the call and commence the ride. The modalities of interaction with this payment system are deeply ambient in nature: The payment process starts when you take a seat in the car, when your geographic location aligns with that of the driver’s device. And the payment process concludes when the trip is complete, when your location is detected to coincide with the indicated destination of your ride. So it is quite literally your ‘moving through space’, your being ambient in terms of ‘going around’ that represents your interaction with Uber’s payment system.

During the ride itself there is only… well, the ride. And the driver is only just that, your driver or, in best cases, an excellent partner for conversation. The ride starts and ends with a greeting, digital agents take care of an already agreed upon payment. Terrific! Now, let’s make this clear to all those airlines that have recently started to turn their stewards into check-out clerks for your increasingly payed-for on-board food and drinks…

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