Automotive > In-Vehicle UX Blog

Partitions Divide Ride Hail Operators

by Roger Lanctot | Jun 02, 2020

It seems so obvious to me. Ride hailing companies and taxi cabs or any for-hire automobile-based transportation, should be retrofitted (if not already equipped) with partitions to protect both the drivers and the passengers in our post-COVID-19 world. It seems obvious, but not to everyone.

The RideShareGuy, Harry Campbell, shared a firsthand account of a ride hailing driver, pulling down $4,000/week during this ride hailing downturn, working for Lyft. This driver brags about the fact that he ditched Uber after Uber instituted a mask-wearing requirement for drivers AND passengers. He also is proud of the fact that he is willing to allow passengers in the front seat when necessary, another violation of COVID-19 Uber policy - and the policies of regulators in some markets.

RideShareGuy post:

Uber policy statement:

When Uber announced its mask wearing requirement for drivers and passengers, which included an app-based drive-by-drive validation step for the driver, I saw it as a figleaf. Worse, I saw it as falling far short of what I felt would be necessary to provide a certifiably safe driving proposition during the pandemic. In-vehicle partitions are non-negotiable, in my mind.

My stance has been reinforced by operators such as Alto in Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas; DiDi Chuxing in China ($14M invested in partition installations), Bolt in Estonia (and 34 other markets), and by mobility operator Sixt and HERE Mobility, both of which allow users to specify the requirement of a partition when hailing a taxi. All of these companies have accepted their responsibility, in the midst of a pandemic, to deliver a safe transportation solution.

I view the in-vehicle partition as a bare minimum measure. It is equivalent to the partitions that popped up almost overnight in shopping centers and convenience stores to protect newly vulnerable cashiers. Are ride hailing drivers less worthy of protection than retail cashiers?

But I get it. The market is at work here. Alto CEO Will Coleman followed DiDi Chuxing’s lead by outfitting his cars with partitions. Coleman has the advantage of operating his own vehicles with drivers that are Alto employees. Coleman has built his brand on safety and reliability.

Alto was always positioned as the safer alternative to Uber and Lyft and is preferred – in its markets – by female users, though it is available to all. By adding partitions to his cars, Coleman has raised the safety stakes and further differentiated his platform from the Uber’s and Lyft’s of the world.

At least Uber is trying. Lyft appears to be differentiating in the opposite direction – facilitating a free wheeling, no holds barred approach as if COVID-19 doesn’t exist. Given Lyft’s UpLyft outreach – which has even funded rides for civil rights organizations during the recent outbreaks of protests in the U.S. – the relaxed safety stance appears out of step.

The key to implementing a partition installation strategy is that the operators – such as DiDi, Alto or Bolt – need to provide the hardware and maybe even assist with the installation. Partitions shouldn’t be a requirement to be supplied by the ride hailing driver – they should be a part of the service, an intrinsic element of the branding and the value proposition delivered by the ride hailing operator.

Sadly, ride hailing operators culturally have been resistant to regulation. The ethos of the ride hailing operator is to disrupt and break the rules. The great irony is that the operators may break the rules, but drivers must adhere strictly to the companies' rules. Any reader of Harry Campbell’s RideShareGuy newsletter can tell you of the many tales of drivers getting kicked of off either Lyft’s or Uber’s app for real or perceived infractions – including false allegations frequently lodged by unscrupulous passengers.

Ride hailing is a tough business, but it shouldn’t be dangerous too, for drivers or passengers. I have great respect for a Lyft driver able to pull down $4,000 in a week – which required 7 (seven) 12-hour shifts – but I’d have more respect if that driver paid as much attention to his passenger’s safety as he did to his bottom line.

Alto gets it right:

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