Times, they are a changin’…

From just over the hill

Recently, we were in New York City for the first time in years. I used to go there a lot 30 years ago. While many things have stayed the same, a lot has changed.

One of the most impressive instances occured out of the blue the Sunday morning we were there. We went out on 8th Avenue just to take a walk, only to find that the sidewalk had been blocked off for the New York version of “A Taste of Colorado” – only bigger! As far as you could see down 8th Avenue, both sides were lined with tents and jammed with people. It was amazing.

No single group dominated the event. There was equal representation of Chinese, Japanese, German, Italian, white Americans, black Americans, kids on bikes and babies in strollers. Walk a block and you heard a dozen languages. Surely the most cosmopolitan crowd I have ever experienced. It was great!

The only thing more striking was Times Square at night. Again, packed with people, and I felt like a wide-eyed kid, surprised by all that I had never seen before, including two eggs and a piece of toast for $30 in an eatery next to our hotel. All in all, a great NYC experience.

But that’s not all that is changing. We were there on business. I had promised myself that I would try Uber, an app-based taxi service that I had heard so much about. We had about 10 places to visit, mostly candy stores and candy makers (another story) scattered throughout Manhattan Island, so we thought we could give Uber a good test drive.

We started at LaGuardia Airport and headed downtown in a cab. It was fine. Cleaner than most New York cabs but still with the plastic partition between passengers and the driver – a $70 ride all in all. The rest of the time in the city we used Uber.

Based on my little experiment, this is what we found:

Uber vehicles are way cleaner and roomier than an average New York taxi; the drivers are nicely dressed, polite and knowledgeable.

It never took us more than four or five minutes to get an Uber to meet us at our exact coordinates, whether in Manhattan or Brooklyn or anywhere else.

Most of the drivers had little bottles of water in their vehicles.

Lastly, the cars were comfortable.

We talked to the drivers at length. Most had worked for Uber less than a year and more than half of the drivers we had were well-dressed young men from Haiti. They tended to like the job and thought it was a good opportunity as long as you’re willing to work hard. Another part of the job they liked was that they could define their own hours – some worked all day, some all night and some part-time.

To work as an Uber driver, you need a car that fits the specifications of the company: 2011 or newer, and a smartphone that can handle the app and that has GPS facility. Drivers complete some training and are released into the wild as independent contractors. They go where the business takes them, another thing they seemed to like.

The mobile app and the drivers work together to arrange pickups, and once passengers agree to the trip, credit cards on file are billed automatically – and off you go. Customers can tip, but the drivers we had never acted like they expected it.

Our Uber ride back to LaGuardia cost $45. What’s not to like?

Every user of Uber I have talked to loves the service. In some cities around the world a few unions and governments are fighting it because it upsets their applecart.

The future will be different than the past. I spent 40 years in publishing. That is a business that had to change a lot to adapt to compete with the Internet. And we are doing so without setting cars on fire.

Overall, Uber is a good idea

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