As a rider, when you think of a major perk of ridesharing apps, chances are you may think practicality. No car, no money for gas, no desire to drive — whatever the case, it’s no problem when companies like Uber and Lyft exist.
The convenience of the app has Sandra Acton, 41, a local resident, thinking about selling her car.
As a USF St. Petersburg student she lives, works and goes to school in downtown St. Petersburg. Acton uses Uber for trips she can’t cover on her bike.
She said she would spend more money on gas, her car payment and insurance than on occasional Uber rides.
For the drivers, the draw to ridesharing apps is the flexibility of making money on their own time.
“I wanted more flexibility so that I could work on other projects or spend time with friends and not be as confined,” said Dimitri Griffith, a senior majoring in economics. “Being younger when I started driving, I just didn’t want to have a set schedule. I thought it would be something fun to do.”
Along with busing tables for Proper Kitchen and Cocktails, Griffith supplements his income by driving for Uber since early 2015 and Lyft since July 2014. At the time, Griffith, 24, had just finished his associate’s degree and was in between jobs.
Besides supplementing income and being practical, another interesting perk for drivers and riders alike is the social side to ride sharing. The simple situation of strangers being trapped together for a car ride makes for conversations with unexpected twists. From sharing personal stories to networking, a lot goes on behind closed car doors.
“I think I end up learning more about what it is people do here because I’m relatively new to St. Pete. So I don’t even know what happens here,” said Chris Moschini, a self-employed website developer.
“I learned the other day that there’s a guy who makes all of his money painting boats. There are enough boats in St. Pete that you can do just that for your whole life. And he’ll never run out of boats and he seems to do pretty well for himself.”
A Boston area native, Moschini has only lived in St. Petersburg for three years.
Despite being an Uber rider since 2012, Moschini, 36, only started driving for the company three months ago. He was interested in becoming an Uber driver but thought that his 2006 model car was too old to meet the company’s standards.
“It actually turns out the cut off is 2005. I was like off by nine months. I can just barely make the cut,” he said.
“I love all the little conversations you get. And there’s a nice sort of tension that comes together and relieves itself on its own,” he said. “You’re only going to talk for as long as this car ride, so it’s a really good way to not only meet people but get out of that conversation quickly, just in case it doesn’t go so well.”
Acton and Griffith both echoed Moschini’s experiences of learning about the people in their community.
“I’ve had one driver that was here from Palestine and he had a very positive outlook on life given what he had come from. But he was here, just trying to live the American dream,” said Acton, who has been using Uber for a year and a half.
Griffith works on weekend nights and will often befriend his riders.
“I have a lot of times where at the end of my ride, people invite me in afterward to come hang out,” Griffith said. “Most recently, I had this guy named Jake who lives on Snell Isle. It was cool to hang out with the guy afterward and get to know him.”
Griffith befriended Jake and even helped him find a new roommate when he was in need.
Along the way, he often picks up people traveling for business in the mornings, from executives to local business owners. While hearing about their experiences, he also networks with them.
“A lot of people I’ve noticed here in the St. Pete community have just been really helpful if they notice you want to be a young entrepreneur and really want to lend a hand and help you grow. It’s really been a nice experience,” he said.
On occasion, the stories Griffith and Moschini hear from passengers take a much more personal turn. Moschini recalled a particular passenger who shared a personal story about his own drug addiction. Griffith drove a drug dealer who told him about his sketchy past — legal problems and all.
For Acton, the tables were turned when she and her boyfriend were left feeling uneasy after their driver used harsh language.
“My boyfriend and I were picked up at the airport and our driver was super racist and said really unkind things that made both of us uncomfortable to the point that we just stopped talking to him,” she said.
But like Moschini, she sees the positive side to connecting with drivers, despite the awkward encounters she’s had so far.
“People come from all walks of life and you get limited time in the car with a random stranger,” Acton said. “The conversations I’ve had with drivers kind of renew my hope in humanity because everyone has a story.”
Header photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons