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Dialogues with Ridehail Drivers about Phoenix’s Self-Driving Robotaxis

Updated: Apr 24

During a recent trip to Phoenix, Arizona, for a business consultation in the aviation sector, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the world of autonomous vehicles. Although my schedule was packed with meetings in private aviation hangars, I managed to explore the city during my downtime. 

Arizona, a state I've visited often, never fails to impress with its friendly locals, delicious cuisine, and comfortable climate. Regrettably, my tight itinerary prevented a visit to Sedona, a place I’ve held dear since I stayed there for my honeymoon over two decades ago.  Since then, I’ve visited Sedona at least four times. If you haven't visited, I encourage you to add this stop to your bucket list. The only words that I can use to describe Sedona are magical, breathtaking and energetic. 

Staying near the airport, I relied on various ridehail services to navigate Phoenix. Over five days, I used a mix of Uber, Lyft, and even a brief, unsettling Yellowcab ride. Opting out of car rental, I favored the convenience and predictability of scheduled rides. While I typically use ridehail services in most of my travels across the globe, the level of service in the Phoenix ridehail space truly exceeded my expectations. Each ride that I took offered an experience, rather than just a ride. The amenities provided in many of these vehicles ranged from in-ride entertainment to water, reading material and charging stations.

Being knowledgeable in the autonomous space, I knew that Waymo had fully electric, self-driving vehicles operating 24/7 in cities like Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Austin. So, I decided to get the pulse of the people. I initiated conversations with some of my ridehail drivers about their views on autonomous vehicles. Their reactions varied, from enthusiasm about technological progress and city growth to concerns about job impacts and safety. These discussions offered a fascinating glimpse into the local perspective on this innovative technology. Below is a more in-depth look into these conversations:

Uber | Driver #1 | Ride Length: 24 Minutes | Male (Age 35-45)

This driver seemed very forward thinking, almost as if he’d worked in the technology industry outside of driving for ridehail companies. He was eager to engage in the conversation and gave me a detailed overview of what he’d learned about the Waymo cars. He let me know that they only traveled on the streets and currently do not enter the freeway. He talked about Phoenix’s growth over the years, with the influx of new residents and tech companies and more jobs. He shared with me that the local government officials were welcoming autonomous technology and that he was proud of the direction that his city was moving towards. He seemed very excited to be able to have a conversation with me about it. He recommended that I take a ride in one of the Waymo taxis and experience it firsthand. 

Uber | Driver #2 | Ride Length: 17 Minutes | Male (Age 55-65)

This ride was interesting to say the least. The first thing the driver did was comment on the song that was playing on the radio, ‘Bennie and the Jets’ (one of my favs). We sang along together and he told me that he had listened to that song over 200 times on a roadtrip to Florida when he was 18 years old. When I asked the question about robotaxis in Phoenix, he immediately waved a hand to show that he was not too thrilled about the concept of autonomous vehicles in his city. He spent five minutes rambling about how they would destroy the ridehail business, hurt jobs and ultimately kill people in the long run. He went on to describe all the horror stories he had read on social media or seen on the news about self-driving cars. I asked him if he had done any research on the vehicles and he had not. Even with me sharing information about their safety, he was against ever taking a ride in them or listening to the benefits they bring to our society. I expressed that I would be trying one out while I was visiting and his response was simply, "Well, you have Way-Mo faith than I do in self-driving cars." Interesting sense of humor and perspective to say the least. 

Uber Black | Driver #3 | Ride Length: 12 Minutes (plus 3 extra minutes due to a missed exit) | Female (Age 45-55)

When we entered the vehicle she was adamant about everyone buckling up for our safety. Safety was right up my alley because this driver was a replacement for the Yellow Cab driver whose taxi I abruptly had to exit just a few minutes before she arrived. The Yellow Cab driver had hit a curb and lost the entire left side bumper of his car. He really wanted me to keep going but I decided to go back to my trusted Ubers. She and I discussed safety and how important it is to feel safe in any car you ride in.

When I asked her the question of autonomous vehicles, she was more than eager to share her thoughts. She was hopeful. She recognized that it was the future and expressed that she had been encouraging her kids to seek out careers in the autonomous vehicle space. She talked about her plans as a ridehail driver and felt human ridehail drivers and self-driving cars could coexist. She talked about her future pivot from ridehail and discussed a patent that she was working on. We were so engrossed in our conversation that she missed the exit to my hotel. Lastly, she shared that the robotaxis would soon be operating on the freeways and expressed concerns not about robotaxis driving on the freeway, but about the other drivers. She shared her thoughts about how bad other’s drivers are and how their road rage and anger could lead to them cutting off the robotaxis and running them off the road. 

Reflecting on the conversations I had with ridehail drivers in Phoenix, I was struck by the diverse range of perspectives and emotions that the topic of autonomous vehicles evoked. Each driver brought their unique viewpoint to the discussion, shaped by personal experiences, aspirations, and concerns. The forward-thinking driver who spoke of the city's technological advancements and embraced the autonomous future reminded me of the potential for positive change and innovation not just in the ridehail space, but also in the trucking space. 

Both groups worry about job loss but are curious about the tech. In the trucking space, it is key that we do two things; 1) Explain the perks of autonomous vehicles entering the industry simply and clearly. 2) Provide assurances by sharing real stories from regular folks. When you incorporate these two simple aspects into your communications plan you help everyone understand and accept these changes better. The time to initiate the discussion is now. 

As I wrap up this edition, I invite you to connect with me subscribe to my newsletter for more insightful stories. In my next issue, I'll share a firsthand account of my experience as a regular person taking a ride in a Waymo self-driving taxi. 

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