The People of Uber: Driver Stories
As we roll out People’s Uber to the streets of Beijing, we wanted to share some of the driver stories that have inspired us at Uber Beijing. People’s Uber is a natural extension of Uber’s popular BLACK and X services, at the request of many riders and drivers in Beijing. The following vignettes capture some of the motivations, personalities, and values of early drivers on People’s Uber.
Uncle Chai was born in 1956, and quickly became a local hero by winning the regional tractor contest at 21. As the equivalent of a modern racecar champion, he went on to live a life of driving. Uncle Chai recollects two major changes in his life: it brought him a beautiful and loving wife, and he became the driver of the single local tractor in his village.
This tractor changed the fate of his family, and after the reform, began his career in transportation service. Chai has four children, and through the labors of his tractor, provided them a carefree childhood in Gansu Province as well as the opportunity to move to Beijing, Hong Kong, and Canada. A couple years ago, he moved to Beijing to be closer to his grandchildren, and everything is right – except one thing: he misses driving. He knows Beijing has so much to offer, but he doesn’t have many friends, and couldn’t possibly keep bothering his busy children for company. So while his wife is out Square Dancing in the park, he slowly has taken root in front of the TV, waiting for the family to come home.
Earlier this year, Chai received a Chang’An sedan as a gift from his children, that lifted his spirits! He’s regained his past ‘celebrity status’ as the neighborhood driver, sharing rides around town and befriending other residents in the area.
Through his tech-savvy nephew, Uncle Chai learned about Uber, and is eager to expand his network beyond his neighborhood. Soon he will be the hippest grandpa in town.
The year Johnny graduated from college, Beijing had just started the car plate lottery system, a lottery in which he unfortunately had no luck with. He continued living in the university area of Wudaokou after graduation to keep his apartment and social circle, but his work brought him across town to Guomao/CBD every day. When schedules and routes aligned, he would be able to hop into a friend’s car to carpool to work; however, most of the time either his friend’s plate would be restricted or the timing wouldn’t match, and Johnny would have to squeeze onto the subway to and from work.
This continued until last year, when Johnny’s luck changed and he got hit the car plate lottery, giving him the chance to purchase a car. He can’t wait to repay some of the favors to the friends who shared innumerable rides with him over the years. With People’s Uber, Johnny looks forward to splitting some of the costs of owning and driving his car, as well as helping out old friends and new that, like him just a year ago, haven’t been able to buy their own car!
Brother Feng was born and raised in Beijing – growing up along the Forbidden City’s Qianmen when it was still open to the public with no roads out in front, perfect for a couple boys to monkey up to the rooftops to fly kites. To this day, Feng feels a warm rush of nostalgia every time he passes through it, amongst all the new roads and buildings.
After a couple years as a merchant at the Silk Market, Feng learned some English and saved up enough to buy a car, then started driving for international clients while roaming his beloved streets of Beijing. When he heard about Uber, he joined a rental car company for a steadier stream of business – but for him, driving a company car is just not the same as driving his own.
“I was born and raised in Beijing, this is the life I know. My favorite thing to do is to roam the streets and explore my city. For a lot of people, these places are ephemeral tourist attractions, photos in their smartphone – but for me it’s different. I love to hop in the car and drive, if there’s a friend to bring along or show the city to, even better. And I cap it off with some good food and a bit of wine, that’s the Beijing life.
Frankly, driving a company car feels makes me feel restricted, and distanced from the rider. The great thing about being a driver is when you can feel completely relaxed, ready to go where the roads or fellow riders take me. Driving my own car, I can feel like a welcoming host to my guests.”
Through these drivers’ stories, we see that the backgrounds, motivations, and circumstances for every driver are different. One thing they all have in common, however, is that like you and me, they are people of Beijing and can be both drivers and riders through People’s Uber.
As individual ownership turns into sharing rides and increasing the efficiency of resources, it feels like the way the future should be. We are on the cusp of a new era, where consumers are venturing into the sharing economy, and finding efficiency and choice for the products and services they love. This change will be powered by technology, but will be carried forward by everyday people like Uncle Chai, Johnny, and Brother Feng – all pushing for a better life.