BBC News

'Shut up and drive': Uber's quiet option for silent rides

By Rozina Sini
Washington DC

image copyrightWestend61/Getty

Not in the mood for a chatty driver? Uber is giving its customers the option to avoid small talk during their ride.

The Uber app will now allow passengers to select a "quiet preferred" option.

It is currently only available to users of its luxury Uber Black services, costing the passenger extra.

There are plenty of anecdotes and memes about talkative drivers, so unsurprisingly the new option has provoked a lively online discussion about etiquette.

Currently passengers can use the app to rate conversational skills, so a driver wishing to increase his score may deliberately try to make small talk.

One driver said he "loved it" when passengers don't want to chat.

But some passengers described bad experiences when trying to ride in silence.

"80% of ride shares I've been in the drivers talk to me even after they see me put head phones on. I had one pull off, stop and turn around and wave his hands to get my attention to ask where I was from," said one Twitter user.

"I've had over chatty Uber drivers react badly when I've asked for quiet. As someone with anxiety it is a scary thing to do, and solo women often feel threatened in cabs. It's sad but a reality that asking can be hard," read another comment.

Others described the move as degrading and dehumanising for the driver. "I have issues with it. What it says to me is that wealthy people can buy their way out of interacting with the poor, who aren't worthy of their attention.

"I don't always want to chat with my taxi driver but then tell them that respectfully," one poster said.

Uber drivers themselves have stories of talkative and even abusive customers.

Mike, an Uber driver in Washington, told the BBC that the "quiet preferred" option helps promote clarity and safety.

"Sometimes nobody wants to talk, and sometimes passengers talk to the driver too, because it's an ice breaker," he said.

"They might only be talking because they are nervous about the driver. At least now there wont be any awkward silences. It's a documented binding agreement."

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But another Uber driver felt the option was unnecessary.

"I take 'chatty cue' from the rider. If they're silent when I say hi upon entry, I don't pursue convo. It's called #socialskills." he posted.

image copyrightAFP

London-based lifestyle coach Felicity Morse says she worries about the precedent this sets and how it could affect our daily interactions.

"Life is going to be seriously hard if you can't ask someone for some quiet or let them know you're at capacity," she wrote on Twitter.

"I have so been there but a button is not actually going to help in the long run. Next we will all have twenty badges on 'don't talk to me today'.

"It's perfectly normal taxi drivers might want to talk - we are social animals and it can be lonely doing a solo job.

"No one is wrong here but we do actually need to be able to talk with each other when we have conflicting needs - and these kind of every day situations help prepare us for harder ones at work or home.

"It's also perfectly normal to feel withdrawn and want space to process if you're tired or overwhelmed - which might be why you got an Uber in the first place."

Related Topics

  • Uber
  • United States
  • Taxis