Autonomous taxi service from users’ perspective

  • Scope:
  • Web Development
  • Product Design

Self-driving cars are gaining quite a traction these days. Tooploox dedicated a few blog posts to them, but they all looked at the topic from data science perspective. But what about human perspective? After all, most people won’t care about technical details – the service should “just work” and it’s also a designer’s responsibility. In this case, we’ll take a closer look at self-driving cars specifically in the taxi industry. We’ve analyzed a number of studies and whitepapers to better grasp the topic and here’s what we’ve found.

There are few companies that we follow, which believe that self-driving cars will revolutionize the automotive taxi industry, such as:

Why are they all interested in driverless cars? For Uber or Lyft, who appeared in taxi business with the digital product from the very beginning it seems to be a natural step forward. For companies like Voyage, it’s a big opportunity to have a piece of this pie. Once the technology is in place, there’s virtually no labor costs as the human driver isn’t required which makes this business easily scalable. But how soon is that? There are no exact dates, but according to Voyage team tweets, it’s quite near.

Oh, and Voyage already has a permit to carry passengers in a few places in the US and test rides are probably happening right now.  They’re not first, though. Uber and NuTonomy have been testing their services for some time already. Till  September 17th Uber has already launched 30 000 self-driving rides in Pittsburgh.

Opportunities and risks

People are afraid of changes. Changing learned behavior may take some time and effort, but we believe that autonomous taxis have advantages which may encourage people to use them.


One of the biggest gains to customers will be the lower price of the service. Lack of driver will allow to reduce the fares drastically and operate on bigger scales. Big scale means lower prices, but how exactly low? We don’t know yet.

As studies show, about 94% of car accidents are caused by driver error. It’s believed that thanks to autonomous cars the number of accidents could drop to almost a zero. For the passenger, it means that you don’t have to worry about tired, distracted driver with delayed reaction time.  And even if an accident would happen, autonomous taxis would be safer anyway because there will be no partitions screens inside which can cause head and upper body injuries to passengers.
Passengers wouldn’t have to worry about getting stuck in the traffic jam that much. The car ride will be chosen based on traffic conditions data instead of drivers hunch which makes the route optimised.
Taking a ride with an autonomous car could be a great incentive for technology fans who are excited about all technological innovations. For many people, a chance to experience something unusual is valuable for its own sake. Together with the smooth ordering and payment process, which requires only the smartphone, it creates a unique, seamless experience.
Automatization creates a possibility of customizing the ride in passenger’s own way and remembering it for the future rides. The passenger doesn’t have to listen to the music he can’t stand or make a small talk when he is not in the mood. The taxi would be personalized by the passenger and not the driver and thus, the experience will be always familiar and predictable—something like McDonald’s, but way better. No matter the city, you’ll have exactly the same experience.


Some features of driverless cars may seem advantages to some people, but disadvantages to others. Lack of human being behind the wheel could create a cold, unhumanized experience. You cannot talk to anyone during the ride. You cannot just tell the driver to change the destination or stop the car. At first, it’s a weird experience, which could make you feel unsafe and have no control over the ride, especially when you realize that the fully autonomic car can break as any other. There’s also the threat of having the car hacked, which sounds creepy as hell.
Self-driving cars will be programmed to avoid hitting humans, which in turn may have another side effect: pedestrians will quickly learn to take advantage of this situation and may purposefully block cars on the road, especially in the cities. Instead of going faster, the car would be blocked.
Another pain of the customer may be the uncertainty of what will happen in an unexpected situation – what the algorithm would do? Whose safety will the car choose – my or someone else’s? This ethical dilemma appears in many discussions concerning driverless cars. But would anyone really get into a car that sacrifices passengers safety?
There is also a legal issue concerning accidents. If the autonomous car causes a crash who will take the responsibility for it if there is no driver in the car?
When there is no specific person that made the mistake the blame falls probably on the carmakers, who allowed the vehicle to carry the passengers.
As to more trivial issues, one can point comfort and cleanliness. Without a human, who’ll check if the car is clear and there’s anything unwanted like someone’s vomit? Or what if you left your phone in the car? How could you take it back?

Making autonomous taxis great

Our everyday task is solving user problems, making them feel safe and powerful while using the service. This time was no different, we tried to find the passenger’s perspective, find out what would make them feel safe and encourage them to try the self-driving taxi experience.


The sense of security is a fundamental human need which makes gaining customer’s trust a priority – especially in the early days. The importance of trust is confirmed by studies, that shows that trust for the system greatly affects perceived risks. And you don’t want people to fear when entering the self-driving taxi. So how exactly can we gain it?

  • being crystal clear regarding legal matters and passenger risks
  • giving user control at any time so they don’t feel trapped in the vehicle
  • the human operator can be present in the car for the initial period to assist with the ride
  • passengers can request the assistance of the human when calling a cab
  • contact with the passenger should be humanized as much as possible – studies show that participants trusted that the vehicle would perform more competently as it acquired more anthropomorphic features. Using voice interface is one of the options.
  • providing help not only when it’s needed, but also allowing contact with support all the time and helping users avoiding errors – like forgetting the luggage
  • provide travel status information so that passenger can relax and inform them what is going to happen next
  • a clean and simple interface so that it’s easy to use and accessible to everyone and covers real-life scenarios like altering the route, having few stops during the ride, etc.
  • allowing passengers to leave their feedback regarding the state of the car like its cleanness
  • making it very easy to see other people who use the service – social proof is a strong ally


It’s nice to show the passengers that they are not just yet-another-client, but a real person that is remembered, to gain more of their trust and build a closer relationship.

  • welcome using passenger’s name
  • remembering routes and destinations
  • remembering music (playlists, radio)
  • remembering temperature

Growth hacking

Those users who hadn’t tried it yet need some encouragement to start the first ride. It’s easier and more tempting to try something new if your friends already did that.

  • recording film or taking photos from the ride (getting into the car, self-driving steering wheel)
  • possibility to share ride memories in the social media
  • free first taxi ride to test the experience


While designing the autonomous taxi service the greatest value should be building the sense of security and trust of users. The other solutions can only be taken into consideration if this need is fulfilled. Certainly, the self-driving taxi market will evolve and expand over time, while the trust of the passengers will grow.

Written by Katarzyna Górska and Krzysztof Podruczny

Illustrations taken from Voyage and Car and Driver for no commercial use.

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