Category Archives: Being Uber Ain’t Easy

The Second Editions of the First Two Uber/Lyft Zines

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Thanks to the Cotter v. Lyft class action lawsuit, a check for $495 showed up in the mail last month. At first, I assumed this must be some marketing scheme. There was no way the check could possibly be real.

Before tossing the thing in the trashcan, though, I went onto some the Facebook groups for Uber/Lyft drivers…

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Turns out, the check was totally legit.

What better way to spend the money, along with a small loan from a friend, than by printing revised and updated second editions of the first two Behind the Wheel zines, which I’d been wanting to do for some time. All of the text has been revised and additional content added.

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Both are 60 pages long, half-sized, staple-bound, fully illustrated:

Behind the Wheel #1 features hand-drawn maps of the major neighborhoods of San Francisco. [More info on Behind the Wheel #1]

Behind the Wheel #2 features b&w photos taken around the city. [More info on Behind the Wheel #2]

Included are two stickers:

“disrupt the disruptors”

“your uber driver hates you”

(while supplies last – I also have “my other car is a taxicab” stickers – you can include a note if you prefer one kind or another or whatever you want…)

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Price is $10 for BOTH – postpaid in the US.

So that’s $5 each, and I cover the shipping.

Outside the US, buyer pays shipping.

Order Here

Friends Don’t Let Friends Uber

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An op-ed about the latest #DeleteUber trend. From Broke-Ass Stuart’s Goddamn Website.

Ahhh… there’s nothing like waking up to a good Boycott Uber movement. The joy of seeing their louche brand dragged through the mud is always exhilarating. But it’s fleeting. Because the latest #DeleteUber trend, like every other wave of public outrage directed at the company in the past, will eventually fizzle away and be forgotten.

So what if Uber CEO Travis Kalanick agreed to join a Trump advisory group… So what if Kalanick defended this position by stating that they would “partner with anyone in the world,” even if – apparently – their policies threaten global stability… So what if Uber crossed picket lines during a protest of Trump’s Muslim ban at JFK airport… So what if they deactivated surge pricing and – sort of – said they were sorry…

That’s some fucked-up shit. But they’ve been doing fucked-up shit from day one.

Read the rest here.

[image via]

When You Ride with Uber, You Ride into The Unknown

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When you get in an Uber, you have no way of knowing whose car you’re getting into. It could be anyone. Even a mass murderer.

It’s easy to jump on this horrible tragedy and make it Uber’s fault. Jason Dalton was obviously mentally ill before he started driving for Uber and went on his killing spree that left six dead and two critically injured. Plus, he’d only been doing Uber for a short while. His ratings weren’t even that good. And since he hadn’t been driving long, the recent price cuts couldn’t have possibly sent him over the edge.

Still, the fact remains: had Dalton been in a taxi, with all the associated identifying markings of a taxi, his wanton murders while picking up fares wouldn’t have lasted six to seven fucking hours before he was apprehended.

A taxi would have been easily identified and located almost immediately. Taxis are painted in bright colors, have top lights, phone numbers, cab numbers, permits and other easily identifiable markings that would have made it a cinch to find him after the first shooting occurred.

In San Francisco, taxis even have numbers on their hoods and roofs so they can be identified from air. Not to mention that drivers go to an office to pick up the keys to their cabs. They are vetted daily and their behavior is monitored by staff of the cab company as well as other drivers.

Cabs also have GPS trackers in them. Two-way radios. And there are always other taxi drivers on the streets who can be notified to look out for each other. It’s very difficult to drive a taxi under the radar.

Uber drivers, conversely, are lone wolves. They are only governed by the response of their passengers, which, in this case, didn’t work. Not even when passengers called 911.

People who think they’re safe in an Uber (or a Lyft) are fooling themselves.

At least Uber has finally admitted in court they are not as safe as cabs. Cause even though Dalton had a long history of driving violations, he passed Uber’s “industry-leading” background checks.

So now, when you get in an Uber, you are literally getting into a car with someone who could possibly be a mass murderer.

Sadly, I doubt this incident, or the many, many others, will stop most people from using Uber. Because… well, most people are stupid and lazy.

Photo by Trevor Johnson.

Uber Reviews: The Bad, The Ugly and the Even Uglier

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Bitching about taxis is so 2012.

Not only has Uber disrupted the way people get around town, they’ve also given everybody a new target of contempt. And just as their name suggests, Uber isn’t your run-of-the-mill whipping boy. No, they are the ultimate shock absorber for disdain.

Continue reading on Broke-Ass Stuart

From Uber and Lyft to Taxi

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Originally appeared on Broke-Ass Stuart’s Goddamn Website

It’s inevitable.  Now that I drive a taxi, I regularly field the inquiry:  “So… have you thought about driving for Uber?”  When I tell my passengers that I did the Lyft and Uber thing before switching to taxi driving, they’re usually shocked.  “Don’t you make more money with Lyft and Uber?”  Maybe some do, I’ll say, but I never did. After eleven months of mostly full time driving, my bank account was overdrawn, my credit cards were maxed out, the backseat of my car looked like I’d been transporting farm animals and I was riddled with self-loathing.  I was basically subsidizing multi-million—or, in Uber’s case, multi-billion—dollar companies.  And for what? Empty promises and a sense of community?  What bullshit.  I never felt like anything but an underpaid, untrained and unregulated cab driver.

I could go on ad nauseam, detailing the moral bankruptcy of the Lyft and Uber systems, but now that I’ve been a real taxi driver for two months, I try to deflect the Uber/Lyft question.  It’s boring.  I’m sick of talking about fucking Uber in my cab!  And to be honest, I’m not proud to have driven for them as long as I did.  In fact, I’m ashamed of it.

From the beginning, I was appalled by the self-entitled culture that spawned the phenomenon of “ridesharing” and the consequences it’s had on the livelihoods of cab drivers, most of whom are longtime San Francisco residents.  It wasn’t easy participating in the destruction of a blue-collar industry.  After all, I’m a descendent of coal miners, janitors, store clerks and army grunts.   In college, I was required to read The Communist Manifesto three times.  Being an Uber/Lyft driver is not in my nature. To be successful at it requires personality traits I will never possess: the ability to cheat and scam.  And a complete lack of conscience.  Since the only time you make decent money is during surge pricing, you have to take pride in ripping people off.  The rest of the time, you’re barely making minimum wage, so you need to be somewhat stupid as well.  You’re basically running your personal car into the ground and hoping to luck out with a ride that’s more than five bucks.  Some drivers have figured out how to make the system work for them and earn more money referring drivers than they do actually driving themselves, but isn’t that just a bizarro take on the pyramid scheme?

Despite Uber’s political spin or Lyft’s cheerful advertising campaign, using your personal car as a taxi is not sustainable.  Each time I got behind the wheel of my Jetta and turned on the apps, I had to overlook the absurdity of what I was doing.  It never ceased to amaze me that people would be so willing to ride in some random dude’s car.  But since my passengers acted as if the activity were perfectly normal, I went along with it.

Once I realized what I’d gotten myself into, I wanted to document the exploitative nature of this predatory business model. I wanted to expose the inherent risks associated with inadequate insurance, the lack of training and the vulnerability of not having anyone to contact in an emergency.  I wanted to shed light on the reality of being a driver, dealing with constant fare cutsenforced jingoism and the tyranny of an unfair rating system.  I wanted to reveal the lies.  All the dirty lies. I started a blog and even published two zines about my experiences.

Naïvely, I thought reporting on these issues from the perspective of a driver would make a difference.  I was wrong.  People hold on to their faith in the corporate spirit even when it’s against their best interest.  That’s what I figured out from all this.  Oh, and that I really like driving the streets of San Francisco.  So I signed up for taxi school and went pro.  Now I make more money, feel more relaxed and no longer have to worry about declaring bankruptcy if I get into an accident.

Plus, I’m a taxi driver.

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In San Francisco!

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I haven’t felt this connected to a place through a job since I was a cook in New Orleans.

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Your Uber Driver Hates You

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But Your Lyft Driver Thinks You’re The Bee’s Knees
(Unless You Act Like You’re in An Uber – Then They Hate You Too)

TOO MUCH TO READ? THEN CHECK OUT THE LISTICLE

This post originally appeared on my previous blog on July 21, 2014

Where would the peer-to-peer economy be without trust?

Nobody in their right mind would give a complete stranger the key to their apartment or get into a random person’s car if they didn’t have faith in the safeguards enforced by the companies that function as intermediaries. Airbnb, Uber, TaskRabbit and Lyft use Facebook accounts and/or cell phone numbers to authenticate the identities of their users, but miscreants can always find a way around those barriers. Ride-hailing services rely on background checks and driving records, which have been proven over and over to be far from foolproof. Then there’s the feedback system that’s supposed to ensure a quality experience for both parties, though it’s just as easily skewed.

In theory, the rating system used by Uber and Lyft allows riders to anonymously inform future passengers what to expect from their driver. As a driver, unless you’ve only given one ride that day, you never know which passengers rate you what. Like internet comments, this anonymity gives riders complete freedom to rate and comment without fear of reprisal. And they take full advantage of this liberty, which is reflected in most drivers’ low ratings. It’s almost impossible for a driver to have a 5 star rating for more than a day or two, unless they are in line to be sainted by Jesus Christ himself.

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The rating system is supposed to convey trust, but an unintended side effect seems to be taking hold. Uber and Lyft drivers are using the same rating system to secretly warn other drivers about problematic riders. And they are just as unforgiving as their passengers.

Surprise, surprise.

As a passenger, you know your driver’s rating. It pops up when they accept your ride request along with their picture and car details. But you never see your own rating. If you did, you might be surprised to discover how the people who drive you around town actually feel about you.

While Lyft drivers tend to get along well with their passengers, Uber drivers, for the most part, think their riders are assholes.

Uber vs. Lyft

lyft_ratingUber and Lyft distinguish themselves by how passengers interact with their drivers. Lyft’s “friend with a car” vibe encourages passengers to sit up front and chat with the driver during the ride. Uber, on the other hand, wants their passengers to feel like they have a personal driver, so they sit in the back and rarely say much besides hello and their destination. Who converses with servants anyway? Your flunky should be seen and not heard, right? Would you chat with your chambermaid while she’s cleaning your potty? Of course not!

Many rideshare customers, especially in San Francisco, use both platforms depending on price surging, availability or what kind of experience they’re in the mood for. I’ve had numerous passengers tell me that when they’re going to work, or in work mode, they take Uber so they don’t have to deal with any annoying conversations. But on the weekends, or if they’re going out, they take Lyft because it’s more fun.

Price wars are also a factor.

As a driver for both Uber and Lyft, you can easily tell which passengers use Lyft regularly and which passengers prefer Uber. And not just by where they sit or whether they talk to you, but through their ratings.

lyft_rating2Most Lyft users have 5 stars with the occasional 4.9. Those with a 4.8 rating are generally the ones who sit in back and stare at their phones. These are your Uber passengers, reluctantly slumming it with Lyft. They get in your car and immediately say, “I’m not going to do the fist bump, so don’t try it.” They express contempt for the pink mustache and seem relieved I don’t have one. They make it clear that they are only using Lyft out of necessity. I find this attitude amusing, though based on their rating, Lyft drivers have no doubt rated them low in the past for not playing along with the Lyft modus operandi.

Since the main difference between the Uber and Lyft experience is the talking, and the passengers with less than 5 stars on Lyft tend to be incommunicado during the ride, it’s not much a stretch to conclude that drivers hate being treated like a “personal driver” and they rate passengers lower for being unsocial. Regardless of which platform they are on.

Now, you might be thinking, aren’t Uber drivers supposed to just get you where you’re going and keep their trap shut?

Sure, but they’re still humans with feelings. So while you sit in the back seat, browsing Facebook to keep you distracted, your driver is seething with animosity at your entitled and unfriendly attitude. The only recourse he or she has is to use the feedback system to rate you accordingly, and that’s a 4 at best.

Very few Uber passengers have 5 stars. In fact, the percentages are completely reversed with Uber. From what I’ve seen so far, 95 percent of Uber passengers have 4.9 or lower. Those users with 5 stars have all started conversations with me, which makes it clear how they got their elusive 5 stars. In fact, after carting around a bunch of people for Uber who barely say hello and thanks, getting a talkative passenger is like finding a fellow countryman in a foreign land.

Face it, Uber users, when it comes to being a passenger, you suck!

Drivers are People Too

Last year, somebody figured out how to hack the Uber site to get passenger ratings. Twitter lit up with people posting the link and their ratings. Only a few had 5 stars. Some thought it was funny how low their ratings were, though most were chagrined by what they found.

Uber quickly put the kibosh on the leak, but I couldn’t help but wonder at the time if that brief window into the reality of passenger ratings might have finally alerted passengers that they’re not immune to criticism just because they take advantage of a frictionless payment system.

Bidirectional ratings are just that: they go both ways.

Nobody likes negative ratings. Drivers complain about their ratings all the time. It’s not easy making people happy. Even when a ride has gone perfectly, there is never a guarantee that the passenger will be satisfied.

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While I always rate passengers 5 stars, even when I’ve had to deal with some real stinkers, my passengers haven’t been as generous with me. Like other drivers, I’m always shocked when my rating goes down. Lyft considers a 4.8 rating “awesome,” but it still hurts to think that I’ve failed to do my simple task of driving a car, something I’ve been doing in cities across the country going on twenty-five years now.

When I get my weekly summaries from Uber and Lyft, I wrack my brain thinking of how I might have messed up or disappointed the passengers who rated me lower than 5 stars. It usually happens after a good night too. Nobody ever gives any indication they are dissatisfied with my driving. Which is why I’m convinced the passengers who converse with me must think I’m some kind of freak for talking about art, literature, architecture, geography, the history of San Francisco and the way the city spreads out across the sky from the top of Potrero Hill. And they hate my music: that dreadful rock and roll nobody listens to anymore.

For every person who finds me entertaining or interesting or feels a kindred spirit with me, there are those who rate me less on my ability to get them from point A to point B and more on an inscrutable formula that only makes sense to them. And while I can usually navigate the city from memory, avoiding traffic jams and unpleasant streets, and maintain a relatively intelligent conversation along the way, in the new San Francisco, that’s only worth three stars. Four at best.

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The More You Know…

Maybe if passengers knew what their ratings were, they might want to protect them as much as drivers do. Perhaps it would make them a little less demanding as well. So I missed a turn. Big deal. So I went in a direction that had too many stop signs. Whatever. So I want to tell you how my cousin’s girlfriend has the same name as you when you’re in the middle of reading an email. Get over it! After all, it’s easy to be judgmental when you’re the one with the gavel. Flip that shit around and it’s not as much fun.

The Uber ratings leak also raises the question: why don’t rideshare companies show passengers their ratings in the app? Don’t they want passengers to improve?

Could it be that Uber and Lyft don’t want customers to know their ratings because they mean nothing? The only real consequence is that some drivers won’t pick up passengers with low ratings. Otherwise, what’s the likelihood that a paying customer will be kicked off the platform for having a low rating? Not bloody likely!

The rating system is only there to keep drivers in check. You drive with the constant fear that if your rating slips too low you’ll be deactivated. Thus, it’s no wonder drivers have begun using that same system to strike back at what they don’t like about their own experiences. Even if the passengers never find out.

So the next time you take an Uber or a Lyft, why not ask your driver what your rating is. You might just be surprised how big of an asshole you really are.

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Hey!

Don’t want to be a shitty Uber passenger?

THEN READ THIS AND DO THE OPPOSITE: TEN REASONS WHY YOUR UBER DRIVER HATES YOU

—-

Being Uber Ain’t Easy: Why All Rideshare Drivers Should Support Regulation

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Originally appeared on Disinfo.com:

The global pushback against Uber domination continues to gain momentum. Over the past few weeks, the ride-hailing app was banned in IndiaThailand and Francesuspended in Spain and challenged in BelgiumGermanythe Netherlands and South Korea. Across the US, local governments in OregonArizonaNevadaTexasPennsylvania and California are cracking down on the San Francisco-based behemoth, as well as its smaller rival, Lyft. Every day there are more and more articles in major news outlets documenting the growing rideshare backlash.

Uber responds to the lawsuits and rampant criticism with aplomb, holding the ship steady amid a tempest of dissent. They are always quick to fire back. When they’re not threatening journalists, they accuse city councils of subjecting them to unfair burdens. They claim their model of ridesharing is under attack by government overregulation. Since they profess to be a technology and not a transportation company, they argue they’re immune to the same laws that taxi companies must adhere to. They demand special treatment because they are disrupting the evil “taxi cartel” and bringing quality service to the masses. They hire lobbyists and ask their supporters – both drivers and passengers – to sign petitions and join rallies. They set up web pages to make it easy for customers to contact their representatives.

Being Uber means you never have to take your face out of an iPhone. Click a button, get an Uber ride. Click another, support the Uber cause.

As an Uber/Lyft driver, I’ve received dozens of emails and texts encouraging me to resist government meddling. I may drive for these companies, but I’m not stupid. Just broke and desperate. Which is why I use my own car as an unlicensed taxicab, despite the risks associated with transporting drunk and impatient people through crowded urban streets. I know I’m not protected from misfortune. When something goes wrong, whether it be car-maintenance or worse, I’m on the hook. My personal insurance policy is completely invalid when driving for-hire. If I get in an accident, I’ll be at the mercy of the offshore insurance company Uber uses to cover their drivers. From everything I’ve read about the experiences of other drivers, Uber won’t be clamoring to come to my aid. There isn’t even a number to call in case of an emergency. I could have bodies splattered all over the asphalt and still only be able to submit a support ticket through Uber’s website. And hope for the best. Even though drivers make these companies billions of dollars, we are entirely alone out on the streets.

Being Uber means never thinking about the consequences of being Uber.

So why support a system that puts the underemployed at such an extreme disadvantage? It makes sense Uber customers would oppose regulation. Until something goes wrong. They just want cheap, efficient rides and a cashless payment system. But a regulated Uber and Lyft are in drivers’ best interests. After all, we are the ones with everything at stake.

Maybe I am kind of stupid.

Safety Not Guaranteed 

Regulation is all about insurance and background checks. Taxi companies are required to provide adequate insurance and use Live Scan background checks to properly vet their drivers. So what’s the big deal? Uber was just valued at $40 billion. Why can’t they provide adequate insurance and fork over the cash for industry-standard background checks? They have no problem writing code that makes hailing a car as easy as touching the screen of a smart phone, but when faced with a little bureaucratic paperwork, suddenly they don’t have the resources?

It’s almost impressive how far Uber will go to avoid regulation. Shawn Marquez, the acting director of Arizona’s Department of Weights and Measures, which regulates cabs in the state, recently pointed out, “Some areas regulate how many cars you can have, their color, their year, how much the price is. In Arizona we don’t do any of that. You can have purple cars with stars and stripes as long as you have the insurance.” (Arizona continues to crack down on Uber and Lyft.)

Instead of playing by the rules, Uber just plows into cities across the world and sets up shop. They figure after getting public support for their service, they can argue they’re providing an invaluable service that consumers would suffer without. When the regulators come calling, they cry injustice and rally the legal teams. It’s a gambit that seems to be paying off. Even with several pending lawsuitsincluding PortlandSan Francisco and Los Angeles, they are still operating in those cities. Las Vegas seems to be the only municipality able to fend them off. (Though Portland is trying their damnedest to rout Uber’s advance into the Rose City.)

Being Uber means never taking “no” for an answer.

Lyft, on the other hand, is pulling out of places where regulation doesn’t bode with their model. In November, when the Houston city council approved regulations for rideshare services, they shut down operations, claiming background checks, increased insurance and safety exams create an undue burden for drivers. A few weeks ago, they ceased operations in Tacoma, Washington, after the city council passed regulations there. Since most people moonlight as Lyft and Uber drivers to supplement income, they don’t have time during the day, the argument goes, when they are supposedly at regular jobs, to sit around government offices waiting to get legal. (Never mind the fact that, as these companies squeeze the taxi industry, hordes of former cabbies are moving into rideshare.)

Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death

Uber and Lyft promote convenience. For passengers and drivers. They know people are lazy. If drivers had to get their fingerprints taken, pee in a cup and spend a day or two attending a class, they wouldn’t be as likely to sign-up. Or keep driving.

Where would the so-called sharing economy be without this ease of participation? Especially for the folks providing these peer-to-peer services? Why go through the hassle of setting up your house as a legitimate bed and breakfast when you can just list empty rooms on Airbnb? Why polish a resume and apply to temp agencies when you can post your services on TaskRabbit?

For the Average Joe, the idea of using his personal car to transport drunks may seem like a fun way to earn some extra money. That it requires very little effort makes it even more appealing. Taking time out of your day to get a license in order to be legit… well, that sounds like a total drag. Nobody enjoys going to government offices like the DMV. (When will there be an app to solve that hassle?)

Uber and Lyft know prospective drivers won’t take the extra steps to become legal. In a recent article on SFGate.com, Lyft’s vice president of government relations said as much: “Most people would sign up for Lyft if they could do it standing at line in the grocery store and spend five minutes.” The entire business model of ridesharing is based on a never-ending supply of moonlighters.

Need some extra money to pay off credit cards? Drive for Uber.

Bored at home and sick of watching TV on weekend nights? Turn on the Lyft app. Look, there’s surge pricing!

To become a Lyft driver, I just ran my thumb along a slider in the app. Filled out my personal information and provided my social security number, driver’s license and the make and model of my car. It was a breeze. The only obstacle was waiting for a response. But a week later, I was giving rides and making money.

With Uber, the process was just as simple. Except I never received the Uber-issued iPhone 5 required to access their app in the mail. I had to wait in line at Uber HQ. Which was a slightly harrowing experience. But the majority of drivers get their phones and placards shipped to them. They start driving without ever once looking an Uber representative in the face.

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The Uber Bait-and-Switch

This effortless process of onboarding is what pushes the ridesharing revolution. Anybody can get signed up without a hitch. But once you start driving, it’s a different story. From that point on, the experience becomes increasingly difficult.

Driving a car in a city like San Francisco is no cake-walk. When a request comes in, you have to deal with the app while negotiating traffic. You only have ten seconds to accept the ride. (Miss too many requests and you face deactivation.) Once you figure out where you’re going, you drive to the location and, invariably, wait in traffic with your hazards on for the person to saunter outside and get in the car. From there, the app tells you where the passenger wants to go and how to get there. But there’s still traffic to contend with. And along the way, you have to keep a careful eye on errant cars, belligerent cabbies and suicidal pedestrians. All the while maintaining a sunny disposition. It’s important to be accommodating to your passengers. Or risk a low rating. (If your rating gets too low, they deactivate you.)

Pro tip: When passengers ask if you like driving for Uber, always say you LOVE driving for Uber. Being Uber means not being afraid to tell a lie or two.

On the road, issues often arise that have to be dealt with, like unruly passengers, drunks, picking up the wrong personlost items that have to be returned, physical and mental stress, low rates that keep getting lower and an unfair rating system that allows riders upset about surge pricing and app glitches to take their frustrations out on drivers.

I’ve been driving Uber and Lyft for ten months. I’m not going to make it much longer. I don’t earn enough driving for Lyft and Uber to afford to keep driving for Lyft and Uber. My car is trashed and the only way I can make the kind of money to maintain it anymore is by driving ten to twelve hours a day. Which would only rag my car out even more. And hey, isn’t that the cabbie’s life? And what rideshare is ostensibly trying to disrupt?

Hell, I’d rather be a cabbie. They have it much better. They don’t have to use their own cars. Or shell out the big bucks for car maintenance. Or provide their own insurance. Or pay a deductible if they get in a no-fault accident. They don’t have to deal with the demands of self-entitled kids accustomed to getting the world handed to them on a silver platter and expecting premium service at a cut-rate price. (I’d take the tourist trade over the start-up crowd anyday!) Cabbies actually have their own businesses in the form of repeat customers. Charm and quality service don’t pay when you’re an Uber driver. But cabbies get tips. On top of all the other indignities Uber drivers suffer, we are also denied tips! According to Uber’s official policy, “Being Uber means there is no need to tip drivers with any of our services.”

So yeah…

Being Uber isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Not for drivers. When you think about it, sitting in the waiting room of a government agency for a few hours to ensure you’re protected from the evil machinations of a corporation bent on world domination doesn’t seem that bad. In fact, it sounds kind of like a vacation.

For more insight into rideshare from a driver’s mostly altered perspective, check out my blog Behind the Wheel. Follow me on twitter

(Top photo taken by the author of artwork by Mansur. Second photo from a driver protest outside the Uber offices.)