Tag Archives: broke uber drivers

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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Uber & Lyft Drivers Are This Year’s Surge Price Whiners

lyft_nye_jackpotIt’s New Year’s Day. When pissed off Uber passengers usually storm Twitter to express their outrage at surge pricing and post ridiculously high fare summaries from their rides the night before. But this year, it’s the drivers who are doing all the complaining. Sure, some folks around the country got hit with some high ticket rides, but at this point, we all know they were asking for it. These people also probably complain about every aspect of their unfortunate lives on Twitter. So fuck them.

The drivers, on the other hand, dutifully went out last night, encouraged by Uber and Lyft with promises of high ticket fares, and they were left hanging. Of course, the fact that Uber also sent messages to passengers basically telling them not to take rides, proves, once again, that Uber and Lyft do not know what the fuck they are doing. Yeah, they know how to make apps and utilize unbridled ambition to push their way through government regulation. But they have no clue how to perform like a company that actually wants to perform a service.

(Read my full NYE coverage here.)

These are mostly from Bay Area and LA drivers. Click on any image to view as sideshow:

Gouge Away: Uber’s Surge Pricing from a Driver’s Perspective

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Originally appeared on Disinfo.com

 

During the recent hostage crisis in Sydney, due to increased demand, Uber’s surge pricing took effect. Understandably, people wanted to get the hell out of dodge. Fast! Since then, there have been a slew of articles lambasting Uber’s “dynamic pricing” model. Surge pricing, especially during a terrorist threat, always rubs the public the wrong way. And yet, various writers have come to Uber’s defense, arguing that surge pricing is simply an example of supply and demand.

The Daily Beast’s Olivia Nuzzi wrote:

“Uber does not have a responsibility to care about you. Uber is not a government entity, and it is not beholden to the general carless public during an unwelcome drizzle of rain or even a time of great distress.”

Matthew Feeney, with the Cato Institute, the Koch-founded libertarian think tank, wrote on their blog:

“What is great about a pricing system like Uber’s surge pricing is that it allows users who want an Uber ride the most to have it. Prices are a great way of communicating customer preferences.”

Fair enough. In Econ 101, you learn all about supply and demand. On paper, surge pricing makes total sense. But corporate boosters like Feeney are missing some major factors that obviously aren’t apparent from the exalted view of an ivory tower. Namely, Uber isn’t a $40 billion company because it’s the Grey Poupon of urban transportation. Not only do they hope to take the place of traditional taxi service, Uber wants to replace car ownership altogether. How can they do that with part-time drivers whose only incentive to drive is the opportunity to gouge people desperate enough to pay whatever it takes to get home?

The fact is, Uber drivers don’t make shit during regular, non-surge, times. I’ve been driving for Uber long enough to remember when ridesharing was somewhat profitable. Over the course of a year, in order to corner the rideshare market, Uber has maintained a protracted price war with Lyft, Sidecar and even, it would seem, the city bus. Since then, the constant price cuts have made it nearly impossible to earn a decent living as a rideshare driver. Prior to the price wars, I made $800 to $1000 a week driving thirty to thirty-five hours. (Before expenses like gas, tolls, car washes, maintenance, etc.) Now, driving for the same amount of time, it’s more like $400 or $500. If I’m lucky. (Again, before expenses.)

As an Uber driver, you learn quickly that it doesn’t pay to pick up passengers unless prices are surging. There are blogs and even driving coaches who offer to help new drivers figure out the best driving strategies. They all say the same thing: wait for the surge.

Surge pricing is so ingrained into the Uber culture, they are even trying to patent it!

Chasing the Surge

In online forums for drivers, trying to figure out when prices will surge is a regular topic of discussion. So far, the only proven method to ensure getting a ride during a surge is to stay offline and monitor the rider app. Once a part of town lights up, you race there in hopes of getting a higher fare. This is called “chasing the surge.”

Most drivers chase the surge. On Facebook groups, drivers like to post screengrabs of high-ticket fares during price surges. Members click “like” and make comments such as, “Lucky you!” or “I wish I weren’t already in bed or I’d get in my car right now!”

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Since surge pricing forces generosity from people who would otherwise not give you a penny more than what the app determines, it’s no wonder drivers revel in it and respond to high fares like they just won the lottery.

By continuing to lower rates, Uber knows the only way drivers can make money is during a surge. When demand is expected to be high or when it spikes, Uber encourages drivers to get behind the wheel by sending texts like this:

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The same thing happens during music festivals, sporting events, inclement weather or just a busy Saturday night:

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You can’t help but wonder if Sydney drivers received similar texts. “Siege downtown! Expect high demand! Don’t forget to give promo codes to the desperate suckers at bus stops. You’ll make an extra $5!”

From all the comments I’ve seen, most drivers don’t care if passengers have to pay more—or a LOT more—when demand is high. The extra money makes up for all the times people didn’t have to pay much for the luxury of being driven around town, oftentimes receiving water and snacks along the way.

I’ve always been ambivalent about Uber’s surge pricing model. Personally, I’d much rather let the passenger decide how much my service is worth during busier times with a tip. However, despite the extremely vocal complaints of drivers, including protests outside Uber’s offices across the country, Uber will most likely never add a tip option to the app. In fact, this December, Uber added an option for passengers to include a donation to the No Kid Hungry campaignIt was all set up through the app. No disrespect to the No Kid Hungry organization, but if Uber can easily add a feature like this, they could just as easily include a tip option. But they won’t do it because, as they have made it clear over and over, “Being Uber means there is no need to tip drivers with any of our services.”

Regardless of what Uber CEO Travis Kalanick thinks is a better model for transportation, driving is a service-based task. While passengers seem happy to go along with this no-tipping rule, I don’t imagine they would be as comfortable stiffing a bartender or food server on a tip. So why do it to rideshare drivers? It’s not like we’re making more than minimum wage. Unless, of course, the prices are surging.

Why can’t Uber just raise the fares, or lower their cut, and create an incentive for drivers to work all the time? Wouldn’t the supply and demand concept work then as well? On slow nights, when demand is low, most drivers would log out and the diehards would keep driving, thereby leveling out supply.

I may not have an advanced degree in economics, but I know that Uber’s business model is not just unfair to drivers, it’s unfair to riders as well. At some point, most people will realize they’re being exploited. Telling passengers they don’t have to tip their driver and then forcing them to pay more when it’s busy is a seesaw battle of extortion: I screw you when I can and you screw me when you can.

The no-tip aspect may seem like a good idea to the consumer during normal times, but what about when they’re looking at a $100 dollar fare to go a few miles? Suddenly, tossing a few extra bucks to your driver doesn’t seem like that big of a deal anymore.

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My highest fare… from downtown to the Richmond District in the the rain with 3.4 surge. During non-surge, this ride would normally be around $15.00.

For more nitty-gritty details on the life of an Uber/Lyft driver, check out my blog. Or follow me on twitter.

Uber is Walking for Lazy People: On The Five-Dollar Ride

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The Six-Dollar Five-Dollar Ride

For an Uber driver, few things are worse than the five-dollar ride. Pukers definitely take the top spot, but they are nowhere near as common as the dreaded short rides.

In San Francisco, Uber charges a base fare of $2.20, $0.26 a minute and a $1.30 each mile. (When I first drafted this post a week ago, the rate was three dollars base, thirty cents each minute and a $1.50 a mile—that’s how quickly the rates are going down). The minimum fare is five dollars (previously six dollars). So anything under a mile is a five-dollar ride.

Of course, we only see 80 percent of that five-dollar fare. And it’s not like we get any tips to make up for the short ride. (Though maybe one day that will change.)

Five-dollar rides are hardly worth the effort. When you factor in gas, the time and effort spent driving to the passenger’s location, waiting for them to saunter outside, get into the car, give you directions and then drive them to their destination, that minimum fare ends up costing the driver more than the passenger.

People who take short rides know they are wasting our time. They often apologize when they get in the car.

“I’m only going a few blocks. Sorry.”

Technology is all about creating convenience. It makes us lazy. Uber is capitalizing on this culture of laziness by making rides so cheap. Why walk a few blocks when you can take an Uber for five bucks? Forget driver-less cars. Uber is now competing with the bus. The SF Muni costs $2.25. And unless you live on a bus line, you’ll still have a little walking to do. The horror! For most new San Franciscans, five dollars is a drop in the bucket. In a town where rent for a one-bedroom is over three thousand dollars, that’s pocket change. Most people make decent money. They can afford a few extra dollars. So why the hell not take an Uber?

Passengers don’t think about the consequences these five-dollar rides have on drivers. We do the short rides and keep our mouths shut, giving off the impression that we’re happy to do it. But convenience comes with a price and the person providing the convenience usually pays that price. Rideshares are great for the companies and users. But the drivers are fucked! The whole concept of Uber as some sort of “disruptor” is a farce. All Uber has done is become the very system they were trying to replace, except at a cheaper price and at the expense of drivers.

Low Fares Are Not Fair!

As Uber drivers, we are doing the jobs of cab drivers. Plain and simple. But we are paid less, we use our own cars, we are judged by an unfair rating system, we take almost all the risks, and we’re even denied a gratuity, one of the cornerstones of the service industry.

I recently read a post on an Uber Facebook group from a disgruntled driver who suggested we call passengers before we pick them up to find out where they’re going. That way we can decide whether to take the ride or cancel it. Since drivers can face deactivation if they reject or cancel too many rides, the poster even implied that he had a trick for getting passengers to cancel themselves, so it wouldn’t affect our ride acceptance rate.

Not a bad idea. We already see the passengers’ ratings, so we can reject rides based on that. Or the pickup location. Having the freedom to choose rides based on final destination would be a godsend!

Uber could easily install a feature that required passengers to input their destination. Right now it’s only voluntary and when passengers do add the address, the driver can’t see the location until the ride has started. Uber obviously knows that if drivers were able to see where a passenger is going we’d be more likely to cancel the short rides and wait for the longer, more lucrative ones. This activity dismantles the entire rideshare system. The whole point of Uber and Lyft is the ability to request a car and for it to actually show up.

Before Uber and Lyft, cab drivers were free to pick and chose a ride based on a passenger’s appearance, their level of sobriety and yes, destination. If they didn’t want to drive to a particular area of the city, they just didn’t let you into the cab. That’s the system these rideshare start-ups are trying to disrupt. Now Uber drivers are figuring out how to beat them at their own game by getting back to the way things were before. Because maybe, just maybe, that system wasn’t so flawed to begin with.

Cab drivers know that most people suck. They have to be particular. Uber drivers are beginning to realize the same thing. But we don’t have that luxury.

A passenger once asked me, when I was complaining about short rides, whether rideshare users would take cabs if Uber and Lyft weren’t around. Some would, sure, I said, but most people would probably take public transportation. They’d walk. Or they’d ride a bike.

I pointed out the example of surge pricing. When the prices are low, passengers are happy to request an Uber without a second thought. And the ride requests come in one after another. But anytime the prices are surging, the requests slow down to a trickle. Suddenly taking a stroll through the beautiful streets of San Francisco doesn’t seem like such a bad idea after all.

It’s time to face facts, by continuing to lower their fares, Uber is perpetuating a culture of laziness. And they are benefiting from it with a seventeen forty billion dollar valuation. Uber is the darling of Silicon Valley. But drivers are paying an even greater price. So… what’s the going rate for self-worth these days?

A Day in the Life of an Uber/Lyft Driver in San Francisco

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(an excerpt from the zine Behind the Wheel 2: Notes from an Uber/Lyft)

Most days, I wake up around noon. Usually hung-over. My first thought is always the same: probably should’ve skipped that last drink. At the time, though, it felt absolutely necessary. Vodka has a way of alleviating some of the physical stress from driving a car all night. At least temporarily.

After several months of driving for Lyft and Uber, my neck is like an open wound. The muscles that run from my shoulder to my jaw are steel rods. I have very little radius when I turn my head left or right. The tension never goes away. It makes my teeth ache. There is a real possibility that I have some dislocated vertebrae. My joints hurt. My right ankle has a creak in it. And I have a chronic case of hemorrhoids. No matter how much ointment I apply, they remain perpetually enflamed. Old age has not only crept up on me, it has run past me and turned around to taunt me.

Besides the physical exhaustion of driving a car in the city, there is also the psychological toll. It’s one thing to maintain a diligent eye on my blind spots, the other cars on the road, speeding bicyclists and cavalier pedestrians, but I also have to project a sunny disposition and be accommodating to my passengers. Or risk a negative rating. Not an easy task when I’d rather be committing murder. And yet, with enough Ativan and caffeine in my system, somehow I make it through another shift. Like when the endorphins kick in after a boot to the nut sack, these superficial interactions with complete strangers have a numbing effect after awhile. As long as it’s busy and I have enough rides to keep my mind off the grueling process. The slow nights can be torture and I can’t wait to get home so I can pummel my brain with alcohol, pills and weed until I stop obsessing over the streets of San Francisco, their order and how they intersect with each of the forty-seven neighborhoods.

Read More

Behind the Wheel 2: Notes from an Uber/Lyft – The New Zine

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From the trenches of San Francisco’s sharing economy: another rideshare confessional zine

Behind the Wheel 2 includes more insight into the day-to-day travails of a rideshare driver in San Francisco, more stories about driving drunks, switching from Lyft to Uber, a visit to Uber HQ, self-entitled douchebags, talk of gentrification and displacement, the tech boom, public debauchery, emotional breakdowns, police activity and the constant threat of pukers.


56pp. | Wraparound cover | Illustrated | Staple bound | $5.00 postpaid

Order the print version through Etsy or PayPal.

A PDF or ePub Download is available for 99 cents through Etsy!

(For PayPal, click here.)



EXCERPTS:

To Uber Or Not To Uber

A Day in the Life of a Rideshare Driver

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Table of Contents:
Emperor Caveat
To Uber or Not to Uber
A Day in the Life of a Rideshare Driver (PDF)
The Wrong Bush and Mason
Gun on the Street
Infinite Douchebaggery
The Polk Gulch Vortex
Another Wasted Night
The Leather Man

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What is a zine?

A zine (/ˈziːn/ zeen; an abbreviation of fanzine, or magazine) is most commonly a small circulation self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images usually reproduced via photocopier. — via Wikipedia

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Behind the Wheel 2 debuted at the East Bay Alternative Book and Zine Fest:

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Why I Uber On: The Reality of a Rideshare Driver

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Ridesharing is a racket.

Let’s be real. There’s nothing “disruptive” about taking an idea that already exists, like taxies, and figuring out how to become a cab company without owning a single car. In their current configurations, Uber and Lyft are entirely dependent on their drivers, who are currently in open revolt and quitting in disgust over the latest price cuts as Uber and Lyft fight it out to see who will win the rideshare wars. Despite constantly recruiting new drivers and offering incentives like wage guarantees and bonuses during the first month, after that initial trial run, the cold, hard reality of driving for hire in your own vehicle becomes painfully apparent.

Just like a traditional taxi company, ridesharing is built on the backs of drivers. But for full time drivers, ridesharing is becoming less and less viable. The money just doesn’t add up anymore. And the associated risks with ridesharing only make things worse.

Drivers all across the country are coming to this realization. They’re pissed beyond belief. They’ve taken to Facebook to voice their anger and organize protests, strikes, class action lawsuits and to form a union. They’ve even joined forces with the Teamsters.

The rideshare wars are getting ugly.

Not all drivers are unhappy though. There are still plenty of folks who tell the complainers to stop whining and get another job if they don’t like the way things are with Lyft and Uber. These drivers, who mostly work part time, like to point out that ridesharing is a great second job that offers them flexibility and a decent source of extra income.

I’m always amazed at this attitude, not because of its insensitivity, which is repulsive in and of itself, but it shows a complete ignorance of what ridesharing really is.

These companies are trying to destroy traditional taxi services and the only way they’re going to do that is with full time drivers who are out there twenty-four hours a day accepting requests and keeping the system online. The CEOs of Lyft and Uber know that if prospective passengers request a ride and there are no cars available, those prospective passengers will move on to another service, i.e., a taxi or the bus, and probably won’t try ridesharing again. Consumers are fickle as hell.

Ridesharing is not sustainable with part time drivers looking for something fun to do on a Saturday night.

However, at the current prices, ridesharing doesn’t really make sense for full time drivers. If you’re really going to survive as a full time rideshare driver, you’re looking at driving your car sixty hours a week. Which is no cakewalk. Not just anybody can do that. After an eight hour shift, I’m usually dead to the world and struggle to get back out there the next day.

But there are drivers who do sixty hours a week. Or more. And that’s what makes ridesharing sustainable: the drivers who bust their ass and run their cars into the ground.

Of course, the media only ever seems to focus on the retirees and students looking to make some extra bucks and get out of the house. Because it looks good. It puts a positive spin on ridesharing. But full time drivers and anybody who’s trying to make a decent wage driving a car know what the real cost of ridesharing is. We face serious risks with insurance gaps, troublesome passengers, potential health problems, damage to our vehicles and the financial hardships of constant repair and maintenance, we are denied tips and, with the rating system, we don’t even have job security.

So why keep driving for Uber?

If I’m making less and less money each month while I continue to rack up miles and wear and tear on my car, which isn’t even paid for yet, why do I continue?

Well, I like driving. And I enjoy dealing with people. Sure, there are a lot of stinkers who get in my car and treat me like a servant. The drunks are particularly annoying. But I’ve had some amazing interactions with folks and, after awhile, it gets addictive. You never know who’s going to get into your car.

Still, that’s not going to pay my bills. I can satisfy this need for human interaction in many different ways.

No, the real reason that I keep driving for Uber is because I feel stuck. I’m broke as shit and I’m not sure yet how to get out of the financial hole I’ve gotten myself into. I have an enormous amount of debt. Yes, I could quit driving and get a job at Trader Joe’s. But I can’t wait two to three weeks for a paycheck. I’ll be homeless by then.

Plus, I have an entrepreneurial spirit. I bought into the promise of ridesharing. It’s my own damn fault I didn’t get while the getting was good.

I started driving for Lyft and Uber in March 2014, after I lost my job working in print media. Since nobody really needs editors and layout designers anymore, it’s been difficult to find gainful employment. Especially in San Francisco, where everything evolves around apps and the development, marketing and selling of apps.

So I’ve been doing whatever I can to make a buck: selling stuff on eBay, looking for freelance work, hawking my self-published zines and using my car to drive for Lyft and Uber.

At first, I made decent money with ridesharing. I could drive thirty hours a week and make enough to survive. But then Lyft lowered their rates. Then Uber lowered their rates. Then they both lowered the rates some more. And then some more. They are literally nickel-and-diming their drivers in their attempt to dominate the ridesharing market. Because at the end of the day, these arrogant assholes have to be the top dog. Like evil scientists overcompensating for being such nerds, their ambitions seem to know no bounds.

It’s a goddamn shame. Passengers weren’t even complaining about the prices. They were happy to have a better service.

Now it seems like Lyft and Uber are not just competing with each other but with the bus as well. It costs $2.25 to ride the Muni. A minimum fare for take a car is five dollars. So why not request an Uber for a few bucks more when you don’t feel like walking a couple blocks?

It’s dehumanizing to pick somebody up and be told, “Oh, I’m not going far.” Like that’s a good thing. Occasionally, a passenger will apologize for requesting a car to go a short distance, but saying sorry doesn’t ameliorate the crushing blow of ending the ride at their destination and seeing that $5.21 on the screen of my cracked iPhone. Of which I only see eighty percent, obviously, before factoring in gas and taxes, at the very least.

This has become the reality of ridesharing: slave wages.

And the problem with slave wages is that you can easily wind up in a vicious cycle of poverty.

Each week it gets more and more difficult to climb out of that hole.

So yeah… I keep driving for Uber because I’m hoping eventually I’ll make enough money to take a breath and figure out how to get myself out of this mess. But that day has yet to come. And as the prices keep going down, it may never come and I’ll just continue sinking deeper into poverty.

I should probably start playing the lottery. I’d certainly have better odds.


An earlier version of this post originally appeared on my blogger site.

For more nitty gritty details on my time as an Uber/Lyft driver, check out my blog Behind the Wheel.

These days, I write about my life as a bonafide cab driver for the San Francisco Examiner.

Follow me on twitter

I also do zines about driving for Uber and Lyft.