Tag Archives: confessions of an uberx driver

Your Uber Driver Hates You

UberHatesYou

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 their servants anyway? Would you chat with your server at a restaurant? 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?

The fact of the matter is 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 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

—-

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.

uber_fare_summary

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.

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The print version is available through Etsy or PayPal.

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

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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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Bookstores in San Francisco that carry Behind the Wheel:
Adobe Bookshop
3130 24th St
Alley Cat Books 3036 24th St
Bound Together 1369 Haight St
City Lights 261 Columbus Ave
Dog Eared Books 900 Valencia St
Modern Times 2919 24th St
Needles & Pens 1173 Valencia St
Press 3108 24th St

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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Poor George: The Other Uber Driver

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While cruising through the Duboce Triangle, I get a request on Market Street. Pick up a middle-aged tourist guy and his twenty-something daughter. They’re in town from Texas. Ron and Lisa. They ask if I know George.

“Who?”

“George was our other Uber driver before you,” Ron tells me.

“I don’t really know any other drivers,” I say. “We basically stay in our cars.”

“George drives for Uber to support his wife and three kids,” Lisa says. “He never has time to even see them because he drives all the time. Not like you. You’re probably just doing this to support your marijuana habit.”

“What’d you say?” I ask with an uncomfortable laugh.

She doesn’t reply.

“Poor George,” Ron goes on. “He probably saw us together, father and daughter, and felt jealous of our close relationship.”

Lisa scoffs. “Well, looks can be deceiving.

Ron keeps making small talk with me. They’re Airbnbing a place in Telegraph Hill. Spent the day going around town drinking and shopping. I’m taking them to the Macy’s on Union Square where Lisa saw a purse she liked earlier but didn’t buy.

“It’s a tote!” she clarifies.

Traffic around Union Square is always the perfect example of a clusterfuck. On Saturdays, it’s the epitome of a clusterfuck.

I point out the traffic when we’re two blocks away.

“Don’t worry about it,” Ron tells me. “We’re in no hurry. Long as the purse is still there.”

“It’s a tote!”

Five minutes later, about a block away from Macy’s, I tell him, “It’s gonna take forever to get there with all this traffic. Macy’s is right there.”

I point at the giant sign looming over the street.

“I suppose we can walk one block,” Ron says. “Maybe hit up this place over here… Johnny Foley’s.” He reads the sign on the Irish pub across the street.

I take a left on Powell and a right on Ellis. Go offline and drive away from downtown as quickly as possible. I’ve made the mistake of trying to get rides downtown on a Saturday before. Never again. Let the cab drivers have the business. They can take all of downtown as far as I’m concerned. Since all the one-way streets are split into taxi and bus lanes, it’s designed for cabs anyway, not regular cars.

I go back online after I cross Van Ness. Pick up a guy going to the Haight. Drop him off and track down a woman with an accent and her gentleman friend.

“Oh, is this your bag on the seat?” she asks.

“Bag?”

I reach around. It’s a paper shopping bag from a boutique. Look inside. See a scarf and a flask. Instantly realize that girl Lisa must have left it behind. I remember she had several bags when she got in.

“I know who this belongs to,” I say.

“What’s in the bag?” asks the gentleman. “Lingerie?”

“No, a scarf.”

“Boring. ”

I drop them off in the Mission and email Uber. Parked on 24th, I look through the bag for the receipts to see if it has her name on them. There’s a stuffed porcupine and a swimsuit bottom as well as the scarf and flask. About $100 worth of stuff. I feel bad. She must be freaking out. She seemed too uptight not to have a cow over losing her hard-earned purchases.

Oh well. There’s a link on the confirmation email from Uber to click if you think you might have lost something in a car. Perhaps she’ll notice it when she realizes she’s one bag short.

I put the bag in my trunk. Smoke a cigarette. I’m about to go back online when my phone rings. The generic Uber number.

“Is this Kelly?”

“Yeah, Lauren?”

“Lisa.”

“Right. I have your bag.”

“Oh, thank god!”

I get her address in Telegraph Hill and her phone number, just in case. “I’m in the Mission, so it’ll take a little while to get there. I have to drive all the way across town.”

“That’s fine.”

I take Cesar Chavez to Guerrero, cruise to Market Street, down to Franklin, up and over Pac Heights to Broadway, through the tunnel and into Chinatown. I forget to turn on Powell, so I have to circle around on Kearney to Columbus. My phone rings. It’s Lisa.

“Just checking to make sure you didn’t get lost.”

Uhmmm… Is that another stoner crack?

“Sorry. It took a while to get to North Beach from the Mission. I’m just a few minutes away.”

Slowly, I head up the hills, dodging several rambunctious taxis and maneuvering around lost tourists.

Lisa meets me outside the apartment building.

“Nice view you got here,” I say. Take the bag out of my trunk.

Lisa thanks me and hands me a folded ten dollar bill.

I acknowledge the tip. “Happy to help.”

Ten’s alright, I think as I make a five point conversion out of the dead end. A twenty would have been even better…

The Rideshare Paradox

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Friends with Benefits

Uber must think Lyft drivers are all BFFs. It’s an understandable assumption, seeing as how Lyft promotes their brand of ridesharing as a community where drivers and passengers fistbump their way to everlasting friendship. Every day I get texts and emails from Uber telling me to bring my Lyft friends down to the office on Vermont street so they can sign up to drive for Uber. As always, it seems, they’re offering a $500 sign-up bonus and a $500 referral bonus. Plus lunch. And, as an added incentive, during the first month, new drivers are guaranteed to make either forty bucks an hour or $1000 a week, depending on the market.

If I had any Lyft friends, I’d tell them to take the money and run. $500 is a nice chunk of change. And I’ve seen the meals they give out at the Uber office. You get a sandwich, a bag of chips, some pasta salad and a soda. Not a bad spread. But alas, I have no friends in the Lyft “community.” I was removed from the Pacific Driver Lounge, Lyft’s official Facebook group for drivers, months ago for writing a blog post called The Cult of Lyft that poked fun of the jingoistic tendencies of the Lyft faithful. After that, I got kicked out of a group set up by Lyft drivers in the Bay Area. And then some Lyfters on a group for Uber Drivers had me kicked out of there. I guess what they say is true: “I am the most hated person in the world of Lyft.”

I’m actually surprised Lyft hasn’t deactivated me yet. I guess they’re afraid I’d make too much a stink if they sent me packing. Not that I’d be upset about it or anything. If you want to be part of the Lyft community, you need to drink a lot of Kool-Aid. Otherwise, you’re not welcome. And I’ve never felt welcome.

Still, it’s too bad I don’t know any Lyfters who aren’t already driving for Uber. I could definitely use the $500 referral bonus. After seven months of driving mostly fulltime for Lyft and Uber, I’m broke as hell. My credit cards are all maxed out, my bank account is overdrawn, I have a painful toothache I can’t afford to fix and the Wife’s always pissed cause I’m out driving late every weekend. As it is, I figure I have about two months until my car needs new brakes and tires. And when that day comes, my rideshare days are over. I just don’t make enough from driving for Uber and Lyft to afford to fix my car so I can keep driving for Uber and Lyft.

Now, I know it’s my own damn fault. I bought into the empty promise of ridesharing as an alternative source of income with a good amount of freedom. The ability to set your own hours can’t be overestimated for a creative type like myself. In fact, on Uber’s sign-up page, there are numerous quotes from drivers extolling the greatness of Uber because you can be your own boss. And who doesn’t want to be their own boss? I know I do. That’s one of the reasons I signed up in the first place. I was in between jobs and had an underutilized car. But as the harsh realities of being a rideshare driver became clearer, I should have moved on before the price wars went nuclear. Because all that freedom they talk about doesn’t come cheap.

Uber and Lyft have always been desperate for new drivers. But these days, they need them more than ever. As ridesharing becomes more popular, drivers will be quitting due to expensive car repairs or getting into accidents and not being able to afford the $2,500 deductible from the insurance companies that Uber and Lyft rely on to keep us safe. Or they’ll just bail after coming to the inevitable conclusion that ridesharing is not sustainable as anything more than a part-time gig.

The Long Con

In its current configuration, ridesharing, à la Uber and Lyft, is a conveyor belt to oblivion. Their goal is to take down “Big Taxi” with an endless stream of drivers using their personal cars as unregulated cabs. Uber and Lyft like to portray cab companies as monopolies that are bad for the public. They claim that government regulation will strangle innovation. But it’s all a smokescreen to disguise their true motives: replacing cab companies and their fleets of cars with tech start-ups who con regular folks into thinking they’re part of some “disruption” of a failed transportation system. And then rake in the cash.

Hey, it’s the American way!

You can’t blame Uber and Lyft for their eagerness to exploit the underemployed. It’s an effective business model that’s benefited countless fast-food joints and made the Walton family filthy rich. Low paid workers cycle through crap jobs all the time without much concern from the general public. But it’s one thing to have a stoned, pimply kid flip your burgers or ring up your discounted housewares. It’s quite another to trust them to transport you and your loved ones through city traffic in their own car for a few dollars. Chances are, they don’t even know how to get around the city without a navigation system. And even background checks can’t prevent bad seeds from easily finding their way onto the platform.

Not that it matters. Rideshare users, the very people who should be alarmed by these safety concerns, are absolutely clueless. They pay next to nothing for a ride and expect to be treated like royalty. Uber tells them they don’t need to tip and they accept that lie without hesitation. They just want the convenience and they want it for the lowest possible price. They blindly go along with the exploitative model of the gig economy without a second thought.

Unlike flipping burgers or running a register, though, Uber and Lyft drivers are supposed to perform a luxury service that’s superior to cabs. Despite getting paid less than cab drivers. Uber and Lyft are able to keep lowing the rates, of course, because they don’t have to own or maintain a single vehicle. They pass that discount onto to the drivers by forcing us to work for less and less each month.

I would much rather drive a cab. At least taxi drivers who lease their cars from a company don’t have to pay to fix them. If something goes wrong with their vehicle, they get a new one. A rideshare driver, on the other hand, shoulders all the risk and responsibility for their cars, as well as insurance and their health. We are subsidizing the entire industry so people can have an alternative to cabs. And what do we get in return? A few lousy bucks and a four-star rating at best.

As more drivers eventually realize they’re being exploited, Uber and Lyft will have to recruit new drivers to replace the ones who wise up. And these new drivers might make it a month or two before wandering off to another dead-end job. Some post comments in Facebook groups as they leave. But very few drivers will ever make a stink about how unfair the rideshare system is for drivers. Because the underemployed are used to being exploited.

Meet the new boss (and no, he’s not the same as the old boss)

I’ve had countless shitty jobs in my life. And each one came with a shitty boss. If I had ever had a boss that hired me at, say, $25 an hour and then a month later told me they were now going to pay me $15 an hour, I would tell that boss to fuck the fucking fuck off. Who wouldn’t, right? And yet, as a rideshare driver, I went along with a thirty percent pay cut. It happened so suddenly, I didn’t know how to react. And I didn’t feel like I had much a choice. Jobs don’t grow on job trees anymore. Those drivers who did have options dropped off like flies. The rest of us plodded along at the reduced wage. And then Uber and Lyft lowered the rates again. Sure, they claim that the new rates increase rides. But I was plenty busy before the price cuts. And I can only do so many rides an hour. Especially when passengers make me wait ten minutes to come outside or input the wrong location and I have to drive around looking for them. Then there’s traffic, unforeseen circumstances, driving to far off locations where you’re not likely to get a ride… the list goes on and on. It’s another lie. But we go along with it because we’re desperate. Or stupid. I don’t know which. Maybe both? (Of course, there are still Lyfters who are loyal to the brand. Bless their hearts.)

So how is not having a boss working out for us? Personally, I’d rather have the old boss. I don’t like the new boss. It’s like having a girlfriend or boyfriend who doesn’t want to put a “label” on things. You kind of suspect they’re two-timing you, but they’re just so cute. You can’t meet their friends. They always come to your house. Eat your food. Hog the comforter at night. And you can’t call them anytime you want. Oh, no. You have to wait for them to call you. And if you ever say, Hey, I need a commitment, they give you a million reasons why this relationship works best for YOU. And it sounds so convincing and you begin to think that maybe they do have your best interests at heart. They’re trying to protect you. So you go along with it because every once in a while, they’re just so fantastic. And you feel so loved. But deep down, you know the desperation has turned you blind to your own best interests. And one day, you’ll wake up and realize they don’t actually give two shits about you. You’re just one fool in a long line of fools who fall for their crap. You’re just somebody to keep them from being lonely on a Saturday night.

The day will come when all rideshare drivers have a similar revelation. And like that guy with the thick black book, Uber and Lyft need to keep enough irons in the fire so they never have to spend a Saturday night alone.

That’s the new boss.

I miss the old boss.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: ridesharing is a racket. There’s no way to win. Unless you want to join a cult or run your car into the ground. Then it’s a great way to make a few extra bucks a week. Just don’t think about what might happen if you get in an accident or need new brakes or what you’re going to do when it comes time to pay Uncle Sam. Whatever you do, do not think about that.