Tag Archives: ridesharing

Marching Backwards into the Next Economy

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When I agreed to be on a drivers panel for the Next:Economy forum last week, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting myself into. I knew there would be three of us on the hot seat: A cab-driver-turned-Lyft driver, a full-time Uber driver and me — the Uber-Lyft driver who became a “cabbie.”

Since I made it clear to the moderator during our preliminary interview that I was no fan of the on-demand economy, I figured I was there to be the lone naysayer, or to provide some requisite objectivity. Other speakers at the conference included the CEOs of Kickstarter, GE and Lyft, as well as David Plouffe, Uber’s Chief Adviser.

On Thursday morning, I put on a grey suit, a black shirt and my Florsheims. If I’m going to be a dancing monkey, I should at least wear a shiny red hat.

Read the rest here.

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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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The Uber You Reap Is The Uber You Sow

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I never thought it would happen, but I’m officially sick of reading about Uber. When I mentioned this to the Wife, she quickly replied, “Now you know how I feel.” Fair enough. I have been somewhat obsessed with Uber and Lyft. I’m a driver. It’s hard not to think (and blog) about the injustices we face every day at the hands of these two companies.

Since I first considered driving back in December of 2013, I’ve been reading every article about ridesharing that has crossed my Facebook and Twitter feeds. And since March, when I finally took the plunge and got behind the wheel, I’ve joined all the driver groups I could find and followed numerous sites and writers who cover ridesharing.

Needless to say, I was not shocked by the latest Uber scandal, when vice-president Emil Michael’s suggestion that they hire reporters of their own to go after reporters who are critical of Uber. Just another day following the Uber train of disaster.

Since then, the articles, tweets, updates and blog posts about this incident have been nonstop. Seriously, I’ve reached maximum Uber overload. Can we just go on to the next scandal already? I’m sure there will be more…

Granted, this one is pretty horrendous. If I were Sarah Lacy, the designated target of this doxx campaign, I’d be furious. Livid. Outraged. Pissed the fucked off! Everybody should be. It’s bad. Real bad.

So bad that people are now deleting their Uber accounts. Going so far as to figure out how to permanently remove their data from Uber’s servers. Because, surprise, surprise, Uber doesn’t just go away when you delete the app from your phone. Uber stores your information for “legitimate business purposes.”

Yeah right.

Well, people, before you feel high and mighty because you’ve deleted the app and possibly gone as far as to contact Uber and have your data removed, think about this: it’s your fault.

What Emil Michael said was unconscionable. But it wouldn’t have happened if all these loyal Uber users weren’t so happy to play along with their disruptive business model. It’s not that shocking when you think about all the shit Uber has done before.

The drivers know. We’ve been fighting with Uber for a while now. But nobody cares about us. Or our puny little problems. But attack that venerable institution of online reporting and the OUTRAGE! The HORROR! OH MY FUCKING GOD! BRING ME THE HEAD OF EMIL MICHAEL!!!

So let’s see…

And much, much more

With Uber, there’s always more. These are the incidents that popped up in my mind as I bashed out this blog post. But do I really need to go on?

All that is chill, but when they threaten to dig up dirt on a reporter, people freak the fuck out and delete the app?

Come on! What did you expect from a company that has done all these shady things? And no doubt has many more shady things in the works. (UberScholar, anyone?) Yeah.

Everybody sat back and let it happen. You fed the Uber monster. And now that monster is so big, it doesn’t matter if a few users delete the app. It’s too late for Uber’s comeuppance. You created this monster. It’s here to stay.

And don’t get me wrong: Fuck Uber. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to see this behemoth fail. Even if that means getting a new source of income. As Hector the dishwasher told me many years ago, “I was looking for a job when I found this one…”

So delete away, folks. But when you click that “Delete” button, maybe have at least a little consideration for all the other Uber victims. And the drivers. We do matter. Just a little bit, right?

My Rating Weighs A Ton

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As an Uber/Lyft driver, you live and die by the rating system, which is, at best, dysfunctional. We are constantly at the whim of passengers who may or may not be in their right minds when asked to select a number of stars. When it comes to the late night drunkies, we can only hope they wait until morning to finish the transaction. But in the middle of the day, somebody pissed off at the world could easily shift frustration to a driver. Bad day at work? That’s a star. Not getting along with the girlfriend/boyfriend? Another star. Lost the high score on the that new video game? Sayonara star. Boss being a jerk? One star for you!

I usually know when I’m about to get hit with a bad rating. Like this Thursday night a few weeks ago…

I pick up a guy from a burger joint in the Marina. He’s carrying a take-out bag. Drive him to Pac Heights. Nice dude. But the smell of his crappy fast food is nauseating. I love a cheap, greasy burger, except trapped inside a car the smell seems to metastasize until my head is swimming in a toxic stew. I have these Febreeze air freshener cartridges that clip onto the vents. I hit recirculate to help mask the odor.

After dropping him off, I roll down the windows. Immediately, I get another request. Drive back towards the Marina worrying about the stench lodged in my olfactory nerves like an act of shame. I’m certain my next passengers will think I’m the one who reeked up the car.

To my surprise, the pinned location is Roam, an artisan burger restaurant on Union. What luck!

Two girls get in the back. I tell the one who requested the ride, “I just picked up this guy from another burger joint and was trying to air my car out. I’m so relieved you’re at a burger place too!”

“Sorry,” she says snidely.

Uhhh… “No, it’s a good thing.”

She grunts. Obviously wasted. The stench of secondhand alcohol merges with the lingering cheap burger stink to create a noxious miasma of putridness. And it’s only 9:30! I stopped driving the late shift a month ago because I was sick of dealing with the drunkie shit show. And the subsequent hits to my rating.

“Alhambra and Pierce. Take Fillmore.”

“Alright.” I take off but hesitate before starting the ride on the app. Sometimes I wait until I’m sure the passenger is not going to be a problem. I’d rather lose a fare than risk a low rating.

During the short drive, she talks to her friend about some interpersonal bullshit that makes no sense to me. Drunken advice. The worst kind of advice. How the girl should do this and not do that. But the girl doesn’t take too kindly to the counseling. They start arguing. When I pull up to the apartment building at Alhambra and Pierce, they’re calling each other bitches.

I try to be cool and end the ride with my usual, “Have a good night.” And then, in the most sincere tone I can muster, “Take care now.”

That “take care now” is my standard closer. It’s proven to be an effective way to leave things with passengers. Especially the silent ones. My way of exuding respect and bonhomie. But I can tell from her repugnant snort that it misses its mark this time. She chases after her friend who is careening down the street.

“Where the fuck are you going, bitch?”

I get out of there fast. Wonder what I could have done differently… I know she was in a foul mood when I first interacted with her. I probably shouldn’t have said anything, but how could I have known? There’s just no telling with people…

An hour later, just as I suspected, my rating goes down a hundredth of a decimal point. Yeah, not that big of a deal, but those four star ratings can really add up fast. It sucks. I performed my job without a glitch and yet I’m penalized because this girl was having a bad night?

I do a lot to keep my rating high. I clean my Jetta weekly and spot clean it the rest of the time. I use Armor-All on the leather seats. Before the price cuts, I went to a hand wash place here in Oakland. After that, I did it myself at a self-serve. Then I found a drive-thru car wash that only charges eight bucks. They have a parking area with vacuums. There are usually plenty of towncars and taxis around.

One thing I’ve learned about ridesharing is to always look for the cab drivers. They know the best spots to get gas, where to piss late at night and which streets to drive. If I’m on a street and there are no cabs, I’m on the wrong street. I have nothing but respect for cab drivers. All drivers should respect cab drivers. Just don’t drive like one. That’s not what the rideshare passenger wants. They want to feel baller. And there’s nothing baller about recklessly turning corners and laying on the horn whenever another car is going too slow.

I drive with purpose. I keep a close watch on my blind spots, errant pedestrians and speeding bicyclists. I take my corners easy. Use my lower gears to get up hills. Maintain the speed limit. Come to full and complete stops. And when faced with an idiot behind the wheel, I use my high beams. Way more annoying than a horn, I think. I flash them real fast, like strobe lights. Freaks the tourists out. Big time.

I try to be accommodating to my passengers, but I don’t open doors. I don’t give out candy or water. And I don’t try to come off as anything I am not. I wear short sleeve t-shirts that expose my tattoos. I keep my hair down. I play punk, post-punk and hard rock with the speakers faded to the front. I have a built-in iPod jack and no auxiliary port. If passengers want to listen to the radio, I’ll fiddle with the dial a little.

Although I never force an interaction, I refuse to be treated like an invisible servant. I talk to myself while I drive. I tap the steering wheel. I make comments about traffic. If passengers are chatting to each other about a topic and I feel like interjecting, I don’t hesitate to make my presence known. I may look like a stoner metalhead, but if somebody needs advice or an opinion, I’m not afraid to offer my services.

When it comes to high ratings, what matters most is how you drive. And I drive like a motherfucker. I know the streets. I know short cuts and alternate routes. I don’t rely on navigation and only use Waze if traffic is really bad or I’m going to the suburbs. Though I usually just make passengers direct me.

I keep my eyes on the road at all times. Even when my passengers talk to me. At stoplights I’ll glance in the rear view, but I’ve had full-on conversations with people I only looked in the eye when I said goodbye.

I know the city. Its history. Hot spots. I know the hotels and how to access their driveways so the valets can open the doors for my passengers. I know most of the bars and as many restaurants as I can remember with what’s left of my feeble mind. Sometimes I need my memory jogged, but that just gives me an opportunity to crack a joke about being old and feeble minded. Maybe start a conversation.

I make a point of letting my passengers know right away that I’m one of the good guys.

I always keep my cool. No matter how long a passenger makes me wait, jerks me around or acts self-entitled. I don’t let it get to me.

I accept all requests. Even if the passenger’s rating is 4.4. I believe in second chances.

I cancel requests all the time. If I don’t like where somebody wants to be picked up, I cancel. If they request again, I accept and cancel a second time. If I’m not fighting traffic, I’ll text them, “Bad pick-up location.” And then cancel. Eventually they’ll figure it out.

Rideshare passengers are not dumb. They tend to be assholes, but they’re not dumb.

The trick is maintaining authority. From the moment I start dealing with a passenger I exert control. Otherwise they walk all over you. But I also know that exerting control sometimes means letting the passenger think they are the ones in control.

I learn from my rides. I try to never make the same mistake twice.

What I don’t know I pretend to know.

Every day I figure out more about the city streets. I suggest routes to passengers. I tell them how the app wants me to go and offer an alternative. Most of the time, when asked, they tell me which way they prefer to go. Even if they give me bad directions, I go where they want. The passenger is always right. Especially when they’re wrong. The way I figure it, I’m going to be driving no matter what way we go.

I never chase the surge. And when I have a passenger who has been hit with a higher rate, I’ll end the ride a few blocks from their destination. To “offset the surge a little,” I tell them. It’s not much, but it makes the passenger feel better about being gouged.

I know which side of the street has even numbers and which side has the odd numbers. Or at least I think I do.

I know I don’t know enough.

I yield to pedestrians, joggers, bicyclists, jaywalkers, taxis, town cars, Ubers, Lyfts, buses, raccoons and suicidal pigeons. But confused tourists are fair game.

I refer to the turn by turn in the app, but I tend to deviate. The passenger can see that blue line on the screen of your iPhone. And if they’re going home or to work, every driver before me has used the same route. So I switch it up, based on what I’ve learned about the neighborhood.

My attitude is always the same: sit down, relax and leave the driving to me.

I never take the freeway unless I’m going to the airport or the southern quadrants. I stick to the streets. Particularly the brightly like ones.

When I drive a girl alone, I suggest the most illuminated direction and let her decide how she wants to get there.

I tell passengers, when they ask, that I like to drive. And I’m not lying. If they ask whether I like Uber or Lyft, I tell them, “I like driving.”

Fair enough?

I can’t count how many times passengers have told me, “You’re the best Uber/Lyft driver I’ve ever had!”

Or, “You’re like a New York cab driver!”

Or, “I can’t believe you know where to go with just the cross streets.”

Or, they get out of my car and mention to their companions, “Now that was a five star driver.”

You get the point…

I wish I didn’t have such a high rating. It’s too much pressure. A high rating is untenable. One day I will inevitably deal with a passenger who rates me low for no particular reason. Maybe even one-stars me, sending my rating down more than a hundredth of a decimal point. And it’ll bum me out to no end. I’d be lying if I said otherwise.

Until then, all I can do is keep driving like I always do.

Like a motherfucker.

Ten Consequences of Driving for Uber and Lyft

After seven months of driving full time for Lyft and Uber, these are ten things that make me dread going into driver mode:

1. Vehicle Depreciation

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Besides passengers slamming my doors, which has caused a mysterious rattle, scuffing my interior, leaving behind trash and generally making the kinds of messes you’d expect from a two year old, there is also mechanical wear and tear. The more I drive, the more things go wrong with my car. I figure I have about two more months until I need new brakes and tires. And then my rideshare days are over. I just don’t make enough from driving for Uber and Lyft to afford to keep driving for Uber and Lyft.

2. Boot Malfunction

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My right boot is more worn than the left. To be fair, this may have more to do with my bony heels, but it’s not something I ever noticed until I had to keep my foot on the gas and brake pedals for hours at a time.

3. Physical Discomfort

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My neck is like an open wound. No doubt from glancing over my shoulder as I switch lanes in traffic all night long, always diligent to keep an eye on my blind spots, as well as the other cars on the road, speeding bicyclists, impatient cab drivers and cavalier pedestrians. As a result, the muscles that run along my jaw are steel rods. I have very little radius when I turn my head left or right. The tension never goes away. There is a real possibility that I may 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. I noticed once, when I was a Lyft passenger, that my driver had a hemorrhoid pillow on his seat. I may need to acquire one of those in the near future…

4. Spousal Neglect

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Since I’m out late driving on the weekends, the Wife’s home alone. And she’s not happy about it. I’ve tried driving during the weekdays, but the gridlocked traffic makes getting anywhere in the city a chore. It’s not worth the frustration. I spend more time driving to the pinned locations than I do taking passengers where they need to go. And the only time you can get surge pricing is on weekend nights. And holidays. Or special events. So…

5. Fear of Deactivation

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Nobody enjoys being judged. But constantly feeling threatened with “deactivation” is downright humiliating. The rating system employed by Lyft and Uber focuses on only one aspect of a driver’s performance: passenger satisfaction. And it’s not easy making people happy. Even when the ride has gone perfectly, there’s never a guarantee the passenger is satisfied. All it takes is one drunk passenger on a power trip and you’re deactivated.

6. Erratic Sleep

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I work late and come home late. But I can’t sleep late because my head is filled with dreams about my Lyft summary, which is the only way to find out what I made the day before and what’s happened to my rating. Sometimes the summary is in my inbox before I wake up. Other days the email doesn’t arrive until the afternoon. With Uber you know, for the most part, what you’ve made at the end of each ride. And your rating is updated in the app as feedback is left. So at least you’re disappointed in real time.

7. Misanthropic Tendencies

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After a while, you really start to hate people. I’ve met some really great folks in my car, but I’ve also encountered a lot of stinkers. People that I’d rather see under my front tire than in my front seat. But I have to maintain a sunny disposition and be accommodating to my passengers or risk a negative rating. Not an easy task when some passengers are just straight up assholes. They input the wrong location. They make you wait. They ignore you. They talk down to you. They say racist and sexist things in your car. Your only retaliation is to rate THEM low. Which doesn’t amount to much since it’s unlikely Uber or Lyft would ever deactivate a passenger’s account. I guess we should just be grateful our passengers act like self-entitled douchebags rather than punching us or holding guns to our heads.

8. Paranoia

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Every time I go out to drive, I say a prayer that nothing bad happens. I can’t shake the nagging sensation that if something goes wrong, I’ll be fucked. Uber and Lyft tells us to use our personal insurance in the event of an accident. But our insurance won’t cover any damages since we’re engaged in commercial activity. So what’s the point of having personal insurance to do rideshare? Not that things would be better with the insurance companies Uber and Lyft use. I’ve read numerous reports from drivers who’ve been in accidents and had to crowd source funds to get their cars fixed. Or just being left in the lurch. We are hardly protected under normal circumstances, but what if we’re at fault? Oh, the horror… And with Uber, there’s no support number. We can only email them afterwards. On top of all that, both Uber and Lyft charge us a deductible. So if we are covered, we still pay out of pocket, even if we aren’t at fault.

9. Monetary Deficiencies

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Because of the price wars, as Uber and Lyft fight it out to determine who will be the preeminent rideshare platform, drivers are getting squeezed more and more. The rates just keep going down. As it is, I’m broke as hell. My credit cards are all maxed out, most of the time my bank account is overdrawn and I have a painful toothache I can’t afford to fix. Not to mention taxes… I don’t want to even think about what I’m going to do when it’s time to pay taxes.

10. Self-loathing

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If you’ve made it this far on my list of rideshare consequences, you might be wondering why I don’t just quit. I know it’s stupid to complain about something you can’t control. And I know it’s my own damn fault. I bought into the promise of ridesharing as an alternative source of income with a good amount of freedom and it turned out to be a lie. I fell for the classic switcheroo. I’m an idiot. So why don’t I just get on with my life? Well, that day is coming. Without a doubt. For now, the hell I know is better than the one I don’t. And I like driving. I like meeting people. I like exploring the streets of San Francisco. But there’s no future in ridesharing for drivers. Hell, the way things are going, there won’t be a future for taxi drivers either.

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.

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I also do zines about driving for Uber and Lyft.