Tag Archives: the five dollar ride

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?

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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.