As a social zoology experiment, I became an Uber driver during this past holiday season. I was quite impressed by the ease and the efficiency of the qualification process. I made an appointment and …
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As a social zoology experiment, I became an Uber driver during this past holiday season. I was quite impressed by the ease and the efficiency of the qualification process. I made an appointment and showed up on time, and they proceeded to give my car and me a physical. We both passed and I was sent to an Uber camp counselor who—in a quintessential hipster way—showed me how to use the app on my phone. I was out the door in 45 minutes as an official Uber driver.
Uber is a well-oiled machine and what they do best is make money; for the muckety mucks, not so much for the drivers. According to my Uber driver app, I accepted 100% of my trips, 0% trips cancelled and I have a current ranking of 4.87 percent out of a 5 star rating system, with 51 five star rankings and one 4 star ranking. None of my riders ever waited more than five minutes for me to arrive. I carried bottled water for my riders, had a wide variety of music choices, a cashmere blanket for extra cold nights, a smile on my face, a stylish bow tie and 50-plus years of Denver knowledge. I made an average of $12.27 per hour and the gas and car insurance were on me.
I really liked doing it; during the 150-plus rides I drove, I met really nice people, reacquainting with some, six degrees of separation from Kevin Baconing with a few others, laughed a lot, cried with one who had recently lost her father, was a Denver cheerleader for many of my tourist riders and I did my best to make people welcome in my car. I only had one jerk; he spent the majority of our time together drunkenly telling me over and over how rich he is and that he made his money in astroturf. Halfway to his home, he demanded that we go back to his office, and then we spent the next 10 minutes filling my Jeep with boxes of flip flops with astroturf on them. Next, I helped carry his gaudy flip flops into his house. No tip was given and Uber takes great pride in that fact!
I am often receiving notifications from the Uber Mothership to recruit my friends to drive for them. Yes, they would throw me a few crumbs for doing this. I have come to realize that they have to do this constant recruitment because so many drivers like me quickly realize that there isn’t enough money to justify the effort, so turnover is high.
The straw that broke my Uber back was on the Saturday night before the Super Bowl. Uber publicized a promotion to drivers that anyone completing eight trips between midnight and 3:00a.m. would receive a $50 bonus. I thought an extra $50 was a good enough incentive to go out into the cold and shepherd drunken people around. I had driven this shift on a number of occasions and had always been very busy and had easily taken more than eight trips. My shift started like most, and by 2:00a.m., I only needed one more trip to make my bonus, with one hour to go. I thought it was a done deal. After all, in the past, this was an hour that was always jammed full of business, with bars closing and passengers wanting to go elsewhere. I drove by the popular haunts off South Broadway—nothing. I was shocked—no business at Punch Bowl Social—what was up with that? I drove downtown and through RiNo and nothing. I saw plenty of people on the streets and many other Uber drivers picking up riders. It was now 2:30a.m. I double and triple checked to make sure that I had my meter on and I did. I cruised Colfax by Tom’s Diner and Pete’s Cafe and remarkably, no riders. With 15 minutes to go, I sped towards Shotgun Willie’s—my last hope—I got there in time, but no rides. To my amazement, I had failed the challenge.
I talked to a fellow driver who had the same experience. He quickly reminded me of who controls the algorithms (who controls whom and how many trips drivers get). Could it be true that it was a rigged game? Let’s look at the recent behavior of the punk President/CEO, Travis Kalanick, who is at the helm. He was secretly filmed by one of his drivers arguing with the driver about a decreasing percentage of the fare going to the drivers. Google it. Travis’s behavior was certainly not presidential. He was accompanied in the back seat by two gorgeous women that I suspect he pays more than he does his drivers.
This act of immaturity is just the tip of the iceberg. How about the substantiated claim by Lyft (a competitor) that Uber sabotaged Lyft by ordering thousands of fake rides in August 2014. Uber equipped a reported 177 “brand ambassadors” with burner phones and credit cards for the purpose of requesting rides from Lyft and cancelling them moments later.
Uber even touted a fake $90,000 salary through advertising, but that was a myth. It turns out that Uber drivers hardly make more than cabbies and barely above minimum wage. Realistically, a driver would have to work nearly 70 hours a week, with no vacation or sick time, to earn the reported amount. Even driving those extreme hours, that salary would only be possible in NYC, which is by far the most lucrative Uber market in the U.S. Additionally, that number didn’t account for what drivers spend in gas, maintenance, insurance and car payments. A ton of drivers signed up because of this amazing pay, only to be disappointed.
The list goes on. Uber blocked drivers from Tweeting about fare cuts. The company has exhibited sexism and misogyny over and over again. Uber crossed strike lines at JFK airport, where taxi drivers were protesting the Muslim ban and used it as an opportunity to make some easy money.
My human sociology experiment is over. This column is my thesis and my conclusion is I will not drive for Uber, nor will I ever consider riding with a company that so undervalues the human condition.
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