Uber: The Right Ride for You?

I have been working at a Meijer grocery store in Indianapolis for 3 years. I am just now getting to earn a tenured, yet meager salary. Given my current fiscal crunch, I figured that I could get more cash on the side and, at the same time, inspect for myself this relatively new concept of finding a job in our developing shared economy of online services. 

This brings me to the company Uber. For those of you who don’t know, Uber is a transportation network company. A person uses the smartphone app to call on drivers to transport them to a desired location. The driver is an independent contractor who can decide when to start working, and he or she can also decide who to service.

Uber by its job description sounded like a great opportunity because as a driver; you get to decide a number of hours you’d like to work, and even which people you’d like to pick up. However, in February of this year, news hit headlines that an Uber driver in Kalamazoo, Michigan randomly shot six victims at three different locations while on the job. Recent controversies observed I knew I wouldn’t be taking an Uber ride just yet.

Now, what quickly comes to mind regarding employment with Uber is the startling fact that there aren’t many requirements for becoming one. Drivers are paid 75 cents a mile, 15 cents a minute minus Uber’s 20% fee. Prices vary based on demand, a demand which is dictated by surge pricing. A complicated computer algorithm can raise the price when passenger demand spikes during large events, weekend nights holidays or during a public emergency or disaster.

Amazon does sell some books on Uber, but almost all of it is on how to succeed as a driver. In “Raw Deal: How the ‘Uber Economy’ and Runaway Capitalism Are Screwing American Workers” by Steven Hill, I was surprised to find a book that takes a serious look at Uber in our society.  It examines the different computer algorithms that reduce the need for labor in industries like, taxi drivers to lawyers. Uber has become a big competitor for taxi drivers and does so by paying their workers at low costs. Hill concluded that wealth held by the bottom 90 % is no higher today than it was in 1986. If what Hill states is true, It will be of no surprise when people start looking towards Uber to solve their job problems.

I have asked about four drivers about their experiences; how much they make a night, which averages $100 a night.  Driving hours are busiest on the weekends, between 6 p.m. to 3:00 am. That is when most drunken people are out and leaving bars. When asked about what they liked about Uber, most drivers just saw it as a temporary job. Here’s an interview I followed up on with local Indy driver, Nathan Ralph:

J: Last time I checked in, you started working for Uber in June of last year, correct? Are you still employed with the company now?

N: The end of May 2015. And it’s been part time for me the entire time. I still drive, but far less since the rate cuts in July. Now, I only drive during times of high surges.

J: When are these high surges?

N: Typically, during bar close hours and occasionally the dinner rush when folks are heading out for dinner – always on the weekends. And then, of course, holidays and major events.

J: What days of the week do you work and at what time?  What type of customers you get?

N: Pretty much Friday and Saturday nights, occasionally Thursdays. Usually, after midnight till a while after the bars close, maybe 4 am.

J: What do you like about Uber?

N: Personally, I just really like people so it’s a perfect fit. Getting paid to drive people around and talk to them is a cool gig. I’m disappointed they lowered the rates, mostly because, I just enjoy doing it and at 75 cents a mile, it’s not really logical and viable to drive without the surge.

J: You once mentioned that the worst part was the company itself, and that, one time, a girl puked in your car. Can you talk about the company for me?

N: Uber, as a company, looks out for their own interests. I knew that coming in and didn’t really expect much of them. The customer service or lack thereof is the main issue. If you have an issue, it usually takes 2 or 3 responses to get a human to read and respond without just a copy/paste generic answer. Often the reply you get has absolutely nothing to do with the question, making it abundantly obvious they didn’t even read your email.

I had tried to question Uber at one of the offices here in Indianapolis. The two employees inside were not cooperative with my questioning when I told them I was with Omnibus. They sent my email address to their manager in regards to my questions and I received no response. Uber, however, did respond to an e-mail stating that they do provide insurance coverage for drivers and riders.

For the experience, Uber drivers see the company as a great opportunity. Drivers learn about the layout of the city, meet new people, and earn some cash along the way. I might work as one of their drivers. The number one complaint I  from drivers is that pay is very little. There are many people who are close to the near poverty line in America and see Uber as a means to help them out of economic despondency. Uber is a company that is seven-years-old and is expected to receive more regulation in the future from local governments.


Featured image credit: mises.org



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