Uber Confidential: One Driver ‘Shares’ His Experience

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Published  December 2014

antigravity_vol12_issue2_Page_13_Image_0001I have the pleasure of being an independent contract worker for Uber. It all started out as an internet taxi service in San Francisco that was donation-based, to exploit loopholes in the city’s taxi laws. SF has the antiquated medallion model in place that makes each taxi cost over $200,000; and they’re administered by the same inept city bureaucracy that cannot get the trains to run on time. Thus, a huge need was there and still exists. In those gold rush days, I was making as much as $40 an hour, almost as much as taxis. I was on the more “social” platform Lyft, but it is exactly the same as Uber. I made the change to Uber, as it has more riders and allows for less driving with an empty car. Of course, I had a bunch of really fun experiences: a free ticket to see Bob Dylan with an attractive older woman, a few end-of-the-night smoke sessions, multiple sing-a-longs to all kinds of music, a Valentine’s Day dance party with a bunch of single girls, a rooftop “bear” party (grrrr), sexual advances from men and women, and genuine connections with people who were a pleasure to have in my car. Best job ever, right? Not quite.

First, what made Uber fun was the novelty of it and people taking an interest in sharing a unique exchange. Now, it‘s mostly just a cheap ride. Some people make it more human and pleasurable, but for the most part, it is a bargain ride and always getting cheaper. The prices are cut to as much as 30% of original prices (that were already less than a taxi), and drivers have no recourse. As I mentioned, I am specifically not an employee for Uber, because that would make my connection to the company more legally liable than they would prefer. This makes me a “peer-to-peer rideshare operator.” Conversely, the customer is not their customer but rather a “peer-to-peer rideshare user.” Uber’s lack of culpability gives them the ability to distance themselves should anything negative happen during the rideshare. Uber assures that riders are completely covered during their trips with their multiple forms of coverage. They assure drivers are covered beyond their personal policies. However, both operators and users have agreed to third party arbitration should any “disputes” arise when they use the Uber app.

This means you concede your rights to due process in the courts. These arbitrations are common in the U.S. and accompany most contracts you sign, including credit card contracts. The private and unknown arbitrations that have occurred may or may not have effectively compensated users, but they most certainly have not favored operators. Here’s what I had to agree to: “in the event the Company is held liable for any injury or damage to any person caused by you, the Company shall have the right to recover such amount from you. Similarly, should the Company voluntarily elect to pay any amount owed to any person for damage or injury to that person caused by you or for which you are responsible and/or liable, the Company shall have the same right as the injured party to recover from you (i.e., the Company stands in the shoes of the injured party).”

what made Uber fun was the novelty of it and people taking an interest in sharing a unique exchange. Now, it‘s mostly just a cheap ride.

I signed my rights away and absolved Uber of all responsibility when I agreed to my contract. And what other powers did I sign away? If there is any reason for Uber to sever their ties and simply remove a driver from the system, it’s done without any notice or deliberation. This disparity of power makes for quiet, obedient drivers. The benefits of docile drivers are multiple. Drivers cannot unionize to gain power. I have speculated on how to get drivers together but not without jeopardizing our ability to stay in the system. Drivers cannot protest or seek concessions. Your interactions with the company are limited to emails and replies can take more than 24 hours. Drivers do have a say in who they allow in their car, albeit at the risk of cancelling the ride, which is monitored and another way drivers are intimidated. Drivers must also worry about their personal rating, which must remain at 4.7 stars (out of 5) or higher to avoid termination warnings. Drivers are also allowed to rate passengers. While on the surface this seems like a reasonable way to check and balance the system, a driver is far more likely and easily removed. Perhaps the least of a driver’s worries is compensation. After a year of driving and filing taxes, I have made a decent wage but far less than taxi rates, even with surge pricing. I make this wage at the expense of my personal automobile. While the miles are tax deductible, they remain on my odometer and mean eventual maintenance and replacement that isn’t included in compensation.

So why keep driving? Well, as anyone with a boss knows, it is always better to work without one. Any passenger, no matter how entitled or annoying, is out of the car in 20 minutes maximum. Also, the flexible schedule is perhaps the best part of the entire scenario. Work as much or as little whenever you are able. What would I ask from Uber? I ask that any driver with 32 or more hours a week receive benefits, get full insurance coverage, and guarantee rates that allow for repairs and eventual replacement. It is possible to achieve, but individual cities would have to enact their own laws to provide this for drivers. So far, NOLA has been able to keep the capitalists at bay and only allow their black car/SUV service, which has specific prices and regulations.

The ride sharing Uber X has not been sanctioned and should not be without protecting the rights of drivers and taxis. Deregulation will benefit Uber and the customers while extorting the drivers and taxis. Everyone wants cheap services and merchandise, but it’s still true: you always get what you pay for.

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