Friends with Benefits
Uber must think Lyft drivers are all BFFs. It’s an understandable assumption, seeing as how Lyft promotes their brand of ridesharing as a community where drivers and passengers fistbump their way to everlasting friendship. Every day I get texts and emails from Uber telling me to bring my Lyft friends down to the office on Vermont street so they can sign up to drive for Uber. As always, it seems, they’re offering a $500 sign-up bonus and a $500 referral bonus. Plus lunch. And, as an added incentive, during the first month, new drivers are guaranteed to make either forty bucks an hour or $1000 a week, depending on the market.
If I had any Lyft friends, I’d tell them to take the money and run. $500 is a nice chunk of change. And I’ve seen the meals they give out at the Uber office. You get a sandwich, a bag of chips, some pasta salad and a soda. Not a bad spread. But alas, I have no friends in the Lyft “community.” I was removed from the Pacific Driver Lounge, Lyft’s official Facebook group for drivers, months ago for writing a blog post called The Cult of Lyft that poked fun of the jingoistic tendencies of the Lyft faithful. After that, I got kicked out of a group set up by Lyft drivers in the Bay Area. And then some Lyfters on a group for Uber Drivers had me kicked out of there. I guess what they say is true: “I am the most hated person in the world of Lyft.”
I’m actually surprised Lyft hasn’t deactivated me yet. I guess they’re afraid I’d make too much a stink if they sent me packing. Not that I’d be upset about it or anything. If you want to be part of the Lyft community, you need to drink a lot of Kool-Aid. Otherwise, you’re not welcome. And I’ve never felt welcome.
Still, it’s too bad I don’t know any Lyfters who aren’t already driving for Uber. I could definitely use the $500 referral bonus. After seven months of driving mostly fulltime for Lyft and Uber, I’m broke as hell. My credit cards are all maxed out, my bank account is overdrawn, I have a painful toothache I can’t afford to fix and the Wife’s always pissed cause I’m out driving late every weekend. As it is, I figure I have about two months until my car needs new brakes and tires. And when that day comes, my rideshare days are over. I just don’t make enough from driving for Uber and Lyft to afford to fix my car so I can keep driving for Uber and Lyft.
Now, I know it’s my own damn fault. I bought into the empty promise of ridesharing as an alternative source of income with a good amount of freedom. The ability to set your own hours can’t be overestimated for a creative type like myself. In fact, on Uber’s sign-up page, there are numerous quotes from drivers extolling the greatness of Uber because you can be your own boss. And who doesn’t want to be their own boss? I know I do. That’s one of the reasons I signed up in the first place. I was in between jobs and had an underutilized car. But as the harsh realities of being a rideshare driver became clearer, I should have moved on before the price wars went nuclear. Because all that freedom they talk about doesn’t come cheap.
Uber and Lyft have always been desperate for new drivers. But these days, they need them more than ever. As ridesharing becomes more popular, drivers will be quitting due to expensive car repairs or getting into accidents and not being able to afford the $2,500 deductible from the insurance companies that Uber and Lyft rely on to keep us safe. Or they’ll just bail after coming to the inevitable conclusion that ridesharing is not sustainable as anything more than a part-time gig.
The Long Con
In its current configuration, ridesharing, à la Uber and Lyft, is a conveyor belt to oblivion. Their goal is to take down “Big Taxi” with an endless stream of drivers using their personal cars as unregulated cabs. Uber and Lyft like to portray cab companies as monopolies that are bad for the public. They claim that government regulation will strangle innovation. But it’s all a smokescreen to disguise their true motives: replacing cab companies and their fleets of cars with tech start-ups who con regular folks into thinking they’re part of some “disruption” of a failed transportation system. And then rake in the cash.
Hey, it’s the American way!
You can’t blame Uber and Lyft for their eagerness to exploit the underemployed. It’s an effective business model that’s benefited countless fast-food joints and made the Walton family filthy rich. Low paid workers cycle through crap jobs all the time without much concern from the general public. But it’s one thing to have a stoned, pimply kid flip your burgers or ring up your discounted housewares. It’s quite another to trust them to transport you and your loved ones through city traffic in their own car for a few dollars. Chances are, they don’t even know how to get around the city without a navigation system. And even background checks can’t prevent bad seeds from easily finding their way onto the platform.
Not that it matters. Rideshare users, the very people who should be alarmed by these safety concerns, are absolutely clueless. They pay next to nothing for a ride and expect to be treated like royalty. Uber tells them they don’t need to tip and they accept that lie without hesitation. They just want the convenience and they want it for the lowest possible price. They blindly go along with the exploitative model of the gig economy without a second thought.
Unlike flipping burgers or running a register, though, Uber and Lyft drivers are supposed to perform a luxury service that’s superior to cabs. Despite getting paid less than cab drivers. Uber and Lyft are able to keep lowing the rates, of course, because they don’t have to own or maintain a single vehicle. They pass that discount onto to the drivers by forcing us to work for less and less each month.
I would much rather drive a cab. At least taxi drivers who lease their cars from a company don’t have to pay to fix them. If something goes wrong with their vehicle, they get a new one. A rideshare driver, on the other hand, shoulders all the risk and responsibility for their cars, as well as insurance and their health. We are subsidizing the entire industry so people can have an alternative to cabs. And what do we get in return? A few lousy bucks and a four-star rating at best.
As more drivers eventually realize they’re being exploited, Uber and Lyft will have to recruit new drivers to replace the ones who wise up. And these new drivers might make it a month or two before wandering off to another dead-end job. Some post comments in Facebook groups as they leave. But very few drivers will ever make a stink about how unfair the rideshare system is for drivers. Because the underemployed are used to being exploited.
Meet the new boss (and no, he’s not the same as the old boss)
I’ve had countless shitty jobs in my life. And each one came with a shitty boss. If I had ever had a boss that hired me at, say, $25 an hour and then a month later told me they were now going to pay me $15 an hour, I would tell that boss to fuck the fucking fuck off. Who wouldn’t, right? And yet, as a rideshare driver, I went along with a thirty percent pay cut. It happened so suddenly, I didn’t know how to react. And I didn’t feel like I had much a choice. Jobs don’t grow on job trees anymore. Those drivers who did have options dropped off like flies. The rest of us plodded along at the reduced wage. And then Uber and Lyft lowered the rates again. Sure, they claim that the new rates increase rides. But I was plenty busy before the price cuts. And I can only do so many rides an hour. Especially when passengers make me wait ten minutes to come outside or input the wrong location and I have to drive around looking for them. Then there’s traffic, unforeseen circumstances, driving to far off locations where you’re not likely to get a ride… the list goes on and on. It’s another lie. But we go along with it because we’re desperate. Or stupid. I don’t know which. Maybe both? (Of course, there are still Lyfters who are loyal to the brand. Bless their hearts.)
So how is not having a boss working out for us? Personally, I’d rather have the old boss. I don’t like the new boss. It’s like having a girlfriend or boyfriend who doesn’t want to put a “label” on things. You kind of suspect they’re two-timing you, but they’re just so cute. You can’t meet their friends. They always come to your house. Eat your food. Hog the comforter at night. And you can’t call them anytime you want. Oh, no. You have to wait for them to call you. And if you ever say, Hey, I need a commitment, they give you a million reasons why this relationship works best for YOU. And it sounds so convincing and you begin to think that maybe they do have your best interests at heart. They’re trying to protect you. So you go along with it because every once in a while, they’re just so fantastic. And you feel so loved. But deep down, you know the desperation has turned you blind to your own best interests. And one day, you’ll wake up and realize they don’t actually give two shits about you. You’re just one fool in a long line of fools who fall for their crap. You’re just somebody to keep them from being lonely on a Saturday night.
The day will come when all rideshare drivers have a similar revelation. And like that guy with the thick black book, Uber and Lyft need to keep enough irons in the fire so they never have to spend a Saturday night alone.
That’s the new boss.
I miss the old boss.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: ridesharing is a racket. There’s no way to win. Unless you want to join a cult or run your car into the ground. Then it’s a great way to make a few extra bucks a week. Just don’t think about what might happen if you get in an accident or need new brakes or what you’re going to do when it comes time to pay Uncle Sam. Whatever you do, do not think about that.