Why I Uber On: The Reality of a Rideshare Driver


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.

12 thoughts on “Why I Uber On: The Reality of a Rideshare Driver

  1. Jimi

    Were you a cab driver who was hired to drive Uber taxi for 95% of the fare, then persuaded to partner on a special car from their dealer, and drive UBERX then paid 95% of the fares and then 80% and then 75% and then lowered the $ per mile while adding a dollar or so and not giving any of that and introducing pools that pay 40% ? Seems on the day the car was purchased would cement the contract partner. Partner dot UBER dot COM, in business partnership like corporations must be filed at the State.


  2. Mary Launer

    Great read. I’m a recent post-graduate and have been ridesharing since returning from school. I’m constantly battling time to look for work with hours on the road to make sure I can pay rent. I am also slowly falling behind and am struggling to maintain everything, just worked a temp job where I made a month worth of uber fares in one week but still thinking of driving tonight (Sat). :-/ “Keep ya head up, oooo child things are gonna get easier, Ooooo child things are gonna get brighter”


  3. watchmeeatthis

    I recently lost my job and have had to come to the reality that I need to sell my home to pay back debt and start over. I’m lucky in a sense that I’m only 27 and my property has risen in value by quite a lot and I’ll make a big profit on it, allowing me to get that fresh start.

    However, I have become an Uber here in one of the new Canadian markets. My city is severely underserved by taxis so there is a high demand for Uber’s. This is for university students who are going to the bar, mostly. I completely relate to the addiction that comes from driving as I’ve had some really amazing conversations and met some really enlightened and cool people. It fills a social void in my life that I’ve always had trouble with due to anxiety and panic over socializing in public.

    I can also relate to your feelings on the wages earned. It became very apparent that I wouldn’t be able to sustain myself solely on Uber alone, which is slightly saddening, because I would love to just drive for 40 hours a week and sustain the entrepreneurial spirit I have while I work on other projects in my spare time.

    I think as long as there is profits from driving, and Uber demand keeps up in my area, I will continue driving part time no matter where I work. It seems like here in Canada it’s a bit of a better situation, with slightly higher rates at the moment.


  4. John ing

    Perfectly stated. I was lucky to pull myself out of the spiral several months ago. I say never again… But you never know 😉


  5. Pingback: The Taxi vs. Uber/Lyft Money Post | Behind the Wheel

  6. Ann

    Ridesharing does not equal taxiservice… you have all been taken for fools, to get involved in this. If the rules for being af taxidriver/company, are just remotely similar to the rules in Denmark, the app is illegal to use for taxidriving services. Uber has just arrived in Copenhagen, and the transportation minister has asked the police to investigate so it can be deemed illegal. To transport people in Denmark you have to be licensed, take a course, no criminal record, no criminal record involving children, pay your tax and soforth. The car must have a certain standard (most are mercedes), insurance cover for passengers (wich is very pricey), sensors that register when you have customers in your taxi (for tax purposes) and the number of taxis within the council is determinated by the council, as well as the prices, so that it is possible to make a decent living. If anybody with a car, can pretend to be a taxidriver, nobody will be able to make a decent living, and with the lack of screening of the drivers (dont think they are thorough), we will see and have already seen, a rise in a assaults, detouring and scams from the drivers. Ridesharing is taking a person along, if you yourself are going to a specific destination, and sharing the cost of petrol. So howcome the surge pricing … petrol does not become more expensive, just because its snowing, or its a busy saturday night. So get it !!! you are not a taxidriver, just pretending, and eventually it will be illegal. By the way… have you remembered to pay your taxes ?


  7. Vazquezl

    Hello, your post really struck home because I was in a similar position. I was let go from my job in November and denied unemployment because my employer said I quit instead of being fired. Despite being employed for 2.5 years and being consistently responsible on bills, I was suddenly under the gun and in very real danger of losing my home.

    Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, and I to took up rideshare driving to pay bills. Due to UBER’s 500 dollar sign on bonus, I was able to make my January rent, (although 14 days late. The landlord was understanding.) I was able to put bills on CC’s also.

    But I understand your frustrations. I’m tracking my expenses, miles, and income and while I think that I’m still making money at it, it’s not an overwhelming amount and car maintenance is going to be coming up the wire.


  8. Rose Pill

    so basically you saying that Uber saved your life when you lost your job…. and now a year later it is no longer saving your life. You got to give it tiny bit of credit, no? Where would you be now if Uber didn’t come along. I am not saying this to defend their price drops, but you know. I was in similar situation like you and in fear of eviction, and then found out about Uber and week later I was paying rent. I am pretty grateful. From all the minimal wage jobs out there, I still prefer this one, though I am actually applying at TJs. Really it is just a crutch to tie you (barely) over, driving will not be a profession in the future.
    I think the way you feel is how cab drivers felt about us drivers, but now the tables are kind of turned. Cab companies are apparently hiring since interestingly some of their business is up (flywheel business). Maybe look into it?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Being Uber Ain’t Easy: Why All Rideshare Drivers Should Support Regulation | Behind the Wheel

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