Should I stop using Uber?

The Uber logo on a vehicle in San Francisco. (Photo by   REUTERS / Robert Galbraith)
The Uber logo on a vehicle in San Francisco. (Photo by REUTERS / Robert Galbraith)

When I miss my last bus home after a night out with friends, I don’t have to panic. Instead, it’s a no-brainer: I can just hazily flick through my smartphone and open my Uber app, through which I can summon a driver to pick me up. For car-less people like me, Uber and other smartphone app-based hailing services are often a cheap and convenient option to get around the city.

But what can my mindless app request mean for the mostly immigrant drivers on the other end of my smartphone?

For some, like Tekele Gobena, it can mean a dismal hourly wage. By the end of 2014, Gobena had put nearly 40,000 miles on his car after just seven months of driving for Uber. When it came time to do his taxes, he realized he was only making $2.64 an hour as an independent contractor for Uber after car maintenance, vehicle insurance, gas, and Uber’s commission from his rides.

Gobena was in shock. He left a job at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport — where he assigned agents to help passengers with disabilities and made $9.37 an hour — to drive for Uber. He had used up his savings and borrowed money from friends to buy a newer car to drive for the app-based service. Now, if he decided to leave Uber, he said he is unsure if he could get his job at the airport back.

Gobena’s story appears to echo other driver’s experiences, too.

“On Saturday night, I make a few hundred dollars — on a very good day. The rest of the time, I make around $100 for driving for 6 or 8 hours,” said another driver who did not wish to be named for fear of retaliation from the company. “[Uber takes] more than they should. I’m frustrated, but I have a huge car payment that I have to make, which I got through them. So I’m very frustrated and I’m not making any money.“

App-based ride sharing services have exploded in popularity around the country in the last few years, but the honeymoon may be over.

In its two years of operation in Seattle, Uber has become infamous for aggressive price cuts to compete with other driving services like Lyft and Sidecar. Most recently, current and former Uber drivers in California and New York sued the company for tip reimbursement and other payments. A San Francisco judge recently moved a lawsuit forward in U.S. district court to decide whether the drivers should still be classified as independent contractors or as employees eligible for benefits. Abroad, violent protests erupted in Paris when local taxi drivers rose up against Uber for taking up a chunk of their business.

In the last year, Seattle’s Uber services came under fire for cutting its per-mile rates and slashing down fare prices, both of which critics said came at the cost of the drivers. The second price cut was later reversed. Additionally, the company, which advertises its drivers making $25 to $30 an hour, has lured many drivers away from traditional cab companies. But according to Gobena, today’s drivers are lucky if they are making an $8 hourly wage.

Uber did not return calls for comment, but local politicians have noticed of the issue.

“On the one hand, you’ve got Uber, a company that’s been around just for a few years and is already worth $50 billion, and I have an immigrant driver, who borrowed money from his friends and family to buy a car, making $3 an hour. When that power imbalance is so great…those drivers are just not going to have a say,” said Seattle City Council Member Mike O’Brien.

At the beginning of September, O’Brien proposed legislation to help out drivers — and it could be a game changer.

If passed, his proposal would allow Uber drivers in Seattle, who are all independent contractors, to unionize and bargain over pay and working conditions with their employer. The legislation would allow drivers for app-based services like Uber and Lyft, as well as other contractors for taxi and for-hire companies, to choose a nonprofit organization which would represent them in negotiations with their employers.

Gobena, the Uber driver, supports a union.

“We are asking to get fair treatment and get paid a living wage. That’s why we believe getting a union is very important. Then we can have power and a chance to have a say. This really matters to us,” said Gobena.

But unionizing is still a fairly new concept in the app-based driving world. Plenty of people have called for Uber-serving cities to create unions for this new class of workers. But if O’Brien’s legislation passes, Seattle will become the first city to legally allow Uber drivers to organize under the National Labor Relations Act.

Another driver, who also wanted to go unnamed, said that rather than unionizing, he’d rather just become a full-time Uber employee so he can get benefits for himself and his family.

“A long time ago, I drove for Yellow Cab… It’s regulated by the city and it’s done that way for a reason… The meter is running, so every minute I spend, I’m getting paid for it. In the case of Uber, they lower the price just because they can. Of course customers prefer a lower rate, but that’s on the shoulders of drivers like me,” the driver said. “They use the word ‘partners’ but I don’t like that word because I have no say whatsoever. I have to have some kind of say in the process and I feel like I have none right now.”

O’Brien’s staff says the the issue will be taken to committee this week where a vote could be taken to advance the bill. In the meantime, however, drivers are still left up in the air. So while a decision is still to be reached, should riders like me continue using Uber?

The answer from Gobena and three other unnamed drivers was a resounding yes.

But their reasoning is telling: At the end of the day, said one driver, low wages are better than no wages.

Gobena says changing Uber isn’t a matter of choosing another driving service. “If drivers and riders work together, we can make it better… Riders can play their own role and share their concern for how the company treats us,” he said.

As for me, I’ll be opting for the bus more often in lieu of hailing late-night rides through my Uber app. While services like Uber and Lyft are the safest option to get home, I can’t justify using a service that doesn’t make their drivers’ livelihoods a priority, too.

14 Comments

  1. This will continue to unfold until the rideshare companies perfect the right rates. I’d give it another 1-2 years of rocky times. Remember that the rideshare companies are looking out for total market share right now and the drivers have a bulls eye on them.

  2. Great article Ana! I am an Uber Black driver and the answer is No you should not use Uber. They have screwed all drivers in order of appearance – Black then X. With our expense structure we cannot quit – we have car notes, insurance bills, and repair bills – without killing our credit. We cannot strike (yet). Only when clients stop using this exploitative manipulative service will this company start to change their pernicious ways.

  3. this is the deal … all I am is a driver for uber nothing more but I sit here and I read and read and read about everything you guys say about Uber let me just say for some of us if it weren’t for Uber we wouldn’t be making money today….nobody from Uber told anybody to quit their jobs an start working for them those are your choices you made…. times are hard out there for everybody not just uber drivers….Uber may be billionaires but they worked long and hard to make themselves that way… there is a few things they do need to change.. but what I see,,,is that everyone sees billionaires so everybody wants a piece of the pie somehow someway.Uber drivers knew in the beginning what they were getting themselves into nothing has changed from day one. Uber has never ever as far as I can see and I like I said I am just a driver….Uber has never told me any different that I would have anymore or Less than what they’re doing right now. the way I see Uber as if you want to make it work it’s up to you. and this is my opinion and everybody has a right to their own opinion.

  4. Driving for Uber is not a wise move at all. They take advantage of individuals who are in desperate need for work, promise them rates of $30.00 an hour and transfer all the risk to you. In the end, you’re not even making minimum wage.

    While the rate might be beneficial to passengers, it’s such a bad rate for drivers, it’s pushing all quality drivers and vehicles off the road.

    For people thinking about driving for them, don’t do it unless you want to run your personal vehicle into the ground for pennies while some billionaire in SF gets richer off of you.

  5. Although Uber may provide liability insurance coverage for the passengers and the other person in an at-fault accident, it provides NO insurance for the driver’s expenses (medical/coll/comp). That insurance needs to be commercial, also. Uber preys on the naivety of the drivers to not figure that out. Even ride-share insurance does not cover the driver’s side of an at-fault accident. Ride-share insurance only covers the “gap” when a driver is on the Uber app waiting for notification he has a ride as well as personal coverage. There is no commercial coverage.

    I am activated to be an UberX driver; I will not begin until the proper insurance is in place.

    I am activated to be an UberX driver; I will not drive until I have the proper insurance in place.

  6. I think this is like any free market business. Supply and demand. I dont drive a cab because its expensive. So they have companies that drivers lease to. The company carries or offsets the insurance, repairs, wages, etc…
    That is the VERY reason Uber is so successful. Because they are a rideshare. Not a friggin cab company!
    Go back to your old job. You wont be missed… and my rider rates stay low!

  7. Truth is multibillion dollar uber is evading dues, local taxes, municipal dues that local cab companies are paying. Uber then takes what it refuses to pay and calls it “profit”.
    There is a much more fitting name for what Uber does – it’s called a criminal fraud.
    For a company with $55 billion dollar, this is the most arrogant example of 100% criminality I ever seen. And please, spare me your “innovation” nonsense – Uber holds no patents simply because it invented absolutely nothing, such apps existed years before uber was even founded. Educate self, discover truth.

  8. I understand your uber dilemma. aside from the driver’s lousy financial arrangement with them, you personally have to waive all of your rights when you accept the terms of their app in order to use the service. There are many other negatives attached to uber. please explain why you don’t even for a moment entertain the bizarre idea of using a real taxicab. until a few years ago that was a perfectly o.k. option. has common sense changed that much since uber came along?

  9. i myself beign Uber driver when i calculated i am in loss for my time,energy, my car, insurance, cleaning, wear and tie, it is just dead end please boycott Uber

  10. I have driven for both Uber and Lyft, and much prefer Lyft as a driver and as a passenger. At least with Lyft, passengers are allowed to tip and this helps make up for the 20% fee the company takes. There is a widespread misconception that tips are included for Uber drivers, but they aren’t. Lyft provided better training in that they gave me a ride-along with an actual human before I started driving, and that person checks out your car to make sure it’s actually safe and everything functions, showed me how to use the app, etc. The way the two companies market themselves results in a big difference in how passengers treat you. Lyft markets themselves as “your friend with a car” and Uber as your “private driver.” When someone thinks you’re they’re private driver, they forget that they are a guest in your vehicle and you don’t actually have to give them a ride if you don’t want to. I found that Lyft passengers are much more respectful, and my discussions with other drivers who drive for both services reflected the same thing: Uber riders are, on the whole, much more rude.

    I no longer drive for either since I have a better-paying job now, but I came away from the experience feeling that it needs to be more regulated. The car loans that Uber gives to drivers have very high monthly payments that essentially make you an indentured servant for the company. You have to drive to pay it off. Your car insurance doesn’t cover commercial activities and their insurance takes two weeks to even give an initial response to your claim – you can’t drive for them during that time and don’t know if/when they’re going to take care of your vehicle. Add to that the mileage depreciating the value of your vehicle, the cost of cleaning and detailing it multiple times a week, and the cost of gas, and it’s an arrangement that only works if you’re desperate for money. Sadly, many of us are, and these companies will take advantage of that as long as they’re allowed to.

  11. As a consumer, I’m somewhat weary of the idea of a boycott. The fundamental reality here is that driving a car is something that virtually anyone is capable of doing, so the pay is necessarily going to suck. To expect otherwise as a driver is not reasonable.

    Of course, all of these labor issues are just temporary until Uber figures out how to replace all of their drivers with self-driving cars.

    And, of course, at the end of the day, drivers do get paid more carrying passengers than not carrying them.

    For what I’ve seen, I haven’t noticed any significant difference between Uber drivers and Lyft drivers. The only difference I have noticed is that Lyft drivers tend to be relatively few and far between, so if I ride Lyft, the driver usually has to travel further to get to me (especially if the pickup is in a suburban location) – a lose, lose from both the driver and the passenger perspective.

  12. Congratulations on the publication. To Uber every day more has evolved around the world helping drivers, passengers and respectively a city. It is also loved by many and hated by a minority.

  13. Congratulations on the publication. To Uber every day more has evolved around the world helping drivers, passengers and respectively a city. It is also loved by many and hated by a minority.

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