A little over two years ago, I started what was to be a prosperous venture in the world of the almighty electrician. I was over the moon, hoping to grow in a field I thought I could succeed in. Then I was laid off, and my world was sent into a worrisome state. How would I afford my life, my bills, and everything that refused to wait because I had been tossed out, very much out of the blue?
Like many, many others in the New Orleans and surrounding areas (and the country at large), I signed up for Uber. I will say this going forward: I totally knew the risks involved, which include but aren’t limited to paying all your own gas, repairs, food on the road, and various other things.
At first, I struggled to figure out what didn’t work for me. Driving aimlessly; wasting hours at the airport in a queue that was meant to keep things in order, but that oftentimes just kicked you offline, only to have you sign back on and go from the top 10 in the queue to the hundreds. And in the beginning, I was content to make the same money that I had at the electrician gig (around $318 a week). Sometimes it was easier, sometimes not.
Finally, though, as I crossed off five or six months in the Uber pool of drivers, I figured out what worked for me: early morning drives. The reason is simple: not many people want to be up at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. The other thing about those times is they are ripe with trips to the airport, which brings in more income and takes less time. I finally had started to not only cover my bills with ease, but to make way more than I had with any other job I had ever worked. Those were some of the best money months I ever experienced. Long gone were the $318 goals. I was making anywhere from $500 (my new minimum goal) to somewhere in the excess of $800, all in less than forty hours. I once received a trip to Baton Rouge, and drove the same person back a few hours later. End result of that three-hour driving day was $150, no sweat. I was ecstatic.
The problem with that is that it can’t last. Even in the year and a half of doing Uber, mostly full-time, I could see the drastic change, not only in my checking account, but also in my state of mind. You have a few good days, but the bad days get so bad that it offsets everything else. It’s very much a vicious cycle. The slower it is, the more you drive, hoping for an amazing trip request (which almost never happens), the more frustrated you get at receiving little trips, or no trips at all. A little less than a month before I completely gave up, I made $30 in about five hours of driving around.
Now, you factor that kind of frustration in with the severe number of drivers in the area, and patience becomes your enemy. I had heard during my early days that Uber is likely involved in some type of business that makes it great for relatively new drivers and not so great for people doing it for a more significant amount of time (say, nine months or longer). At first, it sounded absurd to me, but having lived through the past few months, it seems much more likely now, although this could just speak to my history of unfortunate circumstances.
By late July, the situation was desperate. One week I had a flat tire. The two weeks after that there were much-needed new brakes, followed by a severe leak in my engine. That not only required me to take more time off (I’ve since landed a very promising new job that doesn’t involve driving to pay bills), but also made it difficult to come up with money to fix the issues, because, well, I earned money through driving.
None of this is Uber’s fault, per se. Rather, it’s frustrating that a company worth so much money is virtually unwilling to help its drivers in any way, shape, or form. In fact, they usually go out of their way to make it more difficult. I was denied legitimate claims for damage to my vehicle more than once, or at least not paid anywhere near what should have been expected.
The final straw came when, during a so-far good day, I drove a passenger who was on his way to paint a mural. You can see where this is going. Upon driving from Uptown to the Bywater, we realized only after the trip had ended that the passenger hadn’t closed his paint canisters. Brown, make that thick brown, paint had pooled and gotten all over the majority of things in the back of my SUV. Multiple clothes were ruined, including a Saints jacket that I loved very much, as well as many other things, and all the clothes I had on my person. I received $80 for my troubles, and while I was grateful for that, it wasn't nearly enough. In total that cost me probably $200, plus I had to call it a day to get what paint I could out of the inside of my car.
This article, titled “Is Uber Really Worth It?”, sought to answer a question. That answer, as it happens, is a very easy probably not. If you can do it for a few hours here and there, sure, it can be fun. I had some great experiences, but I also had some terrible ones, including everything from sexual harassment to racism.
In closing, while Uber might be good for a little side hustle, no one should ever do this as a full-time job. At the end of the day, Uber doesn’t care about its drivers, and while they have made some really good changes to their earnings system, that’s likely more to do with how badly the company needs to save face and less about them caring if you can survive or not. I will say, if you do decide to do it, keep records, be courteous, and mostly, get out if it’s not going your way. All you’ll get if you stay in for too long, like I did, is massive headaches and no way to pay for your survival and well-being.