Uber: Ubiquitous yet Umbrageous

09:00 August 29, 2019

A little over two years ago, I started what was to be a prosperous venture in the almighty world of becoming an electrician. I was through the moon, hoping to blossom in a field I thought I could grow 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? This was all because, out of the blue, I was tossed out.

Like many others in the New Orleans and surrounding areas, and even the country at large, I signed up for Uber. I will say this going forward-I totally knew the risks involved, which include paying for all your own gas, repairs, food on the road, and a myriad of other things.

At first, I struggled to figure out what worked for me. I found myself driving around aimlessly and sometimes wasting hours at the airport. At the airport, there is a queue that is meant to keep things in order, but, oftentimes, a glitch will just kick you offline, only to sign you back on. Then, you go from a spot in the queue in the top 10 to one in the hundreds. At first though, I was content to make the same I was at the electrician gig, which was around $318 a week. Sometimes it was easier
-sometimes not.

Finally, as I crossed 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 three or four 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 make way more than I had with any other job I had ever had. Those were some of the best money months I ever experienced. Long gone was the $318 goal. I was making anywhere from $500, which became 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. The end result of that three-hour driving day was $150. 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 they offset everything else. It's very much a vicious cycle. The slower the day is, the more you drive, hoping for an amazing trip request-something that almost never happens. You become more frustrated because you only get short 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.

When you factor in that kind of frustration in with the massive number of drivers in the area, patience becomes your enemy. I had heard during my early days that Uber is likely structured in a way that makes it great for relatively new drivers and not so great for people doing it for a more significant amount of time-right around nine months or longer. At first, it sounded absurd to me but, after having lived through it, it seems much more likely-although, this could just speak to my own personal experience of unfortunate circumstances.

By late July, I was in dire straits. One week I had a flat tire. Then, two weeks after that, my car needed new brakes, followed by a severe leak in my engine, which not only required me to take more time off, but it also made it difficult to come up with money to fix the issues. This is obviously because I made money 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 their drivers in any way shape or form. In fact, they usually go out of their way to make it more difficult. More than once, I was either denied legitimate claims for damage to my vehicle-or, at least, not paid anywhere near what should have been expected.

The final straw came when, on what was promising to be a good day, I drove a passenger who was on his way to paint a mural. Upon driving from Uptown to the Bywater, we realized only after the trip had ended that the passenger hadn't closed his paint canisters. Viscous, brown paint had spilled, pooled, and covered a myriad of things in the back of my SUV. Multiple clothing items were ruined-including a Saints jacket that I loved very much. In addition, many other things were destroyed; I received $80 for my troubles, and while I was grateful for that, it wasn't nearly enough. In total, that incident cost me around $200. Plus, I had to stop driving for the day to get what paint I could out of the car.

In the end, I wonder if Uber is worth it. The answer to that is it's probably not. If you can do it for a few hours, here and there, sure, it can be fun and worthwhile. I had personally had some great experiences, but I also had some terrible ones. I know of some incidents of racism and sexual harassment, among other ordeals, that drivers had to contend with. While Uber might be good for a little side hustle, no one should ever do this as a full-time job. Uber doesn't appear to care about their drivers, and while they have made some really good changes for their earners, 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, are massive headaches and dwindling earnings, leaving you no way to pay for your survival and well-being.

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