Tag Archives: uber

Your Private Driver: Billions of Dollars

This is a weekly column that offers news, insights, analysis, and user tips for rideshare platforms like Uber and Lyft. Look for it every Monday after the live show (well except for this past Monday cause of vacations and other stuff happening), right here on dailytechnewsshow.com.

Uber’s financials are apparently not as rosy as everyone thought. Despite the company claiming to make a small profit on every ride given in the United States, the company has still posted a massive loss of over a billion dollars so far this year. Even by tech company standards, that’s astonishing. The reason for the huge losses? Driver subsidies, which are incentives and bonuses paid above what the company earns from fares to get enough drivers out there on the road to increase demand. No wonder the company can’t wait for the self-driving car era. Still, with losses this huge, can Uber keep operating the way it has been until that day comes?

Before I get to that, lemme back up and talk about how Uber got into this mess to begin with. Uber is first and foremost a tech company, and it measures success with the same metrics. First, you grow by getting more people using your product or service and more people talking about it. Then, you figure out how to monetize all of those people. With Uber’s beginnings as something of a premium-but-slightly-cheaper alternative to a taxicab, they hit a wall early on in growth. By lowering fares, they were able to attract people who would never use a taxicab; in some markets, fares are now so low that a door-to-door UberPool trip can be cheaper than taking public transit. The growth strategy has worked.

Drivers, however, haven’t benefited from that growth. Fares in most markets have been sliced almost in half between 2014 and 2016, and driver earnings with them. After the Great Rate Cut of 2015, many veteran drivers decided to call it quits (including myself). Faced with a driver shortage leading to monumentally high surge prices (and a very negative rider experience), Uber decided to roll out a variety of incentive programs to keep enough drivers on the road to satisfy demand. These incentives can take the form of either hourly guarantees, such as $30 per hour if a driver takes at least one trip per hour, or per-trip incentives that increase payouts by 50-100%. This means that on a trip where a passenger pays $6, a driver’s payout with incentives can equal $8 after Uber’s commission. Someone’s definitely losing money with that math.

Another side effect of the fare cuts is that as the rides get cheaper, so does the experience. The quality of the vehicles and drivers is rapidly declining as veterans find less and less reason to spend their time with Uber, and they’re being replaced with drivers who are unsafe and have limited English-speaking ability (one of the biggest complaints apparently). The quality of passengers has gone down as well; whereas people used to understandably gripe about excessive surge pricing, today’s riders are up in arms if their Pool fare is $4 instead of $3. In this exact circumstance one passenger accused me of intentionally trying to rip her off because the fare estimate in the app was slightly off (and you wonder why so many drivers hate Pool). Drivers are now in the game of competing on price, the one aspect of the ride we have no control over.

On the bright side for the company, Uber is still showing increases in revenue. This will probably keep investors happy and supply Uber with enough cash to keep operating, even with losses, until JohnnyCab shows up in ten years. Hopefully Uber can afford to keep its fleet of driver-owned vehicles on the road until then.

Sekani Wright is an experienced Uber driver working in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. If you have any questions you would like answered for this column, you can contact him at djsekani at gmail dot com, or on twitter and reddit at the username djsekani. Have a safe trip!

Your Private Driver: Self-Driving Settlements and Other News Stuff

This is a weekly column that offers news, insights, analysis, and user tips for rideshare platforms like Uber and Lyft. Look for it every Monday after the live show, right here on dailytechnewsshow.com.

Uber’s been in the news a lot this past week, and as a driver who will likely be affected in the future by a lot of it, I naturally have some opinions on these things.

Never Settle

California drivers are overall pleased with Judge Chen’s decision to throw out the $100-million class-action settlement in a lawsuit challenging the independent contractor status of Uber drivers. None of us are legal experts, however we saw the settlement terms as an easy way for plaintiff attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan to get a nice payday for herself while basically ignoring most of the complaints, financial and otherwise, of drivers.

Drivers did get a couple of small wins from the existing settlement, those being a clearer process into why a driver would be deactivated, and the ability to not be deactivated for not accepting every trip request (though you can be placed in a “time out” for ignoring requests). There is still no in-app tipping, and Uber still actively discourages tips for some reason. Drivers also do not have the tools they desire to screen out potentially unprofitable fares (like UberPool) nor any level of insurance against further cuts to per-mile rates, which have dropped as much as 42% in some markets over just the last year.

And of course, the question of whether or not drivers are employees or independent contractors has still not been answered. With the rejection of this settlement, that question may once again make it to the forefront of this discussion.

Johnny-Uber

Uber’s self-driving cars are now going to be hauling around people in Pittsburgh, with the goal to possibly have fully-autonomous, Johnny-Cab style vehicles available in as little as five years. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has spoken openly about how the company’s future is in getting rid of us expensive drivers, so the move isn’t much of a surprise. Still, drivers aren’t ready to run screaming to our robot overlords just yet.

Although self-driving technology is currently good enough to take over during a long road trip or during the freeway portion of a rush-hour commute, it would take an impressive AI leap in order to become even reasonably functional in a dense and chaotic city environment, not to mention adverse weather conditions. Not to say that it can’t be done in five years, but I’m not bullish on the prospects at the moment. On top of that, it’s difficult enough most of the time for human drivers to find the passengers that need to be picked up. I can’t imagine that a computer will have better luck at this.

As for the money issue, Uber will end up saving money with self-driving cars, but it won’t be an immediate process. The need to purchase and maintain expensive vehicles and to employ the technicians to update and “fix” them will cut into Uber’s profit margins far more than just counting on regular drivers to take care of all that car stuff themselves, at least for the first few years. The technology will have to mature significantly before Uber will be seeing any cost savings. It’s a long game to be sure, but drivers will see the signs coming long before then. Right now we’re expecting to be obsolete in ten to fifteen years, more than enough time to make plans for the future. I’m making mine right now, actually, but that’s another story for another time.

Sekani Wright is an experienced Uber driver working in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. If you have any questions you would like answered for this column, you can contact him at djsekani at gmail dot com, or on twitter and reddit at the username djsekani. Have a safe trip!

Your Private Driver: Get me to the airport on time

This is a weekly column that offers news, insights, analysis, and user tips for rideshare platforms like Uber and Lyft. Look for it every Monday after the live show, right here on dailytechnewsshow.com.

Your flight leaves at 5:30 AM tomorrow morning. You’ve enjoyed using Uber to get all over the city for business meetings, romantic dinners, and even to see “Hamilton” at the theater downtown, but this is different. You never really know when that Uber vehicle is going to show up. Sure, things work out in the end, but you can’t afford to be late for your flight. You’re gonna need this Uber to be on their way to you at 3:30, and there’s no guarantee that one will be nearby or even available at this time. If only there was a way for you to make an appointment or something to have a car at your doorstep right at 3:30.

From a passenger perspective, probably the biggest feature on their ride-share wish list is the ability to pre-book a trip. In fact for years there have been a slew of third-party apps like RideSharp that offer to do just that. Recently Uber and Lyft themselves have offered their own pre-booking features, with Lyft testing in San Francisco and Uber rolling out in Seattle. (Uber is also beta testing the feature in all of their California markets with the exception of San Francisco.) Amusingly, the launch blogs for both services also use the early-morning airport traveler scenario. Seems like a dream come true for them, right?

Well, not quite. All that these services, both official and third-party, do is send a request out to the nearest available driver at the time you specify, which can be anywhere from 30 minutes to 30 days in advance. Unfortunately if there isn’t available driver at that time, the request won’t go through. Functionally there is no difference between a scheduled ride and one that’s requested on-demand, making this feature little more than a placebo for anxious early-morning fliers.

What passengers really want is a way to guarantee that a driver will be waiting for them when they need one, especially during odd hours. In most markets this is rarely an actual issue. Savvy drivers know that there’s a demand for early-morning rides to the airport, and they’re awake and ready to cash in on potentially lucrative airport fares. Los Angeles, for example, will have no more than a ten-minute wait just about anywhere in the region at all hours of the day and night. San Bernardino, by contrast, often may have few or no cars free at around 4 AM. Someone looking for a ride-share pickup there may run into some difficulties.

So, why isn’t there a “real” scheduling feature for Uber or Lyft? In my research I was unable to find a real answer beyond CEO Travis Kalanick’s desire to stick to being an on-demand service. There could be a need to keep the company from running into laws regulating taxi services. There could simply be the logistical issues of ensuring driver availability; it’s not like someone from Uber HQ can just call and wake a driver up at 3 AM to take a request because no one else is available. Or it could be that the company is confident enough that they don’t really need to do anything other than say they’re doing something.

For those of you who really need a ride with guaranteed availability though, Uber and Lyft are not the services you want to rely on. Try going old-school with *gasp* a taxicab, or try a private car service that provides airport rides. No, they won’t be as cheap as UberX, but you’re paying for reliability. That’s worth a premium, isn’t it?

Sekani Wright is an experienced Uber driver working in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. If you have any questions you would like answered for this column, you can contact him at djsekani at gmail dot com, or on twitter and reddit at the username djsekani. Have a safe trip!

Your Private Driver: That’s Not How Compliments Work

This is a weekly column that offers news, insights, analysis, and user tips for rideshare platforms like Uber and Lyft. Look for it every Monday after the live show, right here on dailytechnewsshow.com.

After the Democratic National Convention wrapped up in Philadelphia last week, Daily Beast reporter Olivia Nuzzi decided to take an Uber back to her home in Washington, DC. She tells the story on Twitter of a trip that started out uneventful but got creepy when the driver started giving unsolicited “compliments”. The technical term for this is actually catcalling, and it is a form of sexual harassment–the most common form women face today. The situation was resolved about as expected, with the reporter calling Uber out on social media and the driver being suspended from the platform.

This, unfortunately, did not sit well with the drivers of the UberPeople community, with allegations of racism, attention whoring, and other insults being thrown at the reporter. There’s also the typical tack that Nuzzi needs to “get out more and recognize and compliment” when she receives one. Almost none of them think the driver should have been deactivated over this incident. Even considering that older men make up the majority of Uber’s pool of drivers, the lack of empathy for Nuzzi’s predicament is startling.

I personally think that Uber should have zero tolerance for this type of behavior from its drivers. The company has enough issues dealing with click-baity articles accusing them of hiring sex offenders, they do NOT need to extra press that comes from them being soft on harassment. When drivers realize that their gigs may be brought to an abrupt end because they can’t figure out the difference between a compliment and harassment, maybe they’ll take the issue more seriously.

Until then, I strongly encourage everyone who is the victim of catcalling from drivers to report it to Uber or Lyft. The customer service of these companies is miserable at first attempt, so be prepared to make a stink on social media in order to get their attention. Harassment is bad enough on the street, I can only imagine how much worse it would feel confined in a stranger’s vehicle. If Uber drivers won’t take harassment seriously out of a sense of human decency, maybe they’ll start to pay attention when they realize it can affect their bottom line as well.

Sekani Wright is an experienced Uber driver working in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. If you have any questions you would like answered for this column, you can contact him at djsekani at gmail dot com, or on twitter and reddit at the username djsekani. Have a safe trip!

Your Private Driver: Everyone Out of the Pool

(This is a weekly column that offers news, insights, analysis, and user tips for rideshare platforms like Uber and Lyft. Look for it every Monday after the live show, right here on dailytechnewsshow.com.)

When it was announced almost two years ago, UberPool seemed like a logical next step in the evolution of ridesharing. If two separate people or groups of people are going in the same direction, why not use one car to take them instead of two? Reduce traffic, save money, save the environment, yada yada yada.

Today the UberPool experiment is apparently a success with the service available in 45 cities around the world. Passengers get a cheaper fare for giving up a private car, and drivers get less downtime. Seems like a win-win. So why is it so frequently a miserable experience for some passengers, and why do drivers hate it with an almost irrational vitriol?

On the passenger side, most of the frustration comes from not understanding the extra limitations placed on UberPool rides.

  • You’re limited to one or two riders. This should be obvious, but people are legitimately confused why they can’t take three people in an UberPool.
  • The wait time is considerably shorter before the driver pulls away. In most cases a driver will wait at least five minutes at your pickup location, which provides time to clear up any issues with parking or pin placement. UberPool will only allow two minutes (and there’s a timer built in to the driver app to keep track) of waiting. Unless your feet are already on the curb, there’s a good chance your driver may leave without you.
  • You can’t change your destination or make multiple stops. Point A to B only. This led to a really awkward situation two nights ago when a Pool passenger put in the wrong destination by mistake, completely inconveniencing the second passenger in the car and just making my life more difficult overall.
  • Picking up and dropping off extra riders takes time. Riders in a hurry may not realize this and are upset when their ride to the airport takes 15 to 30 minutes longer than they were expecting.

As UberPool is also the default pickup option in markets where it’s available, many riders end up picking Pool by accident and are frustrated when the driver picks up an extra passenger that the original rider allegedly didn’t sign up for. This frustration is unfortunately taken out on the driver’s rating, which can have some extremely negative consequences.

The risk of punishment via low ratings from angry riders is just one reason why drivers on various discussion forums consistently rate UberPool as one of the things they dislike the most. The biggest reason is that drivers are actually making less money for all the extra hassle.

For starters, UberPool rates are lower than the standard UberX rates in all markets. In Los Angeles, for example, UberPool rates are 85 cents per mile and 11 cents per minute compared to UberX rates of 90 cents per mile and 15 cents per minute. Not a significant discount, but it’s a discount that comes out of the driver’s pocket for no reason.

Secondly, when two UberPool passengers are matched, a driver is paid for one trip instead of two, with the passengers splitting the fare. Uber actually double-dips by charging a service fee and a commission for each paying passenger before giving the driver their cut. Yup, one trip, two commissions. That’s fair. As if to justify the fact that they’re double billing, UberPool trips are split in half on drivers’ pay statements, with each paying rider counting as one trip. After the split and the extra commission and fees, drivers have seen insultingly low per-trip payouts.

Given the inability to actually opt of of taking UberPool fares, the general consensus among veteran drivers is to not accept them at all. Why would they? More hassle, more stress, and less money wouldn’t motivate any sane person to get with the program. Those who still do take Pool trips (likely because of per-trip incentive programs in some markets) discuss ways of making the ride as miserable as possible for passengers in order to dissuade them from ever ordering an UberPool again.

It’s unlikely that UberPool is going anywhere despite how much it sucks. Riders are naturally magnetically attracted to the possibility of a lower fare even if they complain about it the entire time, new drivers won’t realize the Pool pay scam for a while, and the company itself sees UberPool as a weapon in their quest for growth. (That Uber places more importance on growth than profitability should solve the debate once and for all over whether it is a technology company or not.) Still, if you insist on car-pooling because you really think it’s a better option, at least know what you’re getting into and what you’re potentially putting your driver through.

More on this subject…
Motherboard: Why Everyone Hates UberPOOL
LAist: Uber Pool: Why Drivers and Passengers Don’t Like It
The Rideshare Guy: What Should Drivers Expect From UberPool?

Sekani Wright is an experienced Uber driver working in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. If you have any questions you would like answered for this column, you can contact him at djsekani at gmail dot com, or on twitter and reddit at the username djsekani. Have a safe trip!

Your Private Driver: Lost and Found

(This is a weekly column that offers news, insights, analysis, and user tips for rideshare platforms like Uber and Lyft. Look for it every Monday after the live show, right here on dailytechnewsshow.com.)

A week ago, the unthinkable happened: my wife, carrying the only set of keys between us, left them in the back seat of an Uber. We discovered this only after we arrived at our apartment several hours later and weren’t able to open the door. While my wife wiped sweat from her brow and tried to find an inexpensive locksmith, I went through the dicey process of attempting to find out where her keys were.

One of the most frequent questions I see asked on Uber-related message boards and on social media is what to do about lost items left in the back of an Uber or Lyft. Unlike taxis or other forms of public transit, there isn’t a home office that you can go to at the end of the day to see if anyone has turned anything in. Your only recourse is to contact the driver directly and see if they have your lost item and are willing to return it.

To contact your driver, you can either report a lost item using the app or (in the likely case that you’ve lost your phone) via the ride-share company’s website.

Second step is to hope your driver actually responds. An on-duty driver probably isn’t going to get back to you right away no matter how much you want them to, since they’re dealing with other passengers, so you might want to wait until later. Even then, for whatever reason, be it dishonesty, laziness, or something else, a good percentage of drivers will just ignore attempts to contact them. (Our Uber driver never got back in touch with us about my wife’s keys.) Unfortunately if this happens your odds of getting your lost item back are slim to none. Don’t expect the companies to be much help in this matter, either. Unless you have solid proof that a driver has possession of something you lost (and let’s be real, you don’t) and are willing to get the police involved, your recovery efforts have hit an impasse.

But let’s be positive and say that your driver has found your missing item and is willing to talk to you. Arrange a time and place to meet up. Most people will want the driver to simply meet them where they live or work, which is fine. You should also mention that you’re willing to compensate the driver for his or her time and effort. This isn’t a bribe, as some people have called it, but a recognition that driving twenty miles out of your way costs money. What, you didn’t think your Uber driver lived around the corner from you, did you? I’ve had to deal with three missing cell phones, and two of them required a thirty-minute drive one-way to return. The third one would have needed a two-hour drive, so my passenger and I mutually decided to mail it back to her. Yes, mailing lost items is also an option, but you should be willing to pay for it yourself (Lyft will actually assist with shipping costs). 

Ultimately, the best advice I can give about lost items is don’t lose them. Check your seats before jumping out of the car, and make sure that the contents of your pockets are secure. It can save you a lot of time, headaches, and money. Seriously, do you know how much it costs to call a locksmith on a Sunday?

 

Sekani Wright is an experienced Uber driver working in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. If you have any questions you would like answered for this column, you can contact him at djsekani at gmail dot com, or on twitter and reddit at the username djsekani. Have a safe trip!

Your Private Driver: Picking Up the Kids

(This is the second entry of a new weekly column that offers news, insights, analysis, and user tips for rideshare platforms like Uber and Lyft. Look for it every Monday after the live show, right here on dailytechnewsshow.com.)

For busy parents, Uber has become an essential part of their daily routine. The logistics of maintaining a career while making sure that one’s children get from school to ballet or soccer practice and home again are migraine-inducing. That’s to say nothing of teenagers without licenses or cars who desire some measure of independence. I have on multiple occasions been tasked with shuttling teenagers to and from school, to dances, or just to hang out with their friends.

There’s just one small problem: both Uber (section 3 here) and Lyft prohibit unaccompanied minors from riding in their vehicles. Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know this. Most drivers are unaware, and so are most passengers. I only discovered the rule while doing research for this article, and I’ve been a driver for almost three years! The no-minors rule is ignored by some knowledgeable drivers and passengers anyway; it’s not enforced by anyone at the corporate level, and probably exists just as a legal cover-your-ass policy in case an unthinkable situation occurs.

Well, if you’re now unsure what to do with that Uber Family Profile feature, there may be other alternatives in your area for getting the kids from place to place. So-called “Uber for kids” services like the now-defunct Shuddle are filling the gap by advertising safety first. Their drivers go through stricter background checks, and in some cases are female only. The downside is that they’re more expensive and less widely available.

  • Zum – San Francisco Bay Area
  • Kango – San Francisco Bay Area
  • Pogo – Seattle (this is more of a carpool service than an on-demand one though)
  • HopSkipDrive – Los Angeles, Orange County, San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland CA

Yeah, I know, it seems like we’re hogging all the fun on the west coast. Hopefully these services will become popular enough to expand in the near future. For now though, it seems that Uber and Lyft are content to look the other way as long as there’s not an executive being interviewed.

What about the babies?

Another, larger difficulty for parents is using ride share with babies. Uber does offer an option to choose a vehicle with a car seat, but only if your child is 12 months or older (front-facing car seat age) and you happen to live in New York City, Washington DC, or Philadelphia. Lyft has no car seat options at all, and I’m unaware of any ride-share startup that offers car seats, not even the ones mentioned above.

If your baby needs to travel with you, you’ll have to bring and install your own car seat. The driver will wait while you do this, just make sure they’re able to pull over in a safe location (you should do this anyway as a matter of course). Drivers can’t hold up traffic while you’re strapping the baby in.

If you don’t have a car seat… well, you’ll need to hope you get a driver that doesn’t mind breaking the law on your behalf. Most Uber and Lyft drivers will refuse to take you if you insist on carrying a baby in your arms instead of properly secured, even for a short trip. The risk of legal liability is too great, for one. For two, I doubt any human being trying to make an honest living wants to be responsible for an infant getting hurt in an accident. Neither does any parent.

 

Sekani Wright is an experienced Uber driver working in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. If you have any questions you would like answered for this column, you can contact him at djsekani at gmail dot com, or on twitter and reddit at the username djsekani. Have a safe trip!

Your Private Driver: Safety First

(This is the first of a new weekly column that offers news, insights, analysis, and user tips for rideshare platforms like Uber and Lyft. Look for it every Monday after the live show, right here on dailytechnewsshow.com.)

 

Passenger safety is definitely a hot topic in the world of ride-sharing. Hardly a week goes by without some local paper printing another incident of an Uber driver robbing or assaulting an unsuspecting victim who just wanted to get home from a party, and more and more local governments are hotly debating whether or not the company’s background checks are doing enough. In actuality your driver is probably more afraid of you–crimes committed by Uber drivers may be slightly over-reported, but assaults of those drivers by intoxicated or irate passengers are far more common and almost completely ignored by the media. Still, that knowledge may not make you feel any safer if you do end up with one of the bad apples, so here’s some advice to greatly increase your odds of not having one of those horrible experiences.

 

The key thing to know is that ride-share drivers are far more likely to do something immoral or illegal when they’re “off the clock” and the Uber/Lyft apps aren’t tracking their every move. Your job is to make sure you’re on a sanctioned trip at all times.

 

First of all, make sure you’re in the right car. This will help you avoid fake Uber vehicles that will just take you for a ride… and not the kind you were expecting. The app will give you the name and photo of your driver, the color and model of their vehicle, and the license plate number of their car. Check all of these things before climbing in. You may also want to confirm the driver’s name. A simple “Hi, are you Sekani?” will not only make sure you’re in the right car, but has the added bonus of making the driver feel safer since he or she now knows that they have the right passenger as well. (Oh, unless it’s actually me picking you up, substitute your driver’s name for mine.) In case you’re calling a ride for a friend, make sure your friend has all of this information so they don’t accidentally jump into the wrong vehicle either.

 

Secondly, don’t accept any rides off the app for cash. Not only is this technically illegal in most markets, but it removes the Big Brother layer of security that keeps track of everything. Every trip you take should be arranged through the app, there should never be a reason to exchange cash unless you’re leaving a tip. Also be wary of offers to end the trip early to save a few dollars. You can dispute fares later if you think you’ve been overcharged, but you do not want to be in a stranger’s car while the app is not running.

 

Finally, use the buddy system. Don’t let your intoxicated friends ride home alone, go with them and split the cost of the ride later. It’s much harder to be taken advantage of when there’s more than one of you.

 

Rideshare services are still a convenient, inexpensive, and generally safe way to get around a city from one place to another. Just a little bit of due diligence can help ensure that your next trip is all of the above.

 

Sekani Wright is an experienced Uber driver working in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. If you have any questions you would like answered for this column, you can contact him at djsekani at gmail dot com, or on twitter and reddit at the username djsekani. Have a safe trip!