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Speaker: Confessions of an Uber Driver II: How we doing?

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  • BenWilson, in reply to Alfie,

    They’d attract investors to take care of that side of the business and continue to make even larger profits without the annoying involvement of those pesky wet robots.

    I don't think there's hundreds of billions of dollars in venture capital just lying around dying to get ripped off for peanuts by Uber. The cost of writing their entire app and everything it does would only be in the tens of millions range. There are already several major competitors. There really is only one thing Uber has over them - it just doesn't give a shit about the laws of the countries it's racing to the money pot in, and it sure doesn't care about ripping off it's "partners".

    But they're welcome to try, of course. It makes for great sci fi to think of the terrible future in which the genius corporation unleashes an army of robot cars. In reality land, Uber is crashing head first into organized labour all around the world, and backpedals furiously where-ever that happens. If their real plan is to rely on the future accelerating and delivering them robot cars so that organized labour can't possibly get a fair slice of what is already a pretty generous pie, then the childish naivety of their labour relations just got eclipsed by their even less realistic vision of the future, and the future of app-based taxi services is simply going to be one where Lyft or other similar apps dominate, and Uber will crash in a screaming, but hardly undeserved, heap.

    But I don't think that really is their plan. Robot cars of the future are more likely to be their rhetorical assault, their way of saying that driver labour is essentially worthless, to justify the incredibly poor rates of pay they are aiming for. It doesn't matter if robot cars are pretty much pie-in-the-sky, the idea of them is damaging enough to the concept of a fair day's pay for a fair day's labour.

    They're very good at this kind of tactical rhetoric. The use of the term "ridesharing" is a classic example. They're not ridesharing, but they trade on general public ignorance of what the idea is to hide the fact that they're simply not abiding to laws that actually have good reasons behind them. They want the public to think that there's something conceptually different about an Uber ride to an ordinary taxi ride, that somehow a new economy got created that works by different rules. Stuff and nonsense. It's nothing more than the same economy that always existed, just a bit more efficient, and far, far more effectively organized to deprive its workers of rights. It's exploitative capitalism, plain and simple.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • Katita,

    This in The Guardian today Has convenience turned you into a monster?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 66 posts Report Reply

  • Jason Kemp,

    I don't use Uber but I did have the app on my phone as I was thinking about it. As of this discussion I have deleted it because I don't want to encourage another life sucking culture at all. It is an example of a good idea that would work if drivers had a fair say on true costs but that looks like it is not going to happen now.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 366 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Jason Kemp,

    Don't give up all hope. Drivers here are working on getting that fair say. It won't happen immediately, but it could happen sooner than you think. I'll have plenty to say about this in future posts.

    It could be a fair system, and a reasonably paid job. It's really not that much change before it is, in fact, fair. It has a lot going for it in terms of the way it works. I was hoping in this series of posts to say that it has a future in this country, if it stops the race to the bottom and starts acting fairly and legally. It could end up in an unassailable position, if it can get the drivers on its side. It's strange that it has absolutely no idea how to do that - I can only put it down to the erroneous idea that it is, in fact, a tech stock, which pretty much works like a tech company. It's not. It's a transport organization, and that works differently to how these Silicon Valley people think.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Katita,

    This in The Guardian today Has convenience turned you into a monster?

    Heh, I had a right wing rider in stitches when I pointed out that the natural sympathy an exploited driver might get from a left wing passenger typically ended when the time came to pay the bill. He almost pissed himself.

    ETA: I got one of my rare and much appreciated real rewards, a positive comment. A 5 star isn’t even a reward. It’s just the absence of a punishment.

    ETA2: But I'll explain all that when I get to writing up on the ratings system.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • st ephen,

    I had a look at one taxi business when I was helping to extract someone from a financial hole they found themselves in. That company operated like a franchise - you bought the taxi, bought a license from them, paid for all the other licenses/vetting + training + installing the RT system and EFTPos and uniform and signage etc. Plus petrol, tyres, maintenance, insurance etc. And you paid them a flat monthly fee regardless of how many jobs you got, plus a proportion of each fare. In return, they guaranteed two jobs a day for the first month and...well, that's it really. They also negotiated some fixed-fare rates that cut into the drivers' margins.
    As soon as it looked like he might be able to make some money they just sold more franchises in the area and fed them what little work there was. He couldn't on-sell his license as the company already had a stack of them ready to sell, and in the end he had to sell the car (still owes money on it) because it got older than was acceptable. He ended up relief driving: no cost revenue-sharing - 70 hours per week at what worked out to be < $4 per hour.
    I think the company sees it less as exploitation, and more as providing a hobby for the lonely.

    dunedin • Since Jul 2008 • 254 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to st ephen,

    I think the company sees it less as exploitation, and more as providing a hobby for the lonely.

    LOL, touche. I think that's the hidden idea behind calling it "ridesharing". The implication is that the driver really wants to go to your place and is happy to share the cost of that.

    What I find a bit freaky is the number of times I've been invited into the house of people who got a ride. So far, I've not taken anyone up on that, but there's definitely a strange implication in the whole process that I'm actually somehow the rider's new mate. I guess it's beyond their experience to have had their musical drinking party continue all the way home, and they don't want it to end. I can be their DJ all night long, and maybe even marry their sister.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic,

    Just when you thought the Uber CEO's rent-seeking was as bad as it got, along comes Rentberry.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5420 posts Report Reply

  • Katharine Moody, in reply to BenWilson,

    They’re very good at this kind of tactical rhetoric. The use of the term “ridesharing” is a classic example. They’re not ridesharing, but they trade on general public ignorance of what the idea is to hide the fact that they’re simply not abiding to laws that actually have good reasons behind them. They want the public to think that there’s something conceptually different about an Uber ride to an ordinary taxi ride, that somehow a new economy got created that works by different rules.

    I've found this series fascinating, so thanks for the time you've put into explaining it, Ben.

    I wonder whether the Silicon Valley 'vision' of Uber corporate is, in the longer-term, to dominate a true ride-sharing business. In other words, lower the entry requirements for drivers ($20 to get registered, no need for a passenger carrying/commercial licence) such that a huge percentage of the population of vehicle owners (say 25% of all vehicle owners) register as drivers (a bit of pocket money on your way to wherever you are going anyway) and at the same time encourage a far greater proportion of the population to leave their car at home (or simply choose not to own a car) and instead use their ride-share platform - all the while clipping the ticket on the huge boom in passenger numbers.

    A true ride-sharing model would be a win-win for everyone (and for traffic congestion).

    So, are Uber moving toward facilitating/growing a model that we used to call car-pooling - in other words, true ride-sharing? Meantime, they blatantly and intentionally exploit the present workforce that is building up the customer satisfaction and platform recognition. In effect, the passenger/taxi model (which the current business model actually is) isn't what they intend for the long-term. The pressure built into the software to make current drivers 'pick up' (regardless of the economics of it to the driver) will be relaxed as soon as they get the driver numbers up to a certain critical mass?

    I'm not saying this current exploitation is ethical, just that perhaps that is their 'end-game' and why Uber corporate is acting the way it is (that is, with no regard for their current workforce).

    Wellington • Since Sep 2014 • 798 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to BenWilson,

    What I find a bit freaky is the number of times I’ve been invited into the house of people who got a ride. So far, I’ve not taken anyone up on that, but there’s definitely a strange implication in the whole process that I’m actually somehow the rider’s new mate.

    I find it really easy to be congenial with the driver, especially on a ride with friends, because the reality of a payment transaction isn't present. It's just "Thank you driver! Have a good night!" and we're all good. But I haven't got to the point of inviting my new Uber friend indoors – and that's not just because most of my Ubers are outbound.

    I guess it’s beyond their experience to have had their musical drinking party continue all the way home, and they don’t want it to end. I can be their DJ all night long, and maybe even marry their sister.

    Lol.

    So how many drivers have the Bluetooth? Should I ask when I get in?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22756 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Katharine Moody,

    I’ve found this series fascinating, so thanks for the time you’ve put into explaining it, Ben.

    My pleasure, and thank you. I'm enjoying the one unrivalled superpower of unpaid citizen journalism - the ability to speak truth to power. No one is going to spin my story but me. But the thank yous I've really enjoyed from this article have been those of the drivers themselves, the sheer gratitude of having their story told, in a way they can totally relate to.

    I wonder whether the Silicon Valley ‘vision’ of Uber corporate is, in the longer-term, to dominate a true ride-sharing business.

    I'd say it's an option they'd like to cover. They can't see the future, but they want a big piece of it. There are merits to the idea, but I think that we still are allowed, as a society, the right to choose the nature of that service, rather than apathetically allow some multinational to choose it for us. They don't get to just decide our laws. Particularly not the ones designed for the protection of the public safety, the fair collection of revenue, and the fair treatment of workers. NZ has already engaged in a process of reforming the industry, and it is already lining up to say that ridesharing drivers need P endorsements and COFs for their vehicles. Since no representatives of the rights of drivers have ever even been consulted in this process, it's on us to organize ourselves to make our views heard. I think this is the missing piece that will suddenly empower all the regulators who have been unable to do much more than sit back and watch as their entire purpose gets swept aside.

    I feel reasonably confident that openly encouraging crime in this country by literally paying people to commit it is something we are actually able to stop. There is a path by which we reform to allow new technological developments to make things better, and it isn't littered with the victims of corporate greed.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Russell Brown,

    So how many drivers have the Bluetooth? Should I ask when I get in?

    Not sure! I can probably find out, will get back to you. I prefer old school cabling myself. It's reliable and quick. Just hand people the aux. Has the advantage that there's a master volume control, which I think Bluetooth might override in many setups.

    It can't hurt to ask to connect. I know some drivers don't like it. But plenty do. It's always amusing to see how much people appreciate me equalizing it properly, when there's distortion in any range.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • goforit,

    its all to do with experience and good record keeping. I will take a look at my records for the past two months and put up the main figures, By the way I am a taxi driver/private hire opterator and have been since Jesus played half back for the Jews lol

    Auckland • Since May 2016 • 314 posts Report Reply

  • goforit,

    Just looked up last years figures, Total Km for year 24,499, take per Km = $4.58, costs per Km = $1.40. Hours of work not on this record but would have been an average of 20hrs per week.

    Auckland • Since May 2016 • 314 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Which comes to $77, 906 for the year, or about $77.90/hour (if you worked 50 weeks = 1000 hours). Which is where the idea that taxi-ing is high income comes from, I would presume. Whereas Ubering is making about $10/hour. So to get your taxi at a third of the price you have to pay your Uber driver about 8 times worse than a taxi driver….

    That’s if all of your calculations are correct, and all of those km were for work. Were they? Or is that just the odometer at the start and end of the year?

    ETA: I have also assumed that your cost calculation is all of your costs. But you might not have meant that, and not put in the fixed costs, for example, like depreciation, insurance, compliance. Let me know. This is interesting data.

    ETA2: BTW, I'm not at all judgmental about that high income. To me it should be about that high because it is ultimately dangerous work with a physical cost to the body, and you are running your own business, taking all your own risk on the capital expenditure.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • goforit,

    but i only worked 20 hr aweek and I do a lot of private hire work, like weddings, sightseeing etc whick does have a high hourly rate, I only work when I have work and this is where experience comes in. I do spend a lot of time keeping my cars looking good

    Auckland • Since May 2016 • 314 posts Report Reply

  • goforit,

    I put value on my time not like Uber whom think their drivers do not have value. I think the minium an driver should earn after expenses should be $20.00 to $25.00 per hour. The bulk on my work is within day light hours, but in years gone by I did work night shift to support a growing family

    Auckland • Since May 2016 • 314 posts Report Reply

  • goforit,

    Ben that was work related Km, the costs are every thing including taxs and depreciation. This year I expect my running costs to come down even more due to a LPG converstion and less depreciation.

    Auckland • Since May 2016 • 314 posts Report Reply

  • David Hood,

    It is Uber week over at Motherboard, so there will be a lot of articles there

    http://motherboard.vice.com/read/whats-driving-uber

    Dunedin • Since May 2007 • 1445 posts Report Reply

  • MargaretB, in reply to BenWilson,

    We agreed when I started that I would do around 40 hours a week as that’s what suits me and my lifestyle. The plan was always for him to get a driver for Friday and Saturday nights but so far no luck. It’s a bit of a balancing act for me to work enough hours to pay my mortgage and bills but not to be just sitting in the car doing nothing as this costs him money and makes it less viable for him to keep it on the road and me in a job. Don’t know how the area thing works in Auckland but up here we’re all over the place so it’s just the luck of the draw. The drivers in their own cars are also only paid by fares which is why they have to put in such huge hours. The car I drive is the only 100% electric taxi in the country at this stage (there is a private hire/charter Leaf on Waiheke too) so our running costs are only about $8 a day, compared to $40 – $60 fo the big cars, so those drivers have to cover that as well. I personally don’t see Uber as a threat but think there’s plenty of room for improvement in the industry.

    Northland • Since May 2016 • 4 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to MargaretB,

    The car I drive is the only 100% electric taxi in the country at this stage (there is a private hire/charter Leaf on Waiheke too) so our running costs are only about $8 a day, compared to $40 – $60 fo the big cars,

    Gee, that’s fascinating.

    What’s the obstacle to more drivers going electric? Vehicle cost? They just don’t know it’s an option?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22756 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Russell Brown,

    What’s the obstacle to more drivers going electric? Vehicle cost? They just don’t know it’s an option?

    My first guess would be vehicle range and recharge time. You want to be able to do hundreds of kilometers in a shift, and you certainly can't afford for it to conk out. Since Uber drivers don't even get to know the destination before the passenger gets in, you are rather stuck if you're near the end of a trip on 30% battery charge and someone gets in asking to go to Pukekohe from the city.

    However, if you're doing shorter shifts, it could work out well. Definitely the petrol savings are a massive incentive to drivers - they don't like Priuses because of how sexy they feel in them.

    The up front cost is probably the other main barrier.

    MargaretB might have a different usage pattern to an Uber driver though. Taxis tend to do fewer jobs, so recharging between them at some base station could well be a viable choice, particularly if you are in a smaller town, where getting back to base (or home) is not something that might take hours.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    An actual taxi company could certainly make it viable by having multiple depots for charging up around the city. They could even be the driver's houses, since the drivers would probably want a charging setup at home anyway.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • Alfie, in reply to BenWilson,

    ...they don’t like Priuses because of how sexy they feel in them.

    Q. How can you tell a Prius driver?

    A. Because of the amount of smug they emit.

    Dunedin • Since May 2014 • 1388 posts Report Reply

  • goforit,

    Last week when I was overcharged for fuel I took a look at several Nissan Leafs and the let down was the range, dealers where very cagey over the range but it varied between 160 to 180 Km, That to much of a risk factor, plus they are small as and look silly as.

    Auckland • Since May 2016 • 314 posts Report Reply

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