That evening, after taking a well-deserved nap, I checked out the local live music guide and to my delight, discovered that one of my favorite Austin groups, “Band of Heathens”, was scheduled to play downtown. I went down to the lobby bar and while eating dinner, I told the story of my harrowing day on the bus to the bartender and said that I was planning on taking a cab to the show. She suggested, “Why not just order an Uber instead? They’re faster, cheaper, cleaner, and the driver is someone just like you and me trying to earn a couple extra bucks.” I thought, “What the hell, it couldn’t be any worse than the bus” and proceeded to download the app.
The app already knew where I was and all I had to do was to enter my destination. The app even told me the driver’s name. In about fifteen minutes, a car pulled up in front of the hotel and a young well-dressed gentleman stepped out and asked “Are you Walter?” to which I replied “You must be Jimmy.” I got into the front seat of his well-kept, late model vehicle and off we went. On the way, we discussed the local music scene and what sights I should try to see while in town. The best part was that when we arrived at the venue, there was no scrambling around to figure out payment because that was all handled by the app. I just got out of the car and shouted to Jimmy, “Hey Holmes Smell Ya Later”. From the look on his face, I’m guessing he was too young to get the Fresh Prince reference. After being seated at the show, I opened the app back up to review my charges and found that the fee was much less than I had anticipated. The app then presented me with the opportunity to rate the driver and of course I gave him “Five Stars” (Everyone knows that anything less than five stars is a negative.) I tried to add an additional tip, but quickly discovered that there was no way to do that within the app and I know now that Uber even tells their drivers not to accept cash tips.
After that ride, I had pretty much drunk the ridesharing Kool-Aid and since my current I.T. contract had slowed to a crawl and I was still waiting on my first royalty check from my writing, I decided I was going to change the world one ride share at a time.. I signed up online, watched the 30 minute training video and in just a couple of days, I had cleared my background check and was ready to hit the road. As soon as I got out there, I quickly realized that this wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. First, the only money to be made was bar closing hours and weekends. Sure, I’d get the occasional airport run and grocery store drop-off during the weekdays, but I’d spend most of my time and gas trying to find the optimum location to wait for the next call and waiting is how I spent most of my time. I did the math and I was earning about five dollars an hour, not counting what I paid for gas.
After a couple of weeks of trying to figure out how anyone is making money doing this, I decided to take a look into how Uber actually operates and I learned some disturbing facts. Just by calling themselves a tech company as opposed to a transportation company, they are able to sidestep the costly regulations that are required of cab companies and effectively ignore whatever legal challenges that are thrown at them. Since their drivers are considered “independent contractors”, they don’t have to guarantee wages or health insurance. Uber takes a 20% cut of the drivers fares and the driver is left responsible for fuel, maintenance, tolls, wear and tear and insurance. Speaking of insurance, Uber makes no effort to inform their drivers who use their personal automobile insurance that in most cases they are excluded from coverage when driving for profit. Uber even goes so far to say that they are not liable for any passenger injuries based on the apps terms of services.
I don’t regret a minute of it, though. I met some pretty cool people out there and I got out before anyone hurled in my car Although I still believe that ride sharing is the way of the future, it’s never going to reach its full potential until someone figures out a way to regulate the corporate greed factor and make sure that drivers receive a fair shake. All I know is that the whole experience really made me miss that boring old nine to five gig. If you decide to give ridesharing a try the next time you’re too drunk to drive home from Whiskey Willies, please insist that the driver take a tip. And for godssakes would it kill ya to throw the dude five stars?