A Day in the Life Of Your Uber Driver

Being unable to access trip time, trip duration, and estimated pay per service means Uber drivers are forever at the mercy of the app.

Jesse Pike was laid off from his job as a performer last year. In the interim, he’s picked up a part-time job as an Uber and Lyft driver. Well, it’s not exactly part-time. He works 55 hours a week.

When I call an Uber on my phone, here’s what I imagine:

The driver gets the request. They show up. They take me to my destination. Then they get on with their life. My trip took 12 minutes, so they worked for 12 minutes, right? My $7.32 fare is great income for that.

Here’s what actually happens.

I put in a request for an Uber on my phone. Jesse receives my request, and accepts it. He could be 5 minutes away, or he could be 30 minutes away. He drives 20 minutes to your destination. He then waits 5 minutes to pick you up.
Only once you get in his car does he find out where you are going. When he accepts the trip, he has no idea if it’s for a 3-minute ride, or a 30-minute one. It’s basically a gamble.
Once he starts the trip, he’s given the address of your destination within the app. He then starts driving. Sometimes you need to stop along the way. Sometimes you’re stuck in traffic. During this time, Jesse gets paid 11 cents a minute.
Once you finally arrive at your destination, sometimes you don’t know where the place is exactly, so you text your friends, or are unsure if you want to get out of the car. Jesse waits until you figure it out. Sometime it’s difficult to find.
Once you get out of the car, Jesse ends the trip. Jesse then has to drive back to wherever he was planning on waiting for rides, or drive 15 minutes away to the location of the next trip.
In total, a 12 minute trip can actually take the driver 45 minutes of labor and driving from start to finish. Jesse then receives his pay for the fare, minus Uber’s approximately 39% cut.
“I had a 45-minute trip I made $6 from once, and that’s not even including how long it took me to get there and wait for their pick-up,” Jesse says.

While pay is one issue, that’s not what concerns him most. He reveals an interesting fact most passengers don’t know.

Your Uber driver doesn’t know where you’re going.

Although Uber is aware of a passenger’s destination, the driver is not. When the driver receives a ping for a ride request on their phone, all they see is the person’s location, and how far away the passenger is. They can’t see the ride their passenger is requesting, or where their passenger wants to go. They can’t tell the estimated trip time, or the estimated distance they will be expected to drive once picking up the passenger.

For this reason, a driver can pick up a passenger and end up 45 minutes away. Accepting a ride can be financially lucrative, or a waste of your time, and there’s no way to tell. “It’s impossible to predict your income,” Jesse says. “It’s a lot like gambling.”

“It’s impossible to predict your income,” Jesse says. “It’s a lot like gambling.”

Some argue that Uber withholding the passenger’s destination is a tactic to keep drivers working long hours for low wages, as they are unable to predict their income based on ride requests. The reason they withhold this information is certainly a mystery, considering it’s information they definitely have.

For example, Uber Eats already provides the driver with an estimation of trip time (30 minutes, etc.). Giving drivers access to estimated trip time would allow them to have control over their working hours, and allow them to have freedom over when their shift is done.

“I just want to control when I’m done,” Jesse says. “Sometimes I accept a trip and I end up driving almost an hour when it’s all said and done, ending up somewhere far away. I don’t know how long I’ll need to drive, and I can’t set any time limits on my working hours. If I want to be done working at a certain time, I can’t control that.” Jesse can accept a quick ride before he has an appointment, hoping it will be about 30 minutes, but then it will take him 15 minutes to get there, 5 minutes to wait for the passenger, 20 minutes to get the destination, and then 35 minutes to get back to where he started and then continue driving home.

“I just want to know I can be home for dinner with my family,” Jesse says.

Towards the end of the night, Jesse wishes he could only take short trips, so he could be home for dinner at a reasonable time without a half-hour commute home. “I’m always tired. If you want to make any money, that’s how you have to do it.”

It shocked me, personally, to learn that Uber withholds this information from its drivers. Wouldn’t it make more sense for your driver to know where you’re going? Wouldn’t drivers then be able to prioritize rides in neighborhoods they know, estimate the trip time, and it wouldn’t it just be fair to give them freedom of choice over the service they’re being asked to perform?

I work a side job as a freelance content writer. When I choose to accept a job, my client and I agree on three things: the amount of words or article length I am being expected to write, the amount of time I have to complete it (when I will be done), and how much I will be compensated per word or per story. This way, I can predict how long it will take me to complete an assignment, if the pay makes the task worth my time, and what task, exactly, I’m agreeing to perform. This way I can make choices about the work I perform, and decide if it is economically viable for me. This is not a luxury Uber drivers have. I would argue that this information is not a luxury. It is an essential right all service providers have to decide what services they perform, and make educated choices about those services.

Can you imagine, as a content writer, being asked to accept an assignment based on simply a yes or no? It could be a 2,000 word piece, or a 500-word listicle. I’d have virtually no freedom over the work I perform, and I’d have no control over when I was done. I’d be basically a beggar, accepting whatever work I could with no control over my assignments. I’d have no bargaining capital to leverage my choices in how I operate my business.

As a freelancer, this bargaining capital to make economically beneficial choices and decide on the quantity and investment of your labor, and if it’s worth it for you (especially without the backing of an employer or set end hours) is critical to building a sustainable business and generating a reliable income. This is an option Uber drivers don’t have. It’s almost as if Uber doesn’t want drivers to be able to control their own income and make their own business choices.

Being unable to access trip time, trip duration, and estimated pay per service means Uber drivers are forever at the mercy of the app. It keeps them from making economically viable choices, controlling their own hours, maximizing their own income, and being, in any way, in control of their business. It keeps them working long hours for low wages. It keeps them in this first-grab gamble situation, because it’s work at Uber’s discretion and take a chance, or don’t work at all.

“I’m always tired,” Jesse says. “If you want to make any money, that’s how you have to do it.”

Why don’t drivers know where they’re going? If they’re independent contractors, as operators of their own business, they should be able to make their own choices. (I’m aware of Uber’s official reason for doing this- so people aren’t choosy about rides in different areas.)

In addition, this would be akin to an unregulated market. Worst case scenario: if some drivers rejected rides in some areas- the demand for rides in those areas would be higher, since the supply of drivers there would decrease. This would result in drivers making more money by accepting these rides, incentivizing drivers to take them because they’re in high demand.

But really, truly, I don’t think drivers would do that. And either way, they should be able to make their own choices.

I think Uber’s official stance on why they choose to not disclose that information is a convenient excuse to keep drivers unable to predict their drive time or calculate projected income.

It makes sense to take the highest bidder. It’s fair. Because Uber is not an employer. And if they are going to implement policies like a taxi company, they should mirror these policies in the way they treat their workers.

It’s about drivers having choice.

Fact-Checking Uber’s PR

As spelled out above, Uber drivers can’t predict how much they will earn on each trip. Interestingly, Uber claims that they care about drivers’ freedom to predict earnings, and the company cites this as the reason why they discourage driver tipping. Obviously, as spelled out above, Uber drivers absolutely cannot predict trip earning, and somehow relating that to tipping is a real mind-bender.

In a fun added bonus, Uber adds that they discourage tipping because they’re fighting discrimination, which actually makes them the good guys! In addition, they provide rides to people without cars from at-risk communities, which makes them a positive force in fighting inequality. Let’s look at these three claims for a second.

“When we started Uber six years ago, we thought long and hard about whether to build a tipping option into the app. In the end, we decided against including one because we felt it would be better for riders and drivers to know for sure what they would pay or earn on each trip — without the uncertainty of tipping.
That’s still the case today. Tipping is not included, nor is it expected or required. In fact riders tell us that one of the things they like most about Uber is that it’s hassle-free. And that’s how we intend to keep it.
Studies have shown that the connection between tipping and quality of service can be weak. Many people tip because it’s expected — even if service is bad. And tipping is influenced by personal bias.”

Uber* Provides Access to Under-served Communities.** See? We’re good guys, like McDonald’s.

*By Uber provides, we mean our drivers provide.

By under-served communities, we mean people who suffer from systemic economic, racial, or otherwise discriminatory disenfranchisement. We, Uber, are exempt from this. Why? Because these people can get rides with us.

Another way we help: A huge amount of people who work for us are also from under-served communities. They, too, suffer from economic disenfranchisement, which is why they rely on Uber driving for income.

However, we at Uber are not responsible for these people’s well-being as independent business practitioners, and we work hard to make sure that these disenfranchised drivers work long hours for low wages, are unable to predict the end of their shifts, unable to predict or estimate their trip earnings, and unaware of what service they are being asked to provide, where they will need to drive, how long it will take them to get there, or how much they can expect to earn from a trip before they accept it.

By continuing to withhold this information that we have, we at Uber work hard to keep our drivers unable to predict, plan, and estimate their income to develop a long-term business model, and we keep them continually reliant on us for long hours, unpredictable earnings, and unstable economic output. This way, drivers never know how profitable their business can be, and they never know where their passengers are going-

In this way, we are like a Craigslist for commissioning painters, that asks an artist to accept a gig based on an accept or decline- only for the artist to discover that it could be a brief sketch, or a time-consuming wall mural. Why should the artist get to decide that?! Why should the artist get to decide what service they provide?! Answer: They shouldn’t!

Because, we at Uber, are the arbiters of justice, and we make sure some people don’t get tipped more than others by making sure nobody gets paid for tips at all.

In this way, we call ourselves “hassle-free”- free from all that hassle of getting paid for a service you perform, and free from the hassle of an app technology fairly compensating a service provider for the cost of their service. We take 39.07% of the price a customer pays, just like Amazon takes 39.07% of the cost of books you buy, and when you send an email on your phone, 39.07% of the email mysteriously disappears into the ether, because that is the cost of a company providing an app on your phone.

And if you’d like to compensate for that, and make sure your driver gets paid fairly? You have to pay more money, and generously tip. But tipping is neither expected nor required, because reliable income for hard work is not for drivers, it’s for rich people, like former Uber CEO Thomas Rutledge, who brought home $98,000,000 last year.

That’s one hell of a tip he took from drivers’ pockets.