A tale of 10 Uber rides

Who are Uber drivers?

For many Uber is a better taxi service — find a taxi via a convenient mobile app instead of calling a taxi dispatch number. For others Uber helps us avoid the cost and hassle of car ownership altogether. For me, Uber has been most useful as an alternative to airport parking and car rentals on business trips. Traveling for work has become such a better experience thanks to the convenience of Uber on both sides of a flight.

I recently took about 10 Uber rides on business trips to Los Angeles and had nothing but positive experiences. And LA is a prime growth region for Uber with over 20,000 drivers as of January, 2015. Here are some notes on my recent binge on Uber.

Uber’s driver growth by region

Got a Prius?

Uber Prius

The Toyota Prius seems to be the most popular Uber car. There are so many Uber Priusi (Priusus?) that it can be difficult to ensure that you are getting into the right one. Waiting at SFO arrivals I had to pick my driver out of 3–4 Prius Ubers arriving at the same time. And it makes sense. The Prius is comfortable, durable, and has great gas mileage. The Prius is Uber-ready.

This is Uber country

What makes for a ripe Uber region? A spread out metropolis like Los Angeles, for one. Anywhere near a popular airport, for another. Uber drivers flock to SFO like flies on cake. Also dense urban areas where parking is tricky, like downtown San Francisco.

Who are Uber drivers?

An Uber driver

I met so many Uber drivers from all backgrounds. Some are aspiring entrepreneurs, some are job searching software engineers, some are professional drivers.

Many Uber drivers are part-time drivers. Their day job could be nursing or cleaning houses. A met a few drivers who aspire to get into tech and were super curious about my work.

Welcome to LA

Another Uber driver was a lawyer who has entrepreneurial aspirations. We talked about start-up books like Peter Thiel’s Zero to One and where the mobile app development market is headed. He was very grateful for any insight and I was happy to talk shop with a fellow startup enthusiast.

Another Uber driver has been building a farming technology prototype that we discussed in great detail. We exchanged notes on Michael Pollan books. They say you learn something from every meeting. Maybe you learn something from every Uber ride.

Is Uber safe?

Well, its been safe for me. I can’t speak to safety issues, but I was mildly surprised that three of my drivers were women. And they loved driving for Uber and spoke about how safe it is — unprompted.

One of the reasons Uber has gone mainstream is our society’s evolving perspective on digital privacy. Both the driver and the rider have a public profile with a photo and a rating. We know each other’s name before we see each other. While this lack of personal privacy may have felt like too much public exposure 5 years ago, today its expected that we have a digital identity that we’ll share publically without feeling at risk. Developing an online digital identity can make us more accountable as service providers and customers in the physical world.

Part-time Uber work

One Uber driver that picked me up was a nurse that gets off work from the hospital and drives for Uber for a few hours until traffic dies down so she can drive down to Long Beach. Sometimes she’s lucky enough to get a rider who is heading her way so it’s like she’s getting paid for her commute.

Every Uber driver I talked to raved about the flexibility driving for Uber provides to them. The appeal is on-demand work. Just turn on your phone and answer a request for a ride. One driver told me the key is to set your schedule. Don’t just keep taking ride requests indefinitely. Give yourself a set end time so you can manage a reasonable schedule without burning out.

Don’t judge an Uber by its cover

One Uber driver that picked me up looked straight up gangsta. I know that sounds judgemental and maybe even racist but as a rider my initial feeling was that I was stepping into a gangster car. Any uncertainties I had about safety quickly evaporated as I started talking to the driver. He loves driving and is super happy with Uber because of the flexibility. He chose the perfect career, he told me. And he’s up for any ride, he said. If I wanted to drive back to SF he’d be game, he said with a smile. Hm, no thanks, I’ll stick with an airplane for that ride. But its a good reminder; Love what you do.

Another Uber driver picked me up and I was struck by the strong smell of marijuana in the car. All the windows were open so I’m guessing the driver had been attempting to air out the car. I can’t say where that smell came from — perhaps from a previous rider — but it didn’t bother me or make me feel unsafe. The ride was pleasant and safe so no complaints. The lesson is that Uber drivers (and their passengers) are just like you and me and that’s why it works so well.

Reviews are king

Every Uber driver went out of their way to make sure I was comfortable. Perhaps they were trying to earn a 5 star review. Many offered bottled water, magazines and offered to adjust the climate control. But honestly I gave every driver a 5 star review anyway. These are good people.

The Uber experience

The value of the Uber product experience cannot be overstated. The app helps you locate a nearby location for pickup, remembers previous addresses you’ve been to, and provides fare estimates for your destination. Every time I requested an Uber I got a nearby driver to accept my request within 5 seconds.

Human and software errors

Of course the Uber rider/driver landscape is complex and prone to errors. I once got in the wrong Uber. I once flagged down an Uber by hand and then had to make a request via the app. I had a ride mysteriously cancel itself while I when I got into the car. But all these mishaps were easily surmounted and soon enough we were successfully heading towards our destination.

Thanks, Uber, see you next trip!