Ubers, Ubers, Everywhere

The New York Times ran two articles last weekend, each one exploring an emerging class of Uber driver. The first article, from January 22nd, is titled “Older Drivers Hit the Road for Uber and Lyft,” and addresses, as you might expect, the increasing number of Baby Boomers who drive for app-based ridesharing services to supplement their income. The article points out that the increase in older drivers has lead to creative partnerships:

Drivers are in such demand that last July Uber and Life Reimagined, a subsidiary of AARP, the organization for people over 50, formed a partnership to recruit more people as drivers.

It’s interesting to see how thoroughly Uber drivers are not just twentysomethings, but truly run the gamut from Millenials to Baby Boomers.

On January 23rd, the Times ran another article on Uber drivers, this one more about Millenials, and specifically, younger actors struggling to “make it” in LA and Hollywood. The crux of the article is that, instead of turning to traditional side jobs to make ends meet, aspiring stars of the screen put their wheels to work. The article notes:

This is Hollywood’s new creative underclass, where being a driver for hire has replaced waiting on tables as the preferred side job for the city’s underemployed actors and artists. Over the last two years, droves of them have gone to work for ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft because of their flexible hours and, until recently, decent pay.

Both articles are quick to point out the challenge of making ends meet while driving for these services, particularly when both have been cutting prices to gain customers. The first piece notes:

Drivers in Seattle who belong to the App-Based Drivers Association, a group allied with the Teamsters union, won the right last month to negotiate pay and working conditions. That makes a lot of sense to full-time drivers like Musse Bahta, 42, who said he had to spend more time on the road since Uber lowered the per-mile fare to $1.35.

And the second:

Two years ago, drivers for Uber and Lyft could hope to make as much as $25 an hour, according to interviews with more than a dozen Los Angeles-based drivers. Today, with a glut of Uber and Lyft cars on the road, those drivers say that their average fares have dropped from $2.40 per mile in December 2013 to $0.90 per mile for most trips after Uber’s most recent rate reduction this month.

Aside from the serendipity of The New York Times running two thematically similar articles in as many days, the separate pieces point to the real shift in how Uber and Lyft help people leverage underutilized assets (their cars and their time). At the same time, these freelancers are subject to the objectives of the companies they work for, and, while they can set their hours, cannot set their hourly rate.

It feels relevant to mention that NPR’s candidate for word of the year is “gig.” Geoff Nunberg notes:

It has been called the on-demand economy, the 1099 economy, the peer-to-peer economy, and freelance nation, among other things. But over the past year, investors, the business media and politicians seem to have settled on “the gig economy.”

And it seems particularly appropriate that the word “gig” first gained prominence in the 1950s, when many of the Baby Boomers — and current Uber drivers — were born.

This post originally appeared on Silicon Spatula, where I write about tech, business and food, and the delicious times they coincide.

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