Why I’m Breaking Up With Uber
I’ve been fascinated with Uber from the beginning. You should know I’m fascinated with most apps at the beginning; I burn through “must-have” apps at roughly the same rate Trump tears through daily news cycles spouting off insane things. I’ll download them over coffee, text everyone I know to do the same during lunch and be completely disinterested with them by dinner time. But Uber was (obviously) different.
Getting a ride using your phone without ever having to exchange money with anyone? Everything just…happens? This is what the internet was made for and I felt grateful I got to be alive for all of it, while also slightly jealous of newborns who will get to ride around in driverless cars one day. Those tiny, lucky bastards have their whole lives of being whisked around by robot cars ahead of them and they don’t seem the least bit grateful.
When I decided to move to LA, I calculated I could live off my savings for six to nine months, assuming I was also working part-time somewhere bringing in a little cash on the side. I was determined to ensure this part-time gig would truly be part of the time and wouldn’t get in the way of going to open mics and taking classes and generally letting myself fully lean into this cliché. So as soon as I got out here and got a car, I signed up to drive with Uber. As an afterthought, I also signed up for Lyft, figuring I’d drive for whoever made me the most money in the shortest amount of time. Americuh.
The registration for both took about three days; I gave them my social security number so they could make sure I wasn’t a serial killer. I met a company rep for a quick car inspection; Uber efficiently set up a table at a local Jiffy Lube while Lyft met me in a nearby Denny’s parking lot. (“Find Mark. He’ll be inside Denny’s wearing a bright pink Lyft shirt.”) I braved the DMV and got a California driver’s license. And just like that, I got an email notifying me I was now qualified to pick up strangers and cart them around Los Angeles, praying my GPS didn’t go out because I had no idea where anything actually was.
It’s been about a week and I’ve realized three things.
The first is this gig is a gold mine of material. I’ve been yelled at by a blind man for going the “wrong” way, taken multiple high schoolers to and from school (said one “exhausted” sophomore at 10:30 am on a Monday morning: “I’m so late I can’t even deal with any of it. At all. I had to get a Lyft.”), and picked up one five year-old from kindergarten with his nanny and her boyfriend, whom she instructed the kid refer to as “Mr. Handsome.” I couldn’t make this up if I tried.
I’ve also noticed that despite sharing a space the size of a large closet, we’re mostly incapable of talking to each other. And I get it; 90% of the time I took an Uber I didn’t really want to talk to the driver, either. I just wanted ten quiet minutes to text and read the news and mindlessly stare at my phone. But getting in the car with noise-cancelling headphones and then promptly passing out really brings the ignoring other humans game to a whole new level.
And finally, I’ve discovered that Uber is the Walmart of ride sharing apps. In their quest to drive prices as low as possible to get rid of Lyft (and any competition), they pay the drivers almost nothing for the privilege of carrying people staring into their cell phones across town. Yes, there are surge times where everyone hates you and rides cost more, but barring that really fun experience (“you guys are f*cking surging and this is such bullshit” said one happy customer who I thought might knife me for having to pay more than $10 for a twenty minute ride) you generally don’t make any money.
As a (mostly poor) consumer, I get opting for the lowest price; I’m the guy who will be scanning items at stores into my Amazon app to see if I can find a better deal. This is how I ended up with a five inch plunger that cost 99 cents and did not list the height right away in the description.
But there are times I try and spend my money consciously, and avoiding Walmart and Chick-Fil-A — and now Uber — are some of those times. I had long heard drivers grumble under their breath about how prices were crazy low, but I figured that with enough rides and the spiked surge pricing, it all evens out. In my (brief) experience, that’s not actually the case.
Beyond getting paid enough to cover gas and feed myself, people are also generally friendlier on Lyft. And by friendlier, I mean we exchange pleasantries (commenting on the weather in LA usually involves noting how it’s been “weird” lately, although all I’ve noticed is the hours of sunshine in March) before they dive into their phones. I don’t need to know your life story (although I’d be down to hear it), just a simple hello will suffice and then you can get back to texting and I can get back to creating a whole character for you in my head.
I know Uber is a brilliant company building an incredible product — their rapid growth is impressive and their $51 billion valuation well-deserved. And I also know they’re playing the long game — who cares about paying drivers when we’ll have driverless cars in the very near(ish) future?
But in the meantime, before those cars are released into the wild and our texting can be joyfully unimpeded by any human interaction, you should know when you get a “good deal” on an Uber ride, your driver — who you’re probably doing a great job of ignoring — is quietly getting the shaft.
*If you don’t already have Lyft, you can download it here and get $50 worth of rides (and I get $10, so thanks for that).