Since the beginning of the year, I’ve supplemented my freelance writing income as an Uber driver. Though I vowed in May 2004 never to drive a taxi again, using my personal car feels different and I’m not bound by special licensing. I typically make about $13 an hour, after expenses.
Uber and other rideshare companies are popular, but as Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, explained at our recent NWU Delegates Assembly, they’re not benevolent.
Customers ask me if it’s a good gig. I tell them that there are tradeoffs with everything. Mostly I enjoy it, but I drive out of need, not desire. The 20 percent I pay to Uber per customer fare is less than the lease I’d pay a taxicab company if I used their car, but the extra miles on my car diminish its value, and when a drunken college student recently threw up in it, I wondered if it was worthwhile. (Uber charged her a $200 cleaning fee, while a detailer only charged me $53.00. I pocketed the extra $147, but still it cost time and energy.)
In June, around the time Uber banned carrying firearms for protection—even in right-to-carry states like mine—a New York driver was robbed at gunpoint. I’ve had a couple of encounters that almost turned violent, and I’ve driven drug dealers and prostitutes, just as I did in my conventional cabbie days.
Sometimes a surprising networking opportunity will present itself: Recently I drove a magazine editor who agreed to interview one of my public relations’ clients; the profile will appear in the October sporting issue of The Growler Magazine on former St. Paul professional boxer Raul Gracia, who is an actor, food blogger, butcher and chef. And last week luck was on my side again when I met a marketing representative for a St. Paul tourism company, who may give me a writing assignment.
Luckily I was grandfathered into the old rate when Uber imposed its latest agreement; it now takes 28 percent of each fare, the same as from drivers of their luxury service, except UberX drivers like me (cars from 2006 or later) get $1.30 a mile, while Uber Black’s fare is $2.50 per mile.
So I continue to drive Uber, hoping I’ll be able to move on to more lucrative writing sooner than later.