My experience driving for Uber and Lyft

A couple people, knowing I drive for Uber and Lyft, have forwarded to me an article in the New York Times on the alleged psychological “tricks” that Uber and Lyft use to keep drivers on the road longer.

In my experience, Noam Scheiber’s article[1] seems a bit exaggerated. I have seen “forward dispatch,” in which I get the next ride even before I’ve finished one I’m on, and find this useful. I often see the alleged “hot” zones, where demand is supposedly high but which usually aren’t hot at all, and so I ignore them. Both Lyft and Uber do these things and it’s unfair to focus almost exclusively on Uber.

From Uber, I have also seen repeated notifications—and even an offer to navigate—to the Oakland Coliseum when a Warriors game was supposedly about to let out (I was in Oakland at the time, even not that far away). I studiously ignored this, finding other rides elsewhere, because I know better than to go where everybody else is going. This has happened only once in the three months I’ve been doing Uber and I’ve never seen it with Lyft in the six months I’ve been working with them.

Uber does provide better information on income. Lyft conflates this with a fare allegedly charged the passenger (but different from what the passenger sees), but from which it will deduct its commission. Lyft also only shows the current day (from something like 3 am, but I’m not sure when the cutoff is) while Uber shows a daily number for the week, beginning on Mondays, and only shows the amount it will actually deposit to my account. I find this useful because, if need be, I can have this deposited immediately (Uber requires me to have earned at least $1.00, Lyft requires me to have earned $50.00, both charge 50 cents for the instant transaction, and both deposit weekly for free appearing on Wednesday mornings).

It is absolutely true, in my experience, that “surge” pricing suppresses demand for Uber and Lyft rides. From what I can see, Lyft does this much, much more than Uber, though the way that the two companies present information on “boosts” and “surges” is different and may not be comparable. Most of the time, I can pretty much forget about getting a ride from Lyft when they have surge pricing turned on.

I also see many more cancellations with Lyft than with Uber, even when surge pricing is not turned on. These are annoying and disruptive as I head for bogus orders and go off line with the other service (meaning I am no longer available for orders). And usually, I am not compensated for them. This problem is serious enough that I’m feeling I have to put Lyft on a “time out” (I go off line and only leave the Uber app on line for increasing lengths of time as I see consecutive cancellations).

Sometimes the surge pricing gets so ridiculous it’s uncomfortable. Yeah, I need the money when surge pricing is such that I get $60 fares that only go a few blocks (this happened several times on New Years Eve) but it feels like highway robbery. I’m supposed to care about my passengers—and for the most part I do—and charging them excessive rates is inconsistent with that. Both companies and their drivers would be better served with higher base rates and a lot less surge bullshit.

I almost always quit Uber and Lyft no later than 11:30 pm in large part because that seems to be the time when a balance shifts to more drunk people and more obnoxiousness. I’d really like to avoid having someone barf in my car and I have never seen any prompts encouraging me to stay on longer.

The real problem with driving for Uber and Lyft is that this is an extremely marginal business. I keep track of my income and costs meticulously on a spreadsheet (helpful at tax time). As I noted in a previous post,[2] the income barely covers the costs and if I weren’t hooked on the cash flow, it would be much, much wiser to stop doing this altogether. I am literally working for a few cents per hour (albeit with meals, gasoline, and maintenance partly included in the cost). But apparently, it’s the only job I can get. Even with a Ph.D.

  1. [1]Noam Scheiber, “How Uber Uses Psychological Tricks to Push Its Drivers’ Buttons,” New York Times, April 2, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/04/02/technology/uber-drivers-psychological-tricks.html
  2. [2]David Benfell, “To my friends,” Not Housebroken, April 1, 2017, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=9262

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benfell

David Benfell holds a Ph.D. in Human Science from Saybrook University. He earned a M.A. in Speech Communication from CSU East Bay in 2009 and has studied at California Institute of Integral Studies. He is an anarchist, a vegetarian ecofeminist, a naturist, and a Taoist.

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