A couple of summers ago in the city, no matter what city you lived in, It was a great time to be a Rideshare driver, or as more affectionately known in the inner circle, an Ant. Tourists over here! Festivals over there! Race quickly, quickly fellow Ants. Scoop up your fares while the surges still ride high. These were glorious times. The sun was out and the weather was bliss. The sidewalks were always choked with tourists and nearly every local citizen was out and about celebrating life in the city. An Ant barely had time to fuel up and take a restroom break. Granola bars were a must, since you barely had time to wolf one down in between rides. These were the days of stacked pings and a chronically hot car due the opening and closing of doors so often it rendered the AC useless. Pax were for the most part still respectful and entitlement had not yet set in for them. They still eyed the waiting Yellow Cabs and city busses nervously, grateful that they were no longer at their mercy. Oh how fabulous was this Uber Car Service thing where they could get picked up at the doorstep of their home and taken to the front door of any place they wanted to go! They definitely didn't want to lose this convenience. Respecting the driver was a must.
For the drivers, Uber was good to us then too. Can you believe it? They actually called us "partners." Call up your high school math teacher who said you wouldn't amount to much!…."Yeah Mr. Johnson? Yeah remember me? Well….I actually made partner with a huge tech company called Uber! Yeah...So how 'bout that?" (Click!) It was a good time to feel like you were going somewhere. Lyft…...you were still but a mystery to many. A smaller, perhaps weaker competitor, grappling for scraps left by big brother Uber. I might download the app…..maybe...oh wait no time! I just got another Uber ping! Some other time maybe. Those were the days.
The only thing lacking was we sure wished Uber would have given us some sort of training rather than just throwing us out there to try and figure it out for ourselves. Who can forget that nervous nail biting experience of accepting your first ping and giving your first ride? You deserved an Oscar for your performance of acting like the most experienced driver on the road, all the while you were trying to not let on that you were just figuring it out as you went along. After you dropped off your pax and completed the trip, you mercifully slid the app to offline to see if you could find any sort of help or online training provided by Uber. You go to Google and type the word Uber and hopefully our "employer" has some sort of training or assistance website for us newbies. Let's see…..Uber…and……..Oh wait….what's this? UberPeople. What's that? You click to see.
Oh we just hit the motherload! An online forum that gave us all the answers and advice that Uber failed to do. Even better, the advice comes from fellow drivers! There are people out there that think just like you….(well sometimes)..... and have some of the same issues and questions. A community of drivers and Uber has no part of it. You quickly sign up and though you haven't worked up the courage to post anything at first, you still eagerly peruse the threads each day to find the answer to your latest dilemma. One day you finally work up the nerve to reply to a post that really speaks to you, and by the end of the week, you have made several new friends from around the nation. Wow! You didn't realize that the Uber platform can vary state to state. The drivers in California have this, or the drivers in New Jersey have that...and just who is this Moderator called SibeRescueBrian? He’s got a wealth of information and he literally wrote an Uber driver employee manual for newbies just like yourself!
There, on SibeRescueBrian ‘s thread you find out your one of many errors. You shouldn't have responded to that ping more than 10 minutes away, and through your own experience you discover it is not profitable to camp out in a grocery store parking lot in the evening.
From the multitude of many other posters, you also find out that it is not wise to accept requests from this new thing called "Pool." Ah the hated Pool. This is where Uber constantly adds new riders to the app as you already are enroute to drop off your current pax to their destination. You've discovered, through the advise of the other posters, as well as through your own experience, that it rarely ends well for the driver on a Pool ride. The riders are often upset that they have been once again diverted from their destination, the additional riders often aren't ready, causing all on board to have to wait for them, and then there's the ever increasing safety factor of the driver having to constantly reposition themselves in traffic as the app navigation frantically reroutes them. Pool…...the bane of our existence!
Still, once we learned how to avoid Pool requests, these days were for the most part, highly profitable. These were also the times when we came home exhausted, after a real 13 hour shift. Actual driving hours with very little down time. Not like the current Uber system where they only count the hours driving on trips as logged hours. We drove non-stop then, with very few empty miles in between. Deadheading was a choice, not a necessity. We often came home in the early hours of the morning barely able to step out of our cars. We didn't have much down time in between fares to stretch out our legs so often at the end of each shift, we hobbled with wobbly legs from our cars to our homes. We would grab a quick meal before collapsing onto our couches or beds. We were tired but happy. Before falling asleep we couldn't resist the urge to repeatedly open our apps to once again stare incredulously at our daily wages, which back then were $300+ on a weekday, (for those of us who lived near a metropolis.) Weekends were more! It seemed as if life couldn't possibly get any better.
For the first time a major tech company had created something wonderful that was available for even the simple working man. A person with no college degree could now make wages similar to that of an educated professional and all they had to do is download an app and have a decent car. What could be better? We were elated and felt it was our duty to rescue our friends and family from their own workplace drudgery. "You got a newer 4 door car? Yeah? Here’s my referral code. Use it and we both get paid!" We began starting conversations with acquaintances and even strangers in the grocery store checkout line as an excuse to give out our referral codes and hopefully recruit more drivers. Uber has strongly encouraged us to do this anyway. It’s good for the community!
Oh sure some of the old school drivers who post on UberPeople strongly discourage it, but what harm could a few more extra drivers do? We are certain there will always be enough passengers to go around. After all, we live in cities with thousands of people. Uber would never recruit so many drivers that it would interfere with rider demand. "Hurry up!" you whisper to your friends as you give them your referral code. "Get in quick before Uber has enough drivers and shuts down recruitment." We were lucky enough to get into a good system and we wanted to share the opportunity with our loved ones. How could anything ever go wrong with this?
Summer has turned to fall and it's obvious Uber’s heavy recruitment tactics have worked, as well as our own efforts having been effective. There are even more Uber drivers on the road now as the holidays arrive and the streets are flooded with shoppers and folks attending seasonal festivities. It’s a good feeling to look over and notice the car next to you is also another Uber driver. You nod at your fellow driver and he in turn nods at you as you carefully jostle for position in the narrow parking lane. He sees you don't quite have enough room and carefully backs up his car to let you in fully. There is comradery and a level of respect among us working class folks.
Now it’s January of the new year. All holiday celebrations are over and money is spent. Its first quarter in the corporate world. Business meetings are at a minimum and work hours are cut back for many. People are busy budgeting their finances. Not much extra money to go out and engage in social activities and certainly, no need to take an Uber. Its OK for us drivers, to an extent. Many of us have money saved in the bank so we are not desperate. For those that spent it as fast as they made it, well its long hours driving on cold, empty streets for them, searching for someone….anyone looking for a ride somewhere. These are “The Lean times” in Ant world. It will be tough, but some will make it to spring, where in late March business will start picking back up. The ones that don't make it, well it's called "culling the herd." They simply didn't have what it takes to make it out here. On UberPeople it is most commonly referred to by the seasoned posters as "The 96%."
Spring has arrived and mysteriously, it wasn't the great financial boon we expected as was the year prior. We notice there are even more drivers on the road than before. This time it’s not due to any help from us. Uber has been running their own heavy campaign, saturating the radio and TV with recruitment ads which promised cash bonuses larger than any of the petty cash rewards our driver referral codes have to offer. We scour UberPeople for the answers to our noticeable decline in profits. One word keeps recurring in posts and threads all over the forum.
We drivers began keeping quiet about recruitment and started keeping our referral codes to ourselves. According to some of the posters, few too many of us had instances of going out to our favorite "fishing holes," only to find them already swamped by other drivers. We took a step back and realized that perhaps the seasoned drivers were right. Having an abundance of drivers on the platform was maybe not such a good thing.
Summer is back in full swing now. The glorious tourists are back. Likewise so are all the street festivals, block parties, and summer celebrations. We are still getting consistent work, but the back to back requests are becoming several minutes apart as opposed to being only seconds apart like the summer before. Stacked pings are a thing of the past. We pull into the gas stations to fuel up and find we actually have time to grab a sandwich from the deli and eat it, or at least half. Walking back to your car you see another Uber driver sitting in his idling vehicle, windows down, directly behind your car. Just as you are waiting to make eye contact to nod at your fellow driver, he notices you approaching your car and looks sharply at you. “Is this your car?” he asks angrily. You tell him it is. “Well move! I need to get gas! Move your car!” The station was near empty when you pulled in but now it's mysteriously full. You apologize for delaying him but he wants none of it. It’s busy out here and you are his competition. He shakes his head at you as you walk by. You must be a new driver he surmises. You return to your car and move over to the side of the lot. You bitterly pull up UberPeople to start a thread. You're going to put this guy on blast. What a jerk! You want to make sure the other posters know about your injustice.
The attitude of the Pax has shifted now too. Sharp, barking commands has replaced the prior polite requests in the years prior. Entitlement has now set in. “Why aren't you here exactly when the app says your suppose to be here?” “Where is my water and mints? Uber says you're supposed carry these for your passengers!” “I need to charge my phone! Give me your charging cord.” “I’m running late buddy! You need to get on the ball and do it now!”........and our personal favorite……..“Well other drivers do it!”
The surges are further and further apart too, even though the city events have not slackend at all. It's come to the point that even a mediocre sporting event or concert brings every Ant in the city to that venue to camp along the perimetres. All are waiting for the event to let out so they too can capitalize on those rumored high surged rides. You are also parked here among the herd, hoping like the rest, that this time Uber will throw us a bone. You look around at the hundreds of other Ants and realize that this is impossible though. How can there be a surge, when clearly, supply has now outnumbered demand.
You begin to wonder if this was Uber’s master plan all along. Recruit so many drivers, that there will always be more supply than demand, and therefore, Uber does not have to pay those ghastly high wages to the drivers. Oh but there will still be surge pricing of course! The riders don't have access to the inner workings of Uber. They can't possibly see that there are indeed enough cars on the platform to accommodate all the rider requests. So…...let's just go ahead and charge the riders full surge pricing, let's say a 3.5+ and the drivers…...well they can clearly see how many other drivers there are sitting parked around them. They won’t suspect a thing. Toss them a measly 1.4 surge they will keep coming back for more. Some, will even pick up the riders at base fare. We will never understand why, but who cares! It's a "win win" for Uber. This train of thought is just your suspicion, but the grumblings of the drivers on UberPeople, have gotten louder and louder over the evidence of Ubers new surge suppression.
The stadium is full of screaming fans. You can hear them as you sit scrolling through the forum waiting for the game to let out. As always there are stragglers leaving early from the event. They walk by the rows of parked drivers staring hopefully at each individual driver. Each driver lowers their head to avoid eye contact. You do the same, your head buried in your phone, waiting for the the game to end and the stadium doors to fly open,hopefully turning the whole city a deep crimson red. No the faded orange just won't do, we want solid surge of at least a 3.0 before going online. We won't do so until we see that deep red color.
The hopeful patrons stop approaching cars and simply stand on the curb, pulling out their phones and eyeing the fleet of parked Prius’ in annoyance. You eye them back, laughing to yourself. Just as you think, "Good luck! No one is going to take you at base fare right before a surge," a white Prius pulls up directly in front of you and people get in. You can see the other driver’s app glowing through the rear trunk window so you know he's an Ant. As he takes off with his prize you shake your head. He must be a new driver, you surmise. You end up getting 3 rides out of the surge. A 3.0, going 0.6 miles. A 2.1, going 2 miles, and a base fare going 15 miles. Yes, the pax waited out the surge. You go on UberPeople the next day to compare notes with your fellow drivers. Many, made out the same as you, others got decent high surge runs, and of course there were the few that boasted loudly of snagging the highly elusive "Unicorn."
Fall has come and once again the holiday shuffle begins. There is a now new dynamic on the road. There is the fierce competitiveness of your fellow driver. No there are not enough pax to go around and it's every Ant for themselves. You angrily pound your horn at the multitude of Prius' that routinely stop in the middle of traffic only to turn their flashers on, awaiting their lingering pax. Flashers are no longer the symbol of a stranded motorist. No, now they are symbolic of idiocy. The emboldenment of a civilian driver that thinks being a rideshare driver gives him/her the same rights as a first responder to restrict the flow of traffic. You again sound your horn again at the latest offender, a blue Prius stopped directly in front of you in the right lane, the driver having had made no attempt to pull into a parking space 20 feet away.
There is still no response from the Prius, so now you, and all the cars behind you, must try and merge into the heavily congested lanes next to you, just so you all can get around this idiot. As you pass by you can’t resist giving him the "What the hell?" hand gesture. He responds with the shrug, "I'm waiting for my pax! Why can't you understand that?" Middle finger salutes are exchanged, foul words are shouted, and comradery is gone. As you angrily drive away, you notice an email alert has just popped up on your phone from UberPeople. A certain other poster…..you know the one…..that special one……...has just replied to an earlier post of your's and has flamed you yet once again!!
It's January now, the dawn of another new year as Ant…...Geez…..I’m still an Ant. The hordes of Prius' flood the city streets. Ant desperation and aggression is in full swing. "Look! There's a man standing on the curb looking at his phone!" Four Prius’ race to cut off one another for the privilege be the one who gets in the closest proximity to the potential pax. The red Prius won today’s race. Too bad the man was only calling his wife. The dejected Prius' depart and begin an aggressive chase and follow game to seek out the next pax. The taxi drivers stand on the curb, leaning against their cars and laughing at the Ant warfare. It's nice to watch the sufferings of the once cocky rideshare drivers who used to taunt them with threats of Uber putting Cabbies out of business. "Looks like Uber is the only one making money here!" they call out. The desperate Prius' drive on through the night, often working late into the early morning hours. It's quite common to go through an entire tank of gas a day, even in a hybrid searching for fares during the Lean Times.
Spring and summer came this year with lackluster results. You check in on UberPeople to see how the rest are doing. Some of your regular online friends have disappeared. Did they finally succumb to the 96%? The ones that are still there, only check in every other day now. They, like you, are working extended hours to try and pay the bills. Oversaturation has made even the height of the tourist season seem like late winter. You dread what will happen when winter really does get here. There are some good days filled with, concerts, sporting events, or festivals, but with the introduction of Qwest, and with Lyft dropping Prime Time, it's nowhere near like the days of old. What will happen if you cannot stockpile your savings account for the Lean Times ahead? Will you too finally become one of the 96%?
It's now a dark, rainy late fall evening as you cruise through the windy, leaf strewn streets of the city. The impact of the shift in seasons from summer to fall is even more evident by the streets now empty of tourists and social activities. Rush hour is finally winding down, and now with most the business people at home for the night, the demographics of the inner core of the city has taken on a new dynamic, it is now a City of Ants. The city has lost the battle of reducing traffic congestion. At the end of each work day, transit busses and trains leave for the suburbs half full, but rest assured, a flock of Prius' is always available to scoop up any commuters who don't want to wait 30 minutes for the next bus or train, and then have to walk 4 blocks to their homes in the freezing winter rain.
You're tired and you want to go home so you pull over to check your earnings for the week so far. It's not nearly enough. You turn to look out your window at the rows of parked Prius', all with apps glowing from the window. It seems like they too are waiting for something, anything to happen. You decide to see if your long hours out here are really bringing in the big bucks you thought they were by typing your stats in UberPeople’s Earnings calculator.
You run the numbers…...that can't be right, so you run them again.
You pull out your phone to look up a familiar phone number. "Hello? Mr Johnson? Remember me from your high school math class? Yeah…..You said I wouldn't amount to much, but then I called to tell you I made partner with Uber. ….Yeah…….so I was wondering…..I hear you teach courses at the community college. Any chance you’d welcome me back as a student?"