It's NUTZ AND BOLTZ. (Vs. Dollars and Cents).
You fill it with gas, crank the key and it goes. Wait, not so fast.
We drive our own cars for Rideshare, like it or not. The cars worked OK before the Rideshare experience and we're hoping it'll all work as well when this is all over (Rideshare, it can't last forever. Can it?).
WHAT COULD GO WRONG?
Mileage "water torture.” Nearly unnoticeable except over weeks and months. Insurers and leasing companies are fond of reminding us that Americans, on average, drive around 12,000 miles per year, plus or minus. That might add up to a whopping 32 miles daily. During my UBER shift, I do that going for coffee and a pit stop. 300 miles per day is a conservative guess of what I put on the car driving Rideshare. Some days more, some less, but by a factor of many, much more than the non-Rideshare average. And that driving can be hard and tense, depending on circumstances (but typically more gingerly with PAX on board).
Soon there’ll be a day when driving for Rideshare will be a distant, fond memory (say what?) and my family 4-door reverts to, well, my former family 4-door. Except the lightly used sedan is now a veteran of the "taxi" business and is beginning to, shall we say, look a little rough around the edges—alternatively described as shabby and shopworn.
The formerly rarely used, pre-rideshare back seat now has hairline, dog-eared cuts in the factory leather, the door handles and kickplates are soiled and scored, the center armrest with cup holder looks like there's been a prom back there and the factory carpeting is beginning to show some threading. Ok, well a lot of that visual pain can be eased by a thorough detailing and shampoo, and/or OEM replacement carpeting. After all, you DID use it as a business car for a bit and even though you were underpaid, you WERE paid.
Back to cost, let's say that I began my UBER "career" in this car at a mileage of 50k. By adding 300 Rideshare miles per day, I accrue 15,600 miles IN ADDITION to my "normal" and expected 12,000 American average. So now my yearly "average" is up to 27,600 (at the IRS's 54-cents-per-mile cost estimate that's a potential deduction of a, yes, whopping $8,424 against the Rideshare component only). More on this controversial estimating methodology later.
But your paltry factory stock front ends beginning to fail after a very few thousand miles of rideshare driving. These failures begin to show up as mild steering vibrations not seen before Rideshare. More play in the steering—lane drift at highway speed, differences in wheel-turning effort during U-turns (we make a LOT of U-and K-turns in Rideshare), pronounced squeal at the steering locks and knocks and klunks over bumps and at the steering locks, just to name a few. And don't forget too much sway and dip on the turns.
MECHANICAL WEAR FACTOR:
Bringing the car back from the near dead after Rideshare MECHANICALLY speaking, is far from cosmetic. This component of car care is about safety—nothing short of the difference between life and death. Huge deal for me.
For those guys who think that they can take an ordinary "family" car and drive it hard with little consequence, you're woefully mistaken (you need to drive long and hard to earn at these reduced rates), let's look at the downsides without bringing more money to work everyday.
The first downside of keeping less than sterling maintenance standards is that someone gets hurt (4000lbs traveling at 60mph and something goes horribly wrong). The second (selfishly), is when you toggle out of your Rideshare career into something better and that able, reliable family sedan ends up as a used-up piece of junk.
Many of you know this, but for those who don’t, it's important to note that "professional" models of our cars like police, limo and taxi vehicles are ordered from the factories with special, longer-lasting, heavy duty packages costing thousands more and are purpose-built. They sport bigger wheels and tires, beefed up engines, that are designed to idle or run for an entire shift, bigger breaks, super-stock suspensions and batteries the size of your kids' college dorm room refrigerator. And they're designed for a finite lifespan, say 150k and then they are sold off to a secondary market (put out to pasture) because they don't want to hurt anyone because a wheel falls off (it could happen). Meanwhile their professionals are protected so that their cars don’t become airborne in hot pursuit of the bad guys. We can’t drive that way, but you get the picture. YOUR family car was designed to go to the grocery store for milk and bread before the snow falls. No drama there.
And here we are at Rideshare driving a Camry or other generic economy family 4-or-6- banger, with 4,200-pound PAX aboard and luggage (with the trunk tied down with a threadbare bungee) on the way to the airport, first fighting bumper-to-bumper with serious potholes and then at breakaway 65 mph turnpike speeds. Am I the only one who's terrified of this picture?
OK, we're making a living (grrrrrr?) so we ignore the fact that this happens every day in Rideshare. Look, your Rideshare car is NOT coming back to nearly pristine unless you're on top of the maintenance. And whoa, I'm not saying that doing without maintenance might keep us anywhere near profitable on what they're paying us. I'm just saying that we want to live and have some sort of tramp steamer-like car to chug away with after this is over. Assuming of course that the car’ll be worth keeping in the first place. Here are some thoughts.
THE FRONT END; STEERING. SUSPENSION. As many moving parts
as you have bones in your body—I bet.
FRONT SUSPENSION DIAGRAM (partial)
The point here is merely to let you know (if you don’t already) that your suspension is a miracle of… yes, 19th Century technology. Even the horse-drawn buggies had suspension (wheels and axles suspended from the cart bodies—chassis—so that road shock and steering could be managed, however rudimentarily). A few banded leaf springs were attached between the axles and the carts. When we retired the horses and added the combustion engine, we adapted that very same technology.
We use this thinking today although with generations of improvements (see alignment scan below). In almost all cases for passenger cars we see “independent” suspension meaning that the wheels are no longer attached directly to the axles but rather slung “detached” from the chassis through a series of arms, rods, sway bars, bearings, hydraulic lines and sundry connectors (too boring to chart in this post). We have tried to bring modernized suspension engineering into the mid-20th Century with air-actuated struts but this was largely abandoned because of cost and weight added to the car against a smaller than expected return in benefits over what we had. Although the newly obsolete Lincoln Town Car used in limo fleets continues to use rear air shocks.
In the above diagram, the green components are where the front wheels are attached. You’re right to assume that if all those parts and connectors—some more delicate than others—are not always perfectly aligned, damped, well-connected and un-damaged, your two front wheels have minds of their own and wander in different directions, tilting and turning as the road acts on them. Think of how that feels hydroplaning at 60 MPH on a dark, rainy night. Whoa!
A 4000 lb car going 30 MPH entering a single 3-inch pothole easily comes out of this with one or more of these components far enough out of alignment so as to alter the feel and performance of the car, not to mention tire wear, breaking issues and cost of repair. Like the cost of getting my teeth fixed—ignore this at your own peril.
YOUR COMPUTERIZED ALIGNMENT PROFILE:
This is a before and after profile of your alignment that you can use to track (forgive the pun) the history and suspension health of your car. Yes, it at once affects tire wear, gas mileage, safety and control (where they got the saying: “…rubber meets the road…” no small issue).
MORE PRACTICAL EXAMPLES:
On the way to the airport in my ordinary passenger car, four 200-pound college kids are packed-in, on a cold, black rainy night. What I think is a puddle is really a 6-inch deep pothole with those jagged edges they use to design shark's teeth. This time, my tire didn't blow nor did I damage the rim. This clearly means that I live a clean life (someone thinks so). But if you're anything like me, you will have blown your right front tie rod end for $327 at my local PEP boys (I overpaid, but had to get back on the road).
This is despite the fact that 3-months earlier, because I'm a safety and performance nut, I had most of the front end replaced INCLUDING THE STEERING RACK, intermediate steering knuckle, struts and mounts. The strut mounts have already been changed a second time but now there's a loud clunk at the steering locks while making a K-turn.
Some of this could have been faulty work then it was fixed the first time. But giving the shop the benefit of the doubt, the second set of fixes are more likely due to driving the family car as a service vehicle. Be real about what the engineers can afford to design-in to these family cars. It’s all nuts and bolts but maintaining this stuff at really safe levels certainly gouges huge chunks of profitability out of our Rideshare income.
It’s important to note here that some local cab companies get above 200k miles out of their cars. They own their own garages and hire in-house mechanics. Some make their own parts. I’ve seen 2 to 3 cars behind their garages that they use to cannibalize parts only
This may be why, in the State of New Jersey at least, if you used it a "TAXI," the registration has to say so.
It's been written (not here) that UBER is the only multi-$billion company known that has its workers bring their privately owned fleet of equipment—worth $billions—to work every day for free. Amazing when you think about it.
Oh, hold up a minute.
As a sidebar, I'm seeing much in the reading about our estimated cost of vehicle operation against income. Most very credible, some not so much. Some by cost accountants moonlighting as UBER drivers, and others by other very apparently enlightened operators. Again, all are worthy in my opinion since all are very close to their own estimating models. And that's the key for me. ALL scenarios are different based on so many considerations. I need to make judgements of my out-of-pocket for my cars (I use 2 paid-for cars for ridehare that I hold to very high maintenance standards. I rarely postpone mechanical fixes—either scheduled or unscheduled—because of my high safety and performance expectations). So I believe that the IRS's 54-cents a mile cost estimate is, for me, a conservative one. I have found that a huge unknown for us is the amount you need to affix to your cost estimate of the inevitable future expense for replacement or your current car with a future car when that need arises. Each and every shift that you drive Rideshare, the future cost of that replacement car rears its ugly head. And that cost—high or low—will be a dollar figure added to your daily operation. There are multiple moving parts to each of these cost of operation estimates. You're the final arbiter of whether you're profitable or not, no one else. Do the arithmetic at your kitchen table and make your own decisions. I'm guessing you'll be right. .
Meanwhile back at the ranch, you're fixing the chariot. Despite some of the highest taxes in the nation, here in the New York/ New Jersey Metro area, the roads continue to deteriorate at alarming rates. I didn't read this I know this, as do both my front ends as well as my kidneys. This is a worsening problem for both business as well as civilian vehicle owners. And few of us have the time, patience and resources to peruse the cities' against this abject negligence. Truth be told, we ought to be driving armored cars (for some neighborhoods) or Strykers which are built for road warriors. Think avoiding IEDs against your front end.
But wait, didn’t ISIS get all our Strykers?
Next Time: My first involuntary drug deal, just like out of “Law and Order” central casting.
KNOW WHO YOUR PAX ARE. BE ENGAGING YET COURTEOUS.
The more engaging the driver is, the more comfortable the PAX will be. And the more inclined they’ll be to award a higher rating or give a cash tip.
There’s much to be said about the broad variety of personalities we see in our cars, sometimes 20 or 30 a day, depending on your number of trips and how many are in your car at any given moment. So it becomes important to know exactly who your PAX are so you can effectively engage them.
First though, it's critical that you're immediately able to identify whether your PAX wants conversation. There's nothing worse than an intrusive driver blabbing away when the PAX just wants to text, email, talk on their phone, sleep or just stare at the passing scenery. Watch for the signals at the start of the ride. Blab at your peril unless you know for sure.
My day job is in advertising and marketing and until that business comes back to where it was for me, I'm Ubering until I can't. So my perspective here is purely from a marketing standpoint.
I drive in northern New Jersey which in many cases means that I am a second class citizen against the NYC UberX with his vaunted TLC credentials and higher rates. He can pick up here, but I can't pick up there. Man's inhumanity to man. But that's another article.
Why is lusting for those high ratings critical? For starters, you need to keep those deactivation buzzards circling above us from pouncing once they smell red meat (low ratings/too many cancellations).
In that day job experience as a marketing professional, identifying demographic groups is an important step in engaging them effectively. Here's the "formula" that I use. But feel free to use your own.
1-Affluent Pax. This affluent demo is well-versed in taking limos, black cars, cabs and even using private chauffeurs. They have a fixed, embedded perception of how their paid car experience should play out. The fact that we're only UBER/Lyft does not compute for them except that they'll notice if rideshare drivers give them short shrift. If, for one example, they want multiple stops with wait time in between, then that's what's clearly expected without hesitation by us--even though we earn 15- cents a minute for wait time. This demo my be an A-type personality and is least likely to converse with drivers, albeit unintentionally, because we may be perceived as an “invisible” service workers, like the take-out food delivery guy. I make absolutely sure I treat this PAX like the nobility that think they are and I MIGHT get a tip. I also run around the car to open the door and/or trunk for them. They know this dance very well and enjoy playing their pampered part. They’re better than we are, so get over it. Haha.
2-The Yuppie or Millennial is seen in large, concentrated numbers in, for example, Hoboken NJ, where I often find myself. These "kids"— I have two their age and I love them —typically come from an enabling background that has allowed them to succeed early on, with little exposure to personal hardships or outright failure (some, not all). They definitely feel "entitled" based on their sterling silver educations and the hard work that they've had to invest to make it to yuppieville. These kids can be, at the same time, wholesome or inclined to debauchery based on their age and sophistication. They may not handle liquor well. They love to talk about themselves, their friends and their work but can be good listeners despite this. Although they have considerable confidence in their career paths, their personal lives tend to be mired in self-doubt. They work hard as hell but are uncomfortable about looking too far ahead. I am sometimes shocked about how easily they, as well as other demos, slip into the Uber-Car-as-a-confessional and talk about their most intimate thoughts. They love their Uber drivers and are curious to know about “what’s in it for us.” Many are visibly shaken when they learn that Uber Corporate views the driver corps as expendable.
3- The moms and dads; seniors who are in-or outbound from seeing their grown, professional kids. These affluent parents are desperate to learn more about their kids' lives and those of their friends. They travel locally or from many overseas destinations for this visit. They are very receptive to conversation, but you need to know that they're typically riding on their kids’ accounts. While many appear affluent and likely have smart phones, they’re not heavy users for booking rides. Rather, they rely on conventional means to get a rides, like calling ahead to a black car company for reservations. The kids introduce them to Uber by pushing the considerable cost savings. As a class, the parents really appreciate any courtesies that can be extended. And as many remain tethered to the old values, they're more inclined to tip generously. After briefing them on the ratings system, I ask them to have their kids rate me favorably when it's convenient.
4. Airport or train station PAX. Common only in the fact that they're coming through one transport mode and immediately going to another. This is a tired PAX who may have little horsepower left to exchange pleasantries with the driver. There's not much more draining today than traveling via numerous modes of transportation to get to your final destination. Here, you need to impart a calming effect on the PAX so that their ride in your car is the better of the other experiences. I let them know that I "feel their pain.” They may be in the car with you for a while. I use light, soft jazz as background music and many have commented at how relaxed they feel.
5. The blue collar PAX group is very broad. Traditional working class PAX, made up of both American and immigrant workers are found at any time of the day or night. Many do not have 9 to 5 jobs. They’re shift workers in food service, health care, retail, factory and industrial. Many don’t speak English and are “put in the car” via an English-speaking relative’s account. They are very appreciative although rarely able to help with directions as you near the final destination. But what stuns me about this group is that they tend to tip more often than others. Go figure.
Space doesn’t allow a more in-depth discussion or to add more groups to this. That may come in a later article.
Meanwhile, I’ll share with you my UPDATE ON TIPPING.
Given the recent rate discounts that Uber has skimmed from the drivers' income and passed along to the PAX, the discussion of tipping in the Uber App has become increasingly urgent. (I’d say that it’s widely agreed by all in the “driver press” that the January rate decrease of 15% hasn’t been more profitable for the drivers. The numbers don’t bear that out. It’s been worse).
So I came up with a sign to help “educate” the PAX about Uber’s (I'm convinced) intentionally foggy non-tipping policy. Every one of my PAX who's questioned the tipping policy with me, were convinced that the tip was included. Normally, I might get 2 or 3 small cash tips in 5 days of driving 4- hour part time shifts. With the below 5” x 4” sign taped onto the back of both front headrests, things have changed dramatically. Last week (the first week I had them up), I got tips in 2 out of every three rides. Of course many ignored them, especially the affluent. But others were generous. For around town rides, I’d get $2 or $3 tips. On one of those ridiculous minimum $3.20 rides, I got a $5 tip! On another ride from a woman who identified herself as a “cleaning woman” who “ cleans up to 4 houses per day…” I got a $10 tip. Now THAT'S UBERING.
Here’s the sign that I wrote and designed, you have my permission to use it. It's JPG, you might be able to just print it out.
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