Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Uber v. Taxis

Here is a good one brought to you by the Onion, via Will. Thanks, Will.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Has Uber Peaked?

The employees of Uber that I've driven ask this question from time to time: Has Uber Peaked? In the digital world of bubbles, booms and busts there is always this kind of speculation. With Uber moving into a major office space in Oakland this is more than just an academic question. Many people's lives will be impacted in my neighborhood (there are 3 Uber drivers on my block and another one around the corner).

Here is the article (thanks to Dan for sending it my way):

Has Uber Peaked?

In other Uber news, the company is in a European war. France has arrested Uber execs and threatened them with 2 years in jail. London wants to make Uber riders wait 5 minutes before getting their hailed car. What is next, Italy nationalizing Uber?

Here is the Quartz article:

Uber Troubles

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Uber Awkward

It has finally happened. Tonight I gave one of my students a ride. Her name was Olive and a more graceful, gracious customer does not exist in the East Bay. (If you've read this blog you know I'm a teacher and might be able to imagine what it is like to have the tables turned by a student becoming an employer.)

The ride was awkward from the driver's seat but Olive did her best to put me at ease. Being September, it is early enough in the school year that I won't recognize all of my students but late enough in the year that I should know most of them. So when Olive got in I knew she was a student but didn't recognize her. Immediately I began to panic hoping beyond hope that she wasn't currently in my class. Turns out she isn't in my class and thankfully didn't give me grief for not knowing her from around school. She also helped keep the conversation on neutral topics so that I avoided explaining too much about why I was driving for Uber. I wanted to avoid that topic because whenever the issue of low teacher pay comes up I sound whiny. Olive helped me avoid whiny.

However the trip was still strange because I was being paid by one of my students to drive her home. The experience was a painful reminder of how little social standing teachers actually earn in our society. The media often refer to teachers as though they are a respected part of the middle class. However, with the current state of teacher pay, this traditional "respected" or "middle class" designation no longer applies. As a teacher, I may not be poor but it is ridiculous to say that I'm part of the middle class.  After all, I just charged Olive's father $16.53 to drive her home on a Saturday night (and was disappointed I didn't get a tip). If I were middle class, I would have driven as a favor not for a fee.

Having two work worlds collide is a common occurrence for teachers. I don't know a teacher who doesn't have a second income. Uber driving, gardening, tutoring, pet sitting, the list goes on and on. (The teachers who don't have a second job often have second incomes through their spouse or inheritance.) With two or more jobs, educators play multiple social roles that often have conflicting images and expectations. This puts strains on teachers and impacts their students in important ways. (But don't trust me, check out The Teacher Salary Project for more on this topic.)

Tonight it was fun driving Olive home but I'd be lying if I said I wanted to do it again. Having said that, I know I'm bound to drive a student in the future and only hope that next time it won't be so awkward.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Who Drives Your Cab?

Teachers are taking over the taxi business.

Check out this teacher who drives for Lyft.

Thank you, Teacher Salary Project, for making this film.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

3 Uber Stories From The Civic

Three short stories in one big city. September 5th, 2015:

8:40 pm - 2389 Mission St., S.F. Waiting for me is a muscular white guy, named Maury. If he were on T.V. he’d be cast as a rugby player. His 3-person party eventually pours into my car. It is clear that Maury is the most sober. I’m thinking it’s a bit too early for this amount of drunkenness. A guy in the back seat is thinking he needs a hook-up and holds up a text with an address slurring, “Let’s go here - there are THREE girls.” Maury wisely vetoed the plan and gave me an address in the low rent district of Berkeley. Maury is not actually a rugby player but rather a transplanted history professor from Florida. He did his doctoral work on the “creation of whiteness” as a social concept in America. He points out that teaching as a profession has been disrupted by the Internet because now everyone can get information without the help of teachers or professors. Disruption, he claims, is responsible for educators having to struggle to stay in the middle class. Suddenly the sleeping drunk in back wakes up and asks, “Can we stop right here ... right now?” Naturally I think, “PUKE!” There are a few tense moments while we determine that drunk friend doesn’t want to vomit, he only wants cigarettes. Further inspection reveals some in his pocket. Catastrophe averted, the three amigos get home without incident.

"I Love Oakland!"

10:05 pm - Customer pick-up, in Piedmont. Last time I picked up in Piedmont it was one of my students and I was humbled by the experience. This time, waiting for me is a very talkative Asian woman on her way home from her job as a live-in nanny (I never get an answer as to why I’m driving her from her live-in employment to her home - which is in a very expensive part of the city). Driving her home was a wonderful ride through the winding, tree-lined streets of the Oakland hills. We talked of caring for children and her dreams of becoming a nurse. “Nursing is a good choice,” I tell her. “It can be a real middle class career.” Until the Internet "disrupts."

10:40 - As soon as I drop off the au pair I get a customer call in the Oakland hills. Dodging a doe and her fawn (Yes, Bambi is Oaklandish!) I arrive at yet another mansion. Jay, a tall, skinny, African-American man greets me explaining that his sister and friend will join us shortly. It’s his sister’s birthday. Apparently they have been out wine tasting all day and need an extra minute to get ready. I’m thinking, “These ladies are going to be D-R-U-N-K! Hope they don’t P-U-K-E.” When we finally hit the road, everyone is sober, friendly and fun. Jay and I chat in the front seat about his successful, national law practice while the women do some pre-club strategizing in the back.  

There they are: three Uber stories from my Civic. Not sure there is a theme or moral binding these stories together. At first I wanted to say they all lack any hint of stereotypes which is what I experience every day that I Uber in Oakland - a decided lack of stereotypical encounters.
*Update: As I was writing this post, Maury showed up in my Facebook newsfeed. Now he is in this post and I’m feeling somewhat sorry for his lack of anonymity. I really want to defend him because he gave me a $12 tip but I don’t think I can.  If you read the story about Maury you might find that like most news on the Internet, the story about this professor leaves you wanting more information (like, “what the hell was he thinking?").

Friday, September 4, 2015

Lots of Love for Lopez

This post is about the Uber competitor - Lyft. But I say, "Check, check ... check it out!"

You may ask, "What, what...whats it all about?"*

George Lopez is trying to raise money for the LA school system. By doing so he is raising awareness of the fact that taxpayers are unwilling to pay for other children's education. If you've been reading this blog you'll know he won't make much money but awareness is good because the situation is dire. Entire school systems are being run on donations. (In my school district, donations account for a huge percentage of the district budget.) Go George, Go!

*If you were born before 1967 or after 1982 you might need this to get the "Check, check..check it out!" reference.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Thursday On The Dark Side

Thursday night was Uber night. Most of it was spent on the Contra Costa side of the Caldecott tunnel. In Oakland we call this the Dark Side.

7:00 Update the Uber app. Back at work.

7:15 Oakland to Walnut Creek $29.30.
Terry was a gentleman's gentleman. Second tip as a driver and really didn't deserve it because I took a wrong turn. Thanks, Terry. Faith in humanity restored.

7:58 Walnut Creek to Alamo $10.69.
Customer wanted me to a) take him to a bank, b) watch over him as he deposited a check (with the meter running), and c) let him walk into the sunset (destination unknown). I wonder if I could charge him for bodyguard services.

8:07 Lafayette to Lafayette $7.66.
Pickup was down a street with no lights in a rural (not suburban) neighborhood. If this had been anywhere but Lafayette it would have been CREEPY.

8:30 Lafayette to SFO $53.62. 
I made the trip so quickly the customer was almost upset that he got to the airport so early. (Yes, I am that good.) I was almost upset that it took me an hour to get home. If it weren't for Spotify I would have been h-e-a-t-e-d.

10:00 Home at last.

Thursday Night by the Numbers
Hours Worked - 3
Miles Driven - 94
Gas Consumed - about 5 gallons ($15)
Uber fees - $7 + $18.85 = $25.85
Pay - $65.42 (net),  $21.80 per hour

After 2 weeks of the Civic being in the shop, tonight was the first night of driving in a long time. Not a bad showing, either.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Does Bill Maher Have a Point About Uber?

I saw Bill Maher talking about Uber and it got me thinking...Is Uber Sharing? Does anyone care?

Is Uber Sharing?
Uber talks out of both sides of its mouth in part because it has two audiences: drivers and riders.

To drivers, Uber says it is part of the sharing economy. "Get paid weekly for helping our community of riders get around town. Be your own boss and get paid in fares for driving on your own schedule," or at least that is what their web page says this week. The Uber brand screams "Share your car (which you already have), with friendly people (which you already do) for extra cash (which everyone needs)." Mr. Maher humorously says this is akin to communism.

To customers, Uber extolls the virtues of the capitalist economy. "Everyday cars for everyday use. Better, faster, and cheaper than a taxi." Or "Get a ride that matches your style and budget." I've seen a lot of this add copy over the last few months and it always has a theme of "Get more of the pampered life that you want for less." Can't get more bourgeoisie than that.

So what is Uber? Capitalist or Communist? It is definitely NOT sharing/communist. If it were, my riders would sit in the front seat like my friends do when we share a ride. If it were, Uber wouldn't set fares VERY low and then take a VERY large percentage of those fares.

Bill Maher seems to think Uber is a company taking advantage of desperate (Maher's word) people who need extra cash. That is definitely true for me. How desperate am I to get enough money for a house? Uber desperate. This week my latest offer on an uber modest home was beat (declines, refused, laughed at) by an ALL CASH offer. That means someone paid over 1/2 million dollars in cash for this house. (If you look at this 1300 sq. feet of pure luxury pay close attention to it's proximity to the freeway (.2 miles) and rundown auto body shop on the busy, urban MacArthur Blvd.)

People who created Uber may be making good money but the drivers have reason to be desperate.

Does Anyone Care?
Mr. Maher also makes the point that desperate people are the only ones that would put up with strangers in their backseat (Uber) or their showers (Airbnb). He then makes a bunch of condescending remarks about people who don't vote or refuse to work within the system to change this "sharing" economy. He implies that lazy Americans don't care because they are greedy. In other words, desperate people are in a pickle because they don't care about anyone but themselves.

What Mr. Maher doesn't point out is that he got to be worth $30 million telling jokes about the evils of capitalist Republicans. My searches for his giving campaigns came up with nothing making me wonder who the greedy one is in this situation. But the real issue I have with this video is that Mr. Maher is neither identifying the correct problem (because he is part of it) nor contributing to a solution. Mr. Maher should heed the warnings of Nick Hanauer who says that when the economic system gets this bad, people don't participate in politics, they get pitchforks and come after the rich.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

My Ride Was Wrecked

For the past 3 weeks there have been no Uber posts from me because my car was in an accident. It was parked in front of a suburban house on a quiet street when someone coming out of a driveway ran into the front fender.

Makes me wonder what it is like for people who have to rely on Uber for a living. Accidents are inevitable so these drivers are going to have to plan for missing time from work.

The Uber experiment has been put on hold. Hopefully there will be a triumphant return, soon.

Where do You Sit in an Uber?

Front Seat or Back?
The first time I picked up Andrew it was at the Uber headquarters on Market. In his late 20s he cuts the standard SF Techie profile: handsome (but not too much), optimistic, full of energy and always going someplace cool. You would expect Andrew to use Uber as his personal car service because that is the way the company advertises its services to customers. Uber adds say, "Your personal driver," or "Your ride, on demand." So when Andrew enters my Civic like it is a Towncar limo I'm not surprised that he sits in the back seat.

When I first started Uber driving, people sitting in the back seat was really weird. That is because Uber advertises to drivers differently than to its customers. To drivers Uber is advertised as a "ride sharing" business. Drivers "give rides" to people like they would give a ride to a friend. And believe me, none of my friends sit in the back seat when they catch a lift (not Lyft). So naturally, I expected people to ride in the front seat with me, at first.

Not everyone sits in the back seat. Many people sit in the front seat like a friend might even though we've never met. They are just friendly. It is hard to tell where a person will sit by their dress or ethnicity or age just as it is difficult to tell who will be friendly when your are waiting in line at the grocery store with only 1 item to buy. One general observation: I have far more women sit in the front seat than men. Are women more friendly than men? Do men get intimidated by my manliness? Is it a Venus/Mars thing? Let me know what you think. Where do you sit in an Uber?

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Throwing in The Towel

Buying a home seems like something I should be able to do and in fact SHOULD do. So I regularly look at my finances and think that it is possible to buy a house in Oakland. After all, the city has one of the highest murder rates in the nation so home prices can't be that high.

My mortgage broker just informed me that I'm pre-qualified for a $350,000 loan. After 5 years of saving and driving Uber for 14 hours a week I'll have the $88,000 down payment that goes along with a $350k loan. Of course, I'll save this amount if I give up vacations, cable TV, and eating at anything nicer than the awesome tacoria down the street.

In my joy at the good news I searched for a home. Here is a Zillow map showing the properties available in Oakland in my price range.

Here is a map showing the July crimes in the area where homes are available. Each colorful icon represents a crime.

This map only shows the area where homes are available in my price range. This map also is restricted to crimes involving drugs, violence or property theft (not destruction).

What does all of this mean?
Being a teacher AND driving for Uber (being an Uber Teacher) means living in neighborhoods where crime is as common as candy on Halloween. It is enough to make me want to throw in the towel.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Uber Tips

I got a $3 tip yesterday! A retired guy and his wife were thrilled that I got them from Downtown Oakland to the Oakland Airport in 23 minutes during rush hour. (My secret was driving through Alameda.) First tip, EVER!!

As a rider of Taxis I don't like giving tips so it is understandable that my riders don't tip. There is no offense taken. My driver rating is 4.96 out of 5. So I guess my riders love me - they just do it digitally through the "rate your driver" app.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Uber Dreaming

Sometimes riders are very excited about Uber. Last night, a rider and I had this conversation:

R: How do you like driving for Uber?
D: It's fun.
R: (Excitedly) I've thought it would be a good way to make some extra money when I'm driving myself places. What's your biggest expense?
D: Gas, so far. I haven't had to repair the car, knock on wood.
R: (With guarded excitement.) What is your gas mileage?
D: About 24 miles per gallon which is why I'd love to get an electric car or a hybrid. They do much better with city driving.
R: (Back to full blown excitement) An electric car would be great! Then you could put solar panels on your roof and really cut down your expenses! California has tons of free sun!
D: (Sarcastically) I'd be rich!!
R: (Slightly hurt) I think it could work!

Excitement about Uber possibilities and the realities of driving a taxi are not always the same. Here is some back of the napkin math on my enthusiastic rider's Uberized dream:

Investment - $43,000
Electric Car (Ford Focus or Nissan Leaf) retail around $28,000 for an inexpensive model.
Solar Panels cost at least $15,000.

Savings -There are none.
(Assuming that the car could be charged 100% by the sun.)
76 mile range on 1 charge saves 3 gallons of gas.
$3.50 per gallon is a $10.50 savings per charge.
$0.13 per mile savings
After 330,769 miles I would break even on the investment. By that time I'd need a new car.

This conversation demonstrated to me just how out of touch many people are with the realities of low wage life. With $43,000 investment I couldn't even afford the down payment on a house and buying a house is the reason I'm driving for Uber. (Ironically, I'd also need a house in order to buy solar panels.) But this dream sounds great because it has entrepreneurial spirit and technology.

Well, I'll keep dreaming of ways to make technology and an entrepreneurial spirit work for me.

Friday, July 24, 2015

First Appearances

 People often ask me what it is like driving for Uber. Here is what happened on a recent night:

7:31pm Welcome to San Francisco!
Google Executive. Yes, San Francisco has tech execs walking around everywhere. This one was glued to her iPhone and could barely carry on a conversation. I never know when to be talkative and when to shut up when the client has their phone out.

Mother and Daughter tourists. Pick-up was an apartment complex on Nob Hill (in other words, they were using AirBnB). “Would you tell us about the neighborhoods as we pass through them?” The mother is thrilled, daughter (16yrs old) is mortified.  I point out City Hall, War Memorial Opera house, the original gay neighborhood, Uber headquarters... Mother loves it all, but daughter is comatose until a mention of Uber headquarters. What is it about Millennials and technology?

A Contradiction. She got in the car at the corner of Market and Castro (gay ground zero), looking very butch but had a husband. Her expensive clothes, iPhone 6, and poor social skills pointed toward coder but she was an oncology nurse. She had lived in S.F. for 8 years but had absolutely no idea how to get around the city. In her defense, she was living in the newest housing in a 239 year old city – down the street from Pac Bell Park (I mean AT&T Park) at 4th and King.

The Pixie. Pick-up location was an abandoned pier. As I drive up her fashionably torn t-shirt is blowing in the breeze over spandex shorts. Rail thin. She stands on tip-toes, extending her body as high as it will go to kiss her hulking boyfriend who has to bend almost in half to reach her. As I drive up, she hops in. Her voice is the highest I’ve ever heard outside of a cartoon. Glued to her iPhone we don’t talk for the entire ride. I drop her off in one of the toughest neighborhoods in the city.

Uber pool. When a rider is open to allowing an Uber driver to pick up another rider they use what is known as "Uber Pool." I start the conversation, “Ending your night or just getting started?” The rider chuckles and says, “Getting started.” He is glued to the screen. Another rider calls for a pick-up and as I turn to get them, they cancel. This puts us on a course in the wrong direction. Another rider calls for a pick-up. This time the destination is WAY off the original course. My original rider notices and is not happy. His mood changes when we get the second  passenger, a very attractive young woman. Turns out he is a tech recruiter and she is recruitable. Love connection? Nope, he is gay and she is young. This is business as usual in San Francisco.

Conversation Minimalist. Single guy glued to an iPhone.

iPhone Couple - both glued to their glowing devices. They must be married. Turns out they put down the phones and became the funniest people of the night. There is no way to do justice to the comedy routine that transpired during that ride. Suffice it to say, I’ll never again look at Boy Scouts the same.

More iPhone. When the glow of a phone up-lights a person's face it rarely helps the face's appearance.

The Last Rider of the Night. The blue dot on the Uber app shows me where to pick up my last rider. App says to pick up “Kate” at pier 35 at the foot of the pier. I’ll need to drive on the sidewalk to get to her. When arrive a security guard is standing between me and the place where “Kate” should be. He is the friendliest security guard in S.F. informing me there is nobody looking for a ride and that I have to move my car. I drive on to the tourist trap Pier 39, 50 feet away. I sit and wait, looking at the Uber app. A few minutes go by and I notice that the blue dot has moved to the end of Pier 35. My mind is fishing for an explanation for why someone would be at the end of a pier. I somehow make a connection to Kathryn Steinle. Could someone be playing a joke on me? Is this rider “Kate” a ghost? A knocking sound brings me back to reality and I see Kate standing there with her boyfriend trying to get in the car. Turns out my ghost rider is actually one half of a beautiful couple that looks like they just walked out of the pages of US Weekly.

If nothing else, this evening has reminded me never to judge a book by its cover.

Is Driving Uber Scary?

What is it like to drive for Uber? Here is a recent evening:
7/22/15, Oakland, Ca
5:54pm - First rider of the night. 
Turns out she is a goldsmith working for a high end jewelry store in the Bay Area. Originally came from New York to study with a Japanese goldsmith who wants to take her under his wing. He is proposing that she inherit the family business. "So, I have a big, scary decision to make?" I laugh, "Why scary?" "I don't want to make Japan mad." I laugh a little softer, she may be crazy. "You mean you could make Japan the country angry?" "Yes, Japan has designated this goldsmith's family a national treasure." I look over at this tall, blond, 20-something, white woman. "Oh, that is scary."

6:09pm - Uptight techie to Temescal. 
He told me to ignore the computerized directions and instructed me on every turn to make – including how to get to my next destination which he assumed he knew. Since he was traveling less than 0.7 miles, I think he was afraid I'd take my sweet time and run up the meeter. Maybe he just liked control.

DJ going home, in West Oakland. Like all good performers, this young man was waiting tables while he worked on his DJ business. From the sound of it, he was doing well at both careers but he did live in "affordable" West Oakland. For those unfamiliar with the town, West Oakland is the kind of place people worry Uber drivers won’t go to because it has a reputation for being “dangerous.”

Hipster going home from work. She traveled less than 1/2 mile. When asked what it was like to live in her West Oakland neighborhood she got very excited and said it was “Great!” Of course, she had to add with a resigned shrug, “We had a shooting in the park last month. I am very careful around here after dark, don’t carry a lot of stuff, but it is great. You should think about moving here.” Of course, she did just pay $5 to have me drive her 0.4 miles through her "great" neighborhood an hour before sunset.

At first driving for Uber was scary but mainly because I didn't know what to expect. That is not real fear. Somethings are truly scary like trying to make a living or getting home at night. Driving for Uber is not scary. My biggest driving fear is getting lost but only because it would be very embarrassing.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

First Uberized Day

3:51pm, Sunday, June 28th. 
I’ve just rushed from Gay Pride in San Francisco to Maxwell Park in Oakland so that I can see a property before the open house ends at 4:00. The house is cute. “Cute” here means it is less than 1,000 square feet, is quirky (artificial turf in the yard and laundry in the kitchen) and will sell for more than $100k over the asking price. If I want this house I’m going to need more money, which is why I’ve been dying to drive for Uber. Tonight is my first chance.

A few days ago when first signing up to drive my friends were incredulous. “You’re driving for Uber!!” they cackled with delight. They, like me, are professionals who are used to riding in Uber, not driving one. However, my friends are unlike me in that their professional salaries make it possible to buy a house in the Bay Area. I, on the other hand, am a teacher, which means I’m excited about the chance to earn extra money on my own time, without a boss and with very little investment. So, bring it on, Uber!

Sitting by the side of a road in Maxwell Park I am ready for my first Uber customer. I turn on my cell phone's Uber app and a small map appears with a little graphic of a car showing my location. Then, nothing happens. I wait for what seems like 10 minutes. Still, nothing. When the app finally notifies me that someone wants a ride I'm startled and drop the phone. I have 30 seconds to accept the customer’s request and madly begin tapping the screen to notify the app I want the job. The rider turns out to be a 20 something hipster on his way to BART. No problem! My blood is pumping and the excitement is raising my adrenaline levels. This is fun.

I'm off and running with one customer after another until 10:30 that night when I finally force myself to turn off the app indicating that I'm no longer taking customers. I had driven to SFO twice, throughout Frisco and covered a considerable section of Oakland ending in Piedmont. I have collected about $200 in fares. $25 in gas. $6 for McDonalds (the drive-through let me keep driving). Income taxes will be about $34. If I ignore the wear and tear on my car, cell data plan and an increase in insurance premiums then my net for night #1 is $135. Conservative estimate of my earnings: $20 per hour.

Will $20 per hour keep me driving? I don’t know about that but I do know that if I continue driving, it is going to take a lot of Uber hours before I can afford a house.