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.