(FEATURED IMAGE BY Richard giles)
Riding in an Uber or a cab is one of those times when it feels perfectly natural to have actual conversations with a stranger. Although there are instances when I take advantage of the free time I have to do work, zone out, or secretly die in the backseat from car sickness (it happens sometimes), I am normally more than happy to chat with my Uber driver. My most recent interaction with an Uber driver was with a man named Mohamad.
After testing the waters with small talk about the weather and traffic, it becomes apparent that Mohamad is extra enthusiastic when talking about one of his passions: driving for Uber. It was all we talked about in my 20-minute ride from Jersey City to Bayonne, NJ.
1. He’s making half of what he used to make last year
Uber has been seeing exponential growth throughout the years. Twenty months after UberX launched, there were an estimated 5,100 active drivers in New York City. Just ten months after that, that number has surged to about 16,000.
While it may be good for riders to have more available cars around them, the increased competition can be detrimental to the drivers. “I used to make about $700 just by driving on Saturday and Sunday,” he says, explaining that he has a regular 9-5 on the weekdays and does Uber to supplement his income. “Now I’m happy if I make $400, but usually it’s about $350.”
2. UBER TAKES 20% OF THE FARE, AND DRIVERS KEEP 80%.
That means if you, the rider, gets charged $10 at the end of your ride, your driver gets to pocket $8. Mohamad explains that since the driver owns the car, he or she is responsible for paying for necessities such as gas. “It’s just the cost of doing business,” he says.
3. The driver doesn’t see your destination until you’re in the car
Even if you input your destination on the app when you request the Uber, your driver still won’t see it until you’re in the car and the ride has been officially “started” on their device. Mohamad explains that “it’s [a way] to prevent drivers from picking and choosing who to pick up.”
From a business point of view, most drivers prefer the longer rides that would make them the most money. But of course, Uber doesn’t want its drivers discriminating against those who may only be going a short distance, hence the hiding of the destination until the rider is picked up.
4. Some riders go all out, and some drivers are down
“My friend [who also drives for Uber] once called me and said, ‘Mohamad! I’m in Florida!’ I asked him why, and he said ‘I just dropped off a rider from New Jersey.'”
Mohamad explains that Uber drivers are not technically supposed to refuse rides, since it reflects poorly on the company. Although at times, and understandably so, drivers do cancel if they feel uncomfortable taking a rider to his or her destination.
“Have you ever cancelled?” I ask him.
“No, never. Although I would appreciate the rider calling me first in the event of extremely far destinations.”
“What if someone asked you to take them to Florida, like your friend?”
“Oh, I’d do it. When my friend did it, the trip came out to about $1,700, and he got to keep around $1,400 before gas and toll. Why that passenger didn’t just get a first-class plane ticket, I’ll never understand. But I’d do it.”
5. The riders get rated too
Many people who take Uber are familiar with the 5-star rating system that they have, offering you a chance to rate your driver from 1 (worst) to 5 (best). Upon doing so, you get a thank you notice. And then you move on.
But it turns out, the process isn’t one way: the drivers rate you, too.
As we pull up to my destination, Mohamad excitedly says “wait! Let me show you how it looks on my phone.” He is asked to rate the passenger, which in this case is me, and gives me a 5-star rating. I feel validated and I picture the nail polish emoji. #5starclub.
“$10.58 is the total. It should say the same on yours.” The numbers match.
Suddenly, a new request from a guy named Jonathan shows up on his phone. He is about five blocks away from where I am getting dropped off.
“Wait,” Mohamad says again, but this time, he opens his door and exits the car. He then makes his way back and around–towards the right side of the passenger seat where I am sitting–and opens the door for me.
I thank him not only for the exceptional service, but for the pleasant and informative chat. After making mutual wishes of seeing each other again, he gets back in his car. And just like a superhero without a cape, he’s off to rescue another civilian in need.
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