I Was An Undercover Uber Driver.
May 6, 2015 4:03 PM   Subscribe

After months of trying to investigate what it's like to be an UberX driver, Emily Guendelsberger of the Philadelphia City Paper decided to become one herself. She also picked up some tricks on how to do it along the way.
posted by workingdankoch (37 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think the website is experiencing a surge.
posted by m@f at 4:19 PM on May 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Illegal taxi service"? Way to beg the question.
posted by Mars Saxman at 4:28 PM on May 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think the website is experiencing a surge.

Logout quick before the data rates hit 4.9X!
posted by pjern at 4:28 PM on May 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


This is a fascinating piece, thank you for sharing.
posted by epersonae at 4:46 PM on May 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Illegal taxi service"? Way to beg the question.

Their operations have been found unlicensed and illegal in many places. Seems a factual statement.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 4:50 PM on May 6, 2015 [18 favorites]


Factual statements can still show bias. Consider: "Now I'll let my opponent Barack Obama, an admitted marijuana smoker who is friends with a former terrorist, have the mic..." Or until recently, "Gay marriage is an illegal marriage between two same-sex persons..." (The majority of US states now recognize same-sex marriage and the Supreme Court will be deciding the issue eventually, so it's not quite "illegal" any more.) It betrays the speaker's opinion in a purportedly neutral, factual introduction.
posted by Rangi at 5:01 PM on May 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Why does the article keep jerking up to the top as I'm reading?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:05 PM on May 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


That seems like a weird objection. If I were writing about my experiment with pot I would call it an illegal substance... because it is an illegal substance (in most areas). If I were writing about my experience torrenting Game of Thrones I would call it illegal torrenting because it is (in most areas). Similary, when writing about experimenting with being an Uber driver it isn't weird or biased to call it an illegal taxi service.

But that's all immaterial. It's being called an illegal taxi service by the Philadelphia Parking Authority. Why do you think that's supposed to be a neutral, factual introduction? It's not an introduction and it's not neutral although it is factual.
posted by Justinian at 5:07 PM on May 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


(The "illegal taxi service" bit is from a critical statement by the Philadelphia Parking Authority. Emily Guendelsberger, the author of the article itself, is quite fairly describing her own experiences and has plenty of data to back up her conclusions.)

Edit: what Justinian said. It doesn't sound neutral because it's not supposed to be.
posted by Rangi at 5:08 PM on May 6, 2015


Awww, I was reading intently when the website got /.'d
posted by Chuffy at 5:13 PM on May 6, 2015


/.'d?
posted by Carillon at 5:15 PM on May 6, 2015


/.'d
posted by pompomtom at 5:17 PM on May 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised she was surprised that driving costs about 51 cents per mile. That's right around the standard reimbursement rate for mileage.
posted by jaguar at 5:17 PM on May 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Slashdotted.
posted by octothorpe at 5:18 PM on May 6, 2015


Factual statements can still show bias. Consider: "Now I'll let my opponent Barack Obama, an admitted marijuana smoker who is friends with a former terrorist, have the mic..."

I'm not sure what you mean by "bias" here. If I disagree with my opponent Barack Obama, am I biased against him? Maybe I've evaluated his claims and found them wanting—maybe I find his character wanting, too. I find him wanting! I've reached a conclusion; that doesn't mean I was, or am, biased against him.

I make these factual statements, then, for rhetorical purposes; I want you to find him wanting as well. I might be appealing to your biases, against people who've smoked pot, say, but I don't see why this is "showing bias", except insofar as "bias" is a term without content, meant to signify disapproval.
posted by kenko at 5:18 PM on May 6, 2015


In her tips for drivers bit, she mentions avoiding the suburbs because a driver stuck in the boonies loses money when a passenger is 10 miles away and needs a 2 mile trip. She's obviously right.

Here's my thinking as a passenger: riders should tip the driver regardless of uber's policy in this situation. And text the driver that you're going to tip them for the short trip. Since a driver only makes about 3 bucks (or less) on any non-surge short trip, I tip about 5 bucks.
posted by disclaimer at 5:21 PM on May 6, 2015


/.'d means I'm old.
posted by Chuffy at 5:21 PM on May 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


Awww, I was reading intently when the website got /.'d

If it didn't try to reload the already-loaded page, it wouldn't dump you while you were reading. Heck, it might make their traffic more manageable.
posted by hoyland at 5:21 PM on May 6, 2015


Miseries of an Uber driver Salon Nov 29, 2014
I drove for Uber for a week Business Insider Feb 4 2015
Confessions of an Uber Driver Tumblr
Uber Cab Confessions GQ March 2014
posted by Ideefixe at 5:22 PM on May 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


Since a driver only makes about 3 bucks (or less) on any non-surge short trip, I tip about 5 bucks.

I think this depends on your area, but in SF the minimum uberX fare is $5, regardless of the time or distance traveled.
posted by un petit cadeau at 7:58 PM on May 6, 2015


I think this depends on your area, but in SF the minimum uberX fare is $5, regardless of the time or distance traveled.

And the article reports that Uber takes $1 plus 20% per fare.
posted by jaguar at 8:01 PM on May 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


And also that they don't pay the driver for the time/distance traveled to pick up the fare.
posted by jaguar at 8:02 PM on May 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


In suburbia, Uber sucks just as much as a taxi, only it manages to also suck for the driver. The only benefit as a rider is that you get to see where your driver is rather than just waiting around, but that's not terribly important as long as your chosen taxi company's dispatchers aren't lying sacks of shit.

So surprising, that places designed around individual car ownership are sucky if you don't want to or can't fit yourself into that mold.
posted by wierdo at 9:07 PM on May 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Minimum UberX fare in my suburb in Detroit is $4.00, regardless of distance traveled. My most common trip is about 2 miles to a client, and it's usually $4.50 inclusive of all fees. So the driver gets something like $2.60 for the trip.

My tip takes it to $7.60, which I think is fair. A cab on the same run would take at least an hour to get to me and cost $15.00. So it doesn't hurt me to tip the driver at all.
posted by disclaimer at 9:44 PM on May 6, 2015


Yet another article showing me Uber management are Uber dicks.
posted by Samizdata at 9:55 PM on May 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Why does the article keep jerking up to the top as I'm reading?
I gave up after 3 tries.

posted by pjmoy at 10:13 PM on May 6, 2015


The article is worth reading all the way through- it's a stronger piece of writing than the uber tourist articles from Salon, GQ etc. linked above.

It's somewhat Philadelphia specific and focuses on the recent rate cuts and how that has affected driver pay and expenses. She also interviews a lot of drivers and is sympathetic to their situation rather than making disparaging comments about "the kind of people who drive taxis." She also goes through the math thoroughly and refutes Uber's PR spin.

Well done and interesting, thank you for posting.
posted by rainydayfilms at 4:33 AM on May 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


For the page jerking thing, there's something loading halfway down the page that never quite gets there. Right click and ad-block element sorted it out
posted by fatfrank at 5:55 AM on May 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


My tip takes it to $7.60, which I think is fair. A cab on the same run would take at least an hour to get to me and cost $15.00. So it doesn't hurt me to tip the driver at all.

I think the "no tip" policy has less to do with Uber wanting to treat its customers well than with wanting to lower the financial expectations of its labor force.
posted by jonp72 at 7:10 AM on May 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Anna Merlan: Uber Took Nearly a Week to Give Police Name of Sexually Harassing Driver
Uber didn’t immediately provide the NYPD with the driver’s last name or license plate number because, per their law enforcement guidelines, they only provide information to police in response to a subpoena. The NYPD, according to Uber, didn’t put in their “request for information”—meaning a subpoena—until May 5. Uber also has an “Emergency Request Form” that law enforcement can presumably use to try to get that information more quickly, but it’s not clear if the NYPD tried that avenue here.
[...]
When you take a yellow cab in New York City, the receipt lists both a “hack” number and a “license” number; you can look up the license number and immediately locate the garage used by the cabbie, which, if you’re the police, would allow you to locate a driver very quickly.

Uber works a little differently. When you hail a ride, you’re given the driver’s first name, car make, and his or her license plate number. But the plate number disappears as soon as you get in the car, making it exceedingly difficult for any rider to track down her driver after the fact. Uber’s trip bases are listed on the woman’s receipt, but not Muhammad’s FHV number, which the woman could have used to find him. (Five of Uber’s six trip bases were temporarily closed by the city earlier this year after Uber declined to provide trip data to the TLC, including the bases listed on the woman’s receipt. They were reopened the same week.)

The upshot of Uber’s very admirable and stringent privacy policies is that her alleged assailant has the woman’s name[...]and her home address—while she has virtually nothing she could use to find him or point the NYPD in the right direction.
Previously on Uber and harassment
posted by zombieflanders at 7:40 AM on May 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think the "no tip" policy has less to do with Uber wanting to treat its customers well than with wanting to lower the financial expectations of its labor force.

This may be true, it wouldn't surprise me. I think uber jacking the rates down at the expense of the drivers was a bad move for many reasons. It is a primary reason why, even on a long trip, I tip uber drivers.
posted by disclaimer at 8:23 AM on May 7, 2015


So, are any taxi services thinking of / legally able to adopt a platform similar to Uber's? If I can call a taxi via an app, but still get all of the legal protections that using a legit taxi service offers (insured drivers, background check, inspected vehicles, etc), why wouldn't I do that? Does it boil down to rate competitiveness (I've used plenty of taxis, but I've never used Uber)?
posted by vignettist at 8:38 AM on May 7, 2015


I've used Hailacab Austin a couple years ago and had no problems. The reviews seem pretty poor now though, and the app seems like it hasn't been updated since iOS 6 (and you need a different app for each city). There's also Taxi Magic (now Curb), myTaxi, EasyTaxi, and others.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:41 AM on May 7, 2015


If only I had a penguin...: "Why does the article keep jerking up to the top as I'm reading?"

Potholes. It's gonna ruin your browser's suspension.
posted by Splunge at 12:17 PM on May 7, 2015


So it doesn't hurt me to tip the driver at all.

Except for in the broader sense that tip-based compensation is bad for transparency, creates distorting downward pressure on salary, harms tipped-employee income security, enables systematic sexual harassment (for waitresses particularly), and is generally an obnoxious artifact of an old-fashioned aristocratic culture we'd do well to abandon as quickly as possible, of course. Getting rid of tips is a good thing.
posted by Mars Saxman at 4:22 PM on May 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


.So, are any taxi services thinking of / legally able to adopt a platform similar to Uber's?

Yes, there are taxi apps on the West Coast at least. Flywheel doesn't offer all the features of Uber, most notably a map of your journey after you finish, but otherwise its basically the same experience and often cheaper - for instance on Superbowl Sunday they did $5 flat rate rides, because they are desperately trying to compete. Just like Uber, it lets you watch your driver on a map as they drive ten minutes in the other direction after accepting your call, too!
posted by the agents of KAOS at 5:11 PM on May 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Most cities I've visited recently have had taxi apps, judging from advertisements on taxis. (NYC might be the exception.) I've never used one, though. TaxiMagic was the only one I could name, but they've apparently rebranded themselves Curb.
posted by hoyland at 5:30 PM on May 7, 2015


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