Uber Choices

I’m still a green-as-grass novice when it comes to Uber, and I’m trying to figure things out.  Like, which option to choose when I trigger the app and am offered different choices for the ride.

1141770989.jpg.0There’s obviously a price difference between the options, but I’m not quite sure what the price differences fully mean.  I’m assuming that some of the more expensive options feature larger cars and SUVs, so if you’re part of a group you’d want to choose them.  But, are there other differences lurking in the price points, too?  Does the age and condition of the car, the cleanliness of the vehicle, the skill and experience and ratings of the driver, or the presence of a pine tree air freshener hanging from the rear view mirror, enter into the price as well?  I’m sure there is a website somewhere that explains all of this, but life’s too short to spend time trying to puzzle out pricing for what is supposed to be an easy, convenient service.

I’m only the Uber decision-maker when I’m traveling by myself; if other people are part of the travel equation I let them make the call.  But when I’ve got to decide, I invariably choose the cheapest option.  I’m a cheapskate by nature, and I figure I’m only going to be in the car for a short period of time.  Given that fact, the car would need to be a real mess before I’d regret going for the cheapest option — which happened once, incidentally.  I figure that Uber is like a taxi, and if you’re flagging down a cab you pretty much take whatever stops to pick you up.

But I also think by taking the cheapest option I am helping out the driver.  For many people, including recent arrivals in the Columbus area, Uber seems to be a kind of gateway job.  They might not be able to afford the biggest and newest cars, but they’re trying to make a go of it.  Why not give my money to them, rather than to somebody driving a roomier and more luxurious vehicle?  And include a tip, too.

Uber Silent

I’m a taxi kind of guy.  When I get to a new city and need to get from the airport to the hotel, I’m hard-wired to look for the taxi line and the next available yellow vehicle.  But I realize that times are changing, and that sometimes, in some places where cabs might be hard to find, it’s just easier to use Uber to get from one place to another.

0723-bus-taxi-death02But Uber sparks inner conflicts for a taxi guy like me.  With Uber, I don’t have the same sense that the person driving me is a trained professional who does this for a living.  It’s almost as if, with cabs, the little taxi light on the roof of the cab and the cab company information on the side of the vehicle create a presumed level of competence in my mind.  It’s probably silly, but when I get into the rear seat of a cab I don’t typically feel the need to fasten my seat belt — although I eventually do just to be safe — because I trust the driver to be a good driver.  And cab drivers always seem to know where they are going, too.

Uber is obviously different.  The outward trappings of a professional driver that you find in a cab are absent.  In some of my handful of Uber trips, the drivers have promptly established their competence with their driving and their behavior, and I quickly experience that familiar cab ride feeling.  With other Uber drivers . . . not so much.  Recently I took an Uber ride where the young, highly tattooed driver immediately confessed that she was new to town, and she drove the whole trip with her cell phone on her knee, looking at her map app to follow the directions to get to the airport.  Her car smelled like cigarette smoke that had been only partially masked by air freshener, and she talked non-stop for the entire drive.  Even worse, when she asked why I was in town and found out I was a lawyer, I got an earful of her family’s ongoing legal problems.  When I got to the airport — admittedly without any driving mishap — it was a relief.

The experience made me appreciate that cabs are typically clean and smoke free, and most cab drivers just drive without trying to engage you in conversation.  I suppose there are some riders who want the driver to be talkative, but for those of us who want the silent treatment, Uber should add an “Uber silent” option when ordering a ride.

Rockin’ The Gig Economy

Recently I’ve read several articles, like this one, about the “gig economy.”

The first question for me was:  “What the hell is the gig economy?”  I didn’t know if it was short for gigabyte, or some new tech industry term.  I learned, though, that the “gig economy” refers to workers who use internet applications like Uber to sell their labor on a one at a time basis.  That probably means that “gig” is borrowed from the music world, where rockers and jazz artists have been playing individual “gigs” since time immemorial.  In the internet age, I guess we’re all rock stars.

f9413b4f8ddd6478039e747f71f3fe15For all of the hype, the “gig economy” isn’t very big — at least not yet.  As the article linked above indicates, at this point it’s mostly Uber.  That match driver with rider app has exploded in popularity, and had some hiccups along the way, but its website has a simple message:  drive with Uber and earn money on your schedule.  And the Uber model has been so successful it has spurred the development of other gig app options, not only in the driving world but in other areas, too.  TaskRabbit, for example, promises to find a “skilled Tasker” who will help you do chores and errands, while Mechanical Turk seeks to match up workers and businesses to complete thousands of different “Human Intelligence Tasks.”

Recent studies, though, indicate that only about 0.4 percent of people were earning labor income from “gig” jobs, and Uber alone might represent as much as two-thirds of that figure.  The studies also show that most people who have tried the gig labor approach end up dropping it.  For all of the hoo-ha, it’s not clear that the gig economy is ever going to be a significant part of the U.S. employment picture.

Speaking as an old fart who’s always had a full-time, 9 to 5 type job, I’m not surprised.  I can see doing Uber or holding yourself out as a “skilled Tasker” as a supplement to your existing job; lots of people have taken a second, part-time job to try to build up their savings or accumulate the down payment on a house.  But I can’t see doing the “gig” work on an ongoing basis as your primary source of employment.  It’s too unpredictable and too intermittent.  Most people would rather have a full-time job, with benefits, that they can build on.  Boring, no doubt, and certainly not as cutting-edge as “gig” work, but boy the security of a regular paycheck sure comes in handy when you’ve got a hungry family.

We’ll see how the whole experiment works out, but don’t be shocked if the U.S. economy ultimately decides that, Uber aside, we’d just as soon leave the “gigs” to the musicians.