I Am Not A Robot

I’ve been wanting to write some sort of Uber expose from the driver’s perspective for a few months now. Instead, because my Uber driving account was deactivated (February 21), I am now writing this post as an exercise in purging the negative energy out of my system, rather than as a tell-all, although I’m sure it will tell many things.

I am human.

Late in February, on a very early Tuesday morning, my Uber account was deactivated – which means I was technically fired from being a driver. No sadness on my part over this move by them, other than I was losing the opportunity to quit the minute I put two more personal road trips using the Uber rental car under my belt. I had planned a trip for Southern California to visit a few friends, and one back up to Mt. Shasta. Those trips aren’t going to happen right now – and given the downturn in my Uber earnings over the past few months, those trips may have never happened anyway.

So, I’m cool.

What I’m not cool with is why my account was deactivated.

My driver’s account was deactivated because I had too many cancellations.

I’m sure there were other reasons, maybe ones that were more legitimate even, to fire me. Like my calling out of Travis the CEO on his shit via twitter on a daily basis over the past few weeks. Between his placement onto Trump’s economic council, the #DeleteUber protests, the way he (ie: The Company) treats the drivers, and now the blog post written by Susan Fowler, revealing the rampant sexism within Uber, Travis deserves more than a bit of reaming.

But the cancellations? They’ve told me that my number of cancellations were higher than the average Uber driver. They probably were. I will not dispute that.

But why is that? you might be asking yourself?

What I might dispute is that I had a high rate of cancellations because I was actually following California State Regulations.

There are three state regulations regarding driving with Uber, all of which are noted on the web site – somewhere, if you can find it, as the information keeps moving around. They used to be listed in a FAQ, but I can no longer find that link. (Edit: Found a link. Look under number four in Terms and Conditions.) Anyway, the three regulations are:

  • Uber riders must be 18 years of age or over to ride by themselves without being accompanied by an adult.
  • Uber riders must be 18 years of age or over AND have their own account – no using parents’ or friends’ accounts on their phones.
  • Whoever orders the Uber car, must be the rider, or in the group of riders. No ordering rides for other people.

I was told of these California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) regulations in June 2016 – the month I started driving. Uber sent out a link to a video that explained these changes in policy. I imagine it got sent out to all the drivers, not just myself. It was not mandatory that we watch it, but because I was a new driver at the time, I did, because I’m just responsible that way.

The above regulations were stipulated in that video. Over the past seven months I would have reason to stop into the Uber Greenlight Support Center from time to time to sort something out, and each time I went, at the end of the conversation I would repeat the bullet points above and ask if they were still in place. I was always assured by a member of the Support Team that they were.

When I had opportunity to talk to other drivers, the driving of kids would usually come up in conversation – because, particularly in the East Bay cities of Berkeley and Oakland, parents use Uber to shuttle their kids around to and from school, to the other parent’s house, to after school activities, nannies and kids using the parent’s account … I have never spoken to another driver, or parent for that matter, who knew about the above bullet points … until I told them.

How did this affect my cancellation rate?

When drivers are given, and accept, a ride, the only information that is given to us is the Uber handle (name) which is almost always only the first name of the rider, and the address of where the rider is to be picked up. That’s it. No avatar image – we have no clue what you look like, no final destination, nothing else about you other than your Uber rating (which is too small to read in the few seconds they give us to accept the ride).

When I would get to the pick-up address and the rider was obviously 12 years old, or the name was male and the rider was obviously female (let’s not argue the transgender thing, because in my time as a driver, that was not once an issue), when these people would open the door and I would ask them how old they were, if their name was so-and-so, etc. etc. whatever questions the situation called for, and the rider’s answers obviously broke one of the CPUC regulations, I would say that I had to cancel the ride. Because of rider’s sometimes violent reactions, I learned to keep the doors locked in between and roll down the passenger side window slightly to talk to them.

Sometimes I would have up to five or six of these types of rides per day.

Not only would I waste gas and my time to get to the pick-up spot, I also missed other potential legitimate rides.

I spent a few months asking Uber to do something about this – please send out a mass email, purge their databases of underage riders, etc. Nothing was ever done. Well, they did eventually give us the option to call the cancellation due to fraud. But it was still a black mark on our accounts, and it was never explained as to how the cancellations that were marked as fraud were dealt with on the rider’s side of things.

After driving 12-hour days, seven days a week between the beginning of June and Labor Day of last year, I also learned two other things which led to my either not taking rides as they popped up in the Uber app, or cancelling rides after I accepted them.

POOLs: Travis loves POOL rides. At least that’s the chatter from inside the company. Bottom line? POOL rides are dangerous. Driving POOLs requires the driver to pay constant attention to their phone. Not the road. Their PHONE. Or whatever device they are using to access the Uber app while in the car. POOLs also, considering how dangerous they are, don’t pay very much – often much less than a bus ride across town for each rider in the car.

POOLs were also designed for the autonomous vehicle program. In theory, every current Uber driver who drives POOLs are essentially beta testing the program.

I am not a robot.

Every day during that time period, I wrote an email to support asking to opt-out of POOL rides. They were affecting my ratings, I felt they were dangerous, I told them all the reasons why I wanted to opt-out. They didn’t ignore my request. They flat out refused to opt me out.

I stopped taking POOLs at the end of the summer. I just stopped accepting them altogether. Which meant that they no longer affected my cancellation rate, but they did affect my acceptance rate, which ultimately affected my driver rating.

Uber Math: Uber has its own system of mathematics that has nothing to do with the real world and everything to do with the bottom line of Uber.

Last fall I started cancelling all rides from the East Bay to San Francisco. This primarily had to do with my cancellation of my FastTrak account, but it also had to do with not wanting to drive in CrazyTown as well as Uber Math.

Since most riders going to San Francisco from the East Bay went during high commute hours, almost none of them wanted to wait in line to go through the toll booth. I would be polite about it – as soon as I accepted a ride, I called the rider on the phone. When they picked up I introduced myself and asked them ” … what city is your destination in this morning/afternoon?” If they said San Francisco I would politely say that I had stopped taking rides to The City, and that I would cancel the ride without charge so that they could get another driver. Almost everyone seemed to be understanding. Almost no one grokked the Uber Math part of the equation.

For easy math purposes, let’s say that a trip from Berkeley to San Francisco, before any deductions, pays out $20. Off the top, 25% of that goes to Uber. That drops the pay out to $15. During normal hours, subtract the bridge toll, another $5. That drops the actual pay out to $10. Now subtract something for gas, which is rather variable, but in traffic, let’s say $2. Now the pay out drops to $8. Now, because I don’t drive in San Francisco, and yes that is my choice, and it’s impossible to expect that the next rider in San Francisco would be going to the East Bay, when I was taking rides over there, I would drop the rider off and turn around and head back to the East Bay empty. This would now drop the pay out to $4 each way and would take about an hour of my time.

Oh, and let’s not forget the car rental fee! That fee was about $30 per day. If I had 12 rides per day, then each ride would chip in $2.50 for the rental car fee. The example above just dropped the pay out from $4 to $1.50 each way.

This was something else that I checked every time that I went into the Greenlight Hub to talk to support – I was assured that FasTrak is not needed nor is it required to drive Uber, and that I was in no way obligated to take any ride that I wasn’t comfortable in taking.

Towards the end of my tenure at driving with Uber, it seemed that all of the rides offered to me fit the categories above – they were either fraud cancellations, San Francisco cancellations, or passing on POOLs.

I don’t really give a shit about having my Uber account deactivated. The only thing that it was doing for me was getting me out into the world a bit. But I do give a shit about how people are treated in the workplace, and from my own experience and from everything I hear, from contractors I’ve met at parties who have worked inside the castle at 1455 Market, to talking with other drivers, to speaking with employees as passengers in my car, the way Uber treats its employees is deplorable.

For instance:

Call it what it is. Uber is not a rideshare service. It is a taxi service. If this were a rideshare I would have been able to say, “Hey, I’m going down to Whole Foods. Wanna come along?”, or, “I need to go to Sacramento, does anyone need a ride?” As it is, people use the app to call up a driver to take them where they want to go. That’s a taxi.

Uber controls the drivers using fear tactics. It only took me six months to get deactivated (fired) from driving for Uber. Every single day I was presented with reasons as to why I might get fired – be nice or get a bad rating and if your rating drops below a certain level, boom; accept every ride that is given to you or your acceptance rating will drop and, boom; never cancel a ride or eventually, if you do, boom; and the list goes on. The difference between me and the other drivers? I don’t give a shit. I’m a single woman driver, and I’m going to be cautious, and I’m going to be real. I’m not going to take rides that might seem dangerous, or from people who are disrespectful. Asshat Uber riders will also use fear to get what they want from a driver by threatening to report them. Luckily, this doesn’t happen too often, but get just one nasty person in your car and your rating can spiral.

Uber treats its drivers like employees, yet refuses to pay them an hourly wage. Uber refuses to permit drivers to have a say in how much a fare should be. They will also hand out punitive time outs (anywhere from 2 minutes to 30 minutes) for passing up or canceling rides – ones that often times are actually cancelled by the rider. By using the threat of deactivation they are also practicing “At Will” employment, without paying any wages.

When drivers complained about not being able to make a living wage from driving Uber, instead of raising fares, they devised ways of taking on more riders, a “keeping the seats full” tactic.

Uber does offer incentives. Every week they will give drivers a goal, do X number of rides and make XX amount of bonus money. This is another Uber Math problem. If I did four to six long-ish rides per day, the kind of rides I prefer, I could make more money than doing 20 short rides per day to try and meet a quota and make the incentive. Uber is notorious for finding ways to not pay out on incentives as well. Any time that I made a quota and received a small bonus incentive it was totally unintentional on my part. I think that happened twice in seven months.

Uber is ridiculous. This is just my experience with them. But I believe that people should put their money into companies and causes that do right by the environment and humanity. Uber is not one of these companies.

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