Uber-ed Out: Freelancing’s Awful Truth

I love Uber.

No, I really do.  I was leaving a Small Business workshop this past Saturday hosted by the InterAgency Council of South L.A.  in Mid-City and I took the bus over.  I hate parking.  Or, should I say, I really hate trying to FIND parking in L.A. It’s crowded or limited and it doesn’t even matter if it’s a residential or commercial area. Parking can be stressful and a pain in the ass!  Anyways — before I get sidetracked in that rant– I bused over the event to save me the stress and aggravation.  And although I had every intention to bus it back home, I didn’t.  I got me an Uber ride.

Every time I’ve taken Uber, I always make sure to talk a little to the drivers, y’know, in case something goes wrong and I need to be able to recount the details to a police officer for whatever reason.  One of my favorite questions to ask the drivers is how do they like working for Uber.  Most of them say the enjoy it.  They love the hours, selecting the hours they wanna work.  And of course, choosing when to shut it all down and go home.  But this driver was the first and only Uber driver I’ve come across who told me otherwise.

The driver admitted that Uber helped him make ends meat when he was out of job over a year ago, but Uber wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be.  In one year’s time, he already put 70,000 miles on his car and he’s only had it for 2 years.  We chatted back and forth and when he threw some numbers at me regarding how Uber worked and what he gets paid per ride, I started doing the math — it wasn’t as glorious as it seemed.  The truth of the matter is, yes, you can make $1,000 a week on Uber driving people around to their various destinations.  However, if you’re use to making more than $1,000/week and have a family to support, “it ain’t shit!”  Okay.   I personally know lots of people who would love to be making $4,000/month. We have workers who are fighting for minimum wage to be $15/hr, but that’s another story.

All-in-all, the former construction worker was no longer impressed or happy about working for Uber.  He shared an example that in one 12-hour day, he made $90.  That comes down to $7.50 per hour.  With no overtime.  On an average day, he brings in roughly about $200 and he works 6 days a week, sometimes 7 days.   But mind you, Uber takes their cut, twice actually.  They take the first dollar of every ride, plus 20% . After his take-home, he has to make the payments on his car, pay for car insurance, maintenance, gas, health insurance, rent, utilities, food, personal hygiene, etc.  If he was just taking care of himself, I suppose it wouldn’t be so bad.  Bad or not, he’s doing better than any retail, fast food or administrative worker I know.  Plus, he admitted openly that he knew what he was getting into when he agreed to be an Uber driver, it’s just no longer glittering for him. We got to talking a bit more and he enlisted my services to polish up his résumé as he wanted to return to construction.  So I gave him my card.

I still love Uber — as a customer.  I don’t know if I would be one its drivers, although.  Not all freelancing gigs are created equal.  I should know, having been freelancing and working for myself for over six years now.   The reality with freelancing as one’s main source of income is that it’s a hustle.  And it’s going to be a hustle for awhile. That Uber driver has been with the company for a year.   And if he were continue with Uber, his $90 days would still be better than his no-dollar days, which I’m sure he’s had.  With anything, you have to take the good with the bad.  Even as something as novel as Uber.  Is it a perfect model?  No.  But nothing is.  Is it a profitable model?  Absolutely.  At least, for the people near the top.

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