It has been some time since I last checked in, just about a month now. Since my last post, I have driven a consistent amount, with some breaks in between for weddings, family time, and some weekend trips.
Despite the “incident” which shall not be named (see previous post), riders have been fair, being paid has been a seamless process, but the honeymoon is starting to end and there are a couple issues I am having with UBER that perhaps you are experiencing too. I would be interested in hearing your comments after reading this post – perhaps it will make me a better driver and deliver an even better experience for my riders.
I must admit, I am not entirely surprised that the Buffalo, NY market is starting to get saturated. Like many areas of commerce, word of mouth spreads about the ease of driving, employment opportunity, and the fact that money is so accessible for a relatively easy task – accept a ride, pick someone up, be nice to them, get them to their destination safe. Unfortunately, as many of you fellow Buffalonians know, there are reasons why we can’t have nice things and UBER is no exception.
About two weeks ago, I noticed that the Buffalo/Niagara Airport had not several, but an excessive amount of UBER drivers present. Often times, if I am shuttling someone around from downtown to the Amherst/Williamsville area, I will hop on Youngs Road, and hang out in the cell phone lot, if the que is low. Because I have never mentioned this, the que is a virtual line you wait in to pick up a customer at the airport, to adhere to traffic patterns and reduce chaos in the arrivals area. It tends to be a quick wait, so I will shut off my engine and turn on an audio-book and wait – usually I am number 8 to 12 in the que. Last week when I drove closer, there were 31 cars in the que. In disbelief, I closed out my app, turned it back on, then read 33 cars in the que. I pulled into the lot and noticed that about six UBER drivers were parked and just a couple LYFT drivers, in addition to friends or family waiting on their travelers – very odd. Is it possible that over twenty different vehicles are driving around waiting to be pinged? If so, it would be an incredible waste of time and fuel for me to do the same. Days and weeks later, the same thing. I typically drive Thursday – Sunday morning and every time I get within range of the airport, it shows over 20 drivers in the que, making it no longer worth my time to work that area, which is disappointed considering my initial intentions.
About one week later, I had to leave Buffalo to travel to Hanover, NH for a week long conference. My flight left very early in the morning, so I didn’t want to bother my wife and dog, so I said my goodbyes and ordered an UBER. The driver was late and flew by my house at about 40mph…in a residential, stopping in the 90’s – my house number is 73. I found this particularly funny, given the UBER app and WAZE put you directly in front of your destination, so it is incredibly hard to miss your pick up. Alas, my driver missed and I walked to him. I put my bags in the car, entered to no greeting and absolute silence all the way to the airport. Now I don’t expect an intimate conversation while I am riding and I certainly don’t push the envelope while I am driving, but a courteous “hello”, wouldn’t kill anyone.
After some erratic driving and excessively harsh acceleration / breaking, I was surprised to see the “Departures” sign as much as I was to not see the New York State Police behind us. In any event, my driver suddenly revealed that he actually could speak, then asked me if I need to go to the “Arrivals” or “Departures”. Good thing it was 5:30am, because the cynic in me at a normal hour, would have then sarcastically asked my driver to recall how many people he has picked up before sunrise, who enjoy a nice stroll in the baggage claim, toting around their personal belongings – I went with, “departures, please”.
The point is not to illustrate my ride experience, as much as it is to point out, that I was not riding with a typical UBER driver – I had a cab driver who removed his “ride local” decal, turned his system off, and drove for UBER with his cab. He did not have required decal that you need to identify yourself and I am not sure the picture in the app was the person driving the vehicle, which is very concerning.
When I arrived home, I started driving again and through conversation with other riders, it has become apparent that similar experiences have been occurring. Many have reported being in UBER vehicles, that are littered with garbage and personal belongings, and that drivers have been rude and condescending to riders. One rider in particular confirmed my suspicions, by informing me that the reason that the mentioned que is so high, is because cab drivers are also going on-line and waiting for their UBER, LYFT, or _____ Cab Service number to be called for service. You can see the lot of about sixty cars at the airport full of cabs and drivers waiting to get called – most of which ride-share as well.
I have since stuck with downtown Buffalo, taking people to the casino, Chippewa, Allentown, Elmwood, Hertel Avenue, and everywhere in between. The rides are frequent, easy, and help achieve “Quest” promotions…as long as they are available.
One of the elements of driving for UBER that solidified my decision to drive, was the quest program. Easily explained, give a certain number of rides – 10, 15, 20, receive $40, $75, $120 dollars in addition to your fare, for example. The program started off strong and seemed to dwindle, whereas the top end bonus decreased, as the ride requirement increased i.e., 25 rides for $100. Given the increase of drivers, I was going out on a Friday night in prime locations and sitting for 45 minutes between rides – hardly worth it given my time, energy, and the cost of gas to move locations. During the first two weeks, this would have been rather easy, as people were using the service, just to try it, but now it seems as though riders have decreased or drivers have increased. On a typical Saturday night, business is slightly above average – I can usually haul in 10-15 rides from 9pm to 1pm, with a couple generous coffee / pizza breaks.
It isn’t all bad though. UBER has launched its tipping function in the application and it seems to serve as a rating system for me too, as I seem to be tipped on almost every trip I provide, in addition to some riders being even more generous, and handing out cash. The cash is especially nice, because it compensates my expenses for gas and refills my tank for my general, work commute. It is not uncommon to secure anywhere from $20-$40 in tips on a Saturday night. Riders seem especially generous given the money it used to cost them for a cab, so they don’t feel bad shelling out a couple extra bucks for a good service. In all, everything is working out just fine and making money is steady. This week (8/7-8/12), a small quest for $40 total is available, so I will certainly take advantage of that. My investment account that holds half of my earnings is growing, so when tax season is here, I will be ready. I am happy to report, that in just one month, my net income from UBER was $557 – that is after I tax myself 50% of my earnings and account for a small gas/car maintenance expense – not bad. I have enjoyed getting to know some of the new restaurants opening, telling people about our city, and watching places like Hotel Henry and the Curtiss Hotel take their beautiful shape. If I can give you, the rider any advice, it would be to be completely honest with your star reviews and comments. It helps keep the bad drivers off the road and makes the experience much better for you.
Pending any unusual activity or new and exciting promotion, this will be my last post regarding ride-sharing for some time. I will likely post again when it comes to Halloween, the day before Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Eve, to give feedback on holiday rides, and finally a tax season post, to tie this whole operation together. In the mean time, I will have some really cool content to share, as I am traveling to the Pacific Northwest in three weeks, will share my experience on raising a savage dog, and will see my good friends, the Foo Fighters in Richmond, VA, in addition to plenty of Buffalo food and happenings in between. Bye for now.