We Interviewed 50 Drivers In Minnesota On Life After COVID-19

We Interviewed 50 Drivers In Minnesota On Life After COVID-19

We interviewed 30-50 drivers from Minnesota and the Moorhead-Fargo region into North Dakota to better understand the problems of the local community and how our ridesharing service can provide more solutions in the app. We have been signing up drivers in the last few weeks and we prepared a list of questions for them to hear about their experience driving for Uber and Lyft and how their earnings have been affected due to COVID-19. We learned that over 50% of the drivers were part time drivers and were looking for more ways to earn an income due to layoffs or sudden change in demand in their other independent contractor jobs. Only 3 drivers said they completely stopped driving for a few months but most followed the CDC guidelines and continued to drive.

CA initiative could soon be adopted nationwide
CA initiative could soon be adopted nationwide

What do full-time drivers say about Uber and Lyft?

Ryan Anderson has been driving for Uber for over five years and says that when he first started driving for Uber five years ago, he said it was a great company, offering drivers several incentives to start working for them.

“Once Uber got [control of] the market, they changed in the worst ways,” Anderson said. “The only thing drivers are asking for is fair pay. Uber is doing everything except fair pay.” When he first started, Anderson made 80% of the fees from his fares, with 20-25% going to Uber. “Now, they are charging anything they want. Some of my fares they charge more than 60% of the rider fare,” he said. His pay has decreased from about $1,500 a week after expenses five years ago, to between $300 to $600 a week, while often working more hours.

The companies had offered drivers bonuses from the gains of their IPO but Anderson completed dismissed them. With over 8,000 trips, Anderson will receive a $500 bonus. “They are doing nothing for the drivers. All drivers are asking for is fair pay, and that’s what Uber won’t give to us. They are not willing to be transparent. They are willing to change the logo, they are willing to advertise, to spend millions on lobbying, but they are not willing to pay the drivers fairly.”

Tony is another driver on the conference call and he was open to speaking about his driving experience but did not want his last name in the article fearing Uber holds the complete power to deactivate him at any time. He has been a full-time driver for over two years.

“I pretty much have the lowest cost of living you can imagine in the city and I was able to afford it comfortably when I started driving. Over the years Uber cut rates per mile by 10% and then till 25%, and after the pandemic I have to work over 9 hours a day simply to make rent and for food."

He exclaimed that "he has reached out to the Uber team locally and over their online contact channels to suggest new features which would help drivers set their wages personally if they have a rating of over 4.8 but "another driver told me that they will never reply to my request to changes in the business model because riders will switch to Lyft and Uber can not suffer more losses."

Tony complained that he began driving in 2016 when the wages and bonuses for drivers were very high but when the company finally had established its duopoly with Lyft in the US, the two companies began dropping fares together to make riders happier. Drivers became frustrated every year and threw protests to increase their per-mile rates and have a voice or driver representation in the decision making for drivers. "Drivers don't get a say in anything except the number of hours they can work for this difficult service. Part-time drivers think they are the boss of their business because they are only bridging the gap between two jobs or if they are suddenly laid off. But regular drivers clearly see Uber is the boss because they control everything once you don't have control over your time and you need to do 6-8h a day."

Drivers protest for better wages and a voice in the business
Drivers protest for better wages and a voice in the business

Tony lives in a shared house with 5 other people and when he started driving few years back he had spare money left every month, but that itself was depleted very quickly in expenses such as his car maintenance, car gas payments, and insuance payments. "These costs are not added as additional fees to the ride and the expenses have to be beared compeletely by me. After all my expenses, I don't think I even make minimum wage on some days." Despite having to work 50-60 hour weeks he makes close to $1200 a month after all expenses.

He wanted people to know that almost all regular drivers complain "you feel extremely powerless when your income comes from a faceless app. You have no voice in the business or in the company's decision making and on top of that, the app calls you the boss because you set your timings. The app is too rider-centric and because of that around 90% drivers quit driving for Uber within their first year.

Their supply is very high because there is always someone looking to make an extra income by driving part-time but their retention rate is extremely low. One day there will be an app which will do better for regular drivers nationwide and these regular drivers will never switch back to Uber again." He explained that the regular drivers were the ones who were keeping the business afloat when part-time drivers quit at such a high pace. "When the regular drivers are gone, the strong base will be gone and ride prices will surge throughout the day. Then it will be a matter of time before everyone just switches by downloading the other app."

Lyft drivers have been organizing regularly since their IPO in May 2019
Lyft drivers have been organizing regularly since their IPO in May 2019

What do part-time drivers say about Uber and Lyft?

Eric Carter has been a part-time driver with Uber for nearly four years and only works night after this full-time local job. He said that his wages have fallen steadily over the last 4 years and he has tracked and protested against it every single time.

"If you're at a regular job, you expect promotions and that after 4 years your wages would be significantly higher. But with Uber the case is the opposite and drivers are now more miserable. I know I'm not driving full-time so I don't deserve promotions but the thousands of regular drivers that actually keep the service running well for passengers have really suffered." Carter said. "You can simply know this by looking at the news on Uber these days or by asking your driver what they really feel about their wages next time you call an Uber."

"Passenger paid $78. Driver earned $36. Lyft's cut is $41!"
"Passenger paid $78. Driver earned $36. Lyft's cut is $41!"

To prove his point, Carter said that he was discussing this issue with another driver, Kevin, just last week, who was also considering switching to food delivery. He added him to the conference call immediately and was based in Minneapolis in Minnesota.

Kevin had been driving for three years and when I asked him what he thinks of Uber, he said “I love it, but they treat their drivers like crap,” without a hesistation. When he first started driving for Uber, Kevin said he was attracted by the flexible hours and the feeling of being his own boss. Three years ago Kevin said 80% of the fare went to drivers and 20% went to Uber. “Now they take half in some cases,” he said.

"Those hidden additional fees can suddenly spike their real commission to over 50% of the whole ride fare and riders dont care because they assume most of it would be going to the driver directly."

Last year his account was suddenly put on a background check which usually takes 3 days to be done but due to an error they made, the hold went on for more than 3 weeks! They didn't bother about me or my family or how I am supposed to support them due to this unexpected error. “I told you that I love the service but only because it exists. It's amazing that in 2020 there is a service from which I can earn from driving, but after that all the problems start. All the control is in Uber's hands. You will wake up one day with your week planned and your account could be turned off and they won't help you to support your wages."

Kevin also told me about the regretful. case of Vincent Suen who was a full-time Uber driver in California. Suen first began driving for Uber in between jobs as a restaurant server. A car enthusiast who likes to drive, the opportunity to make a living as a driver seemed more appealing to him than another restaurant gig.

Vincent Suen
Vincent Suen

“I wish I knew what I know now earlier,” Suen said. “I was blindsided. If I knew about the expenses, how expensive it is to do this gig, I would not have gotten into it in the first place.” Suen stopped driving for Uber about six weeks ago after his doctor diagnosed him with sciatica. “The doctor says my spine is not straight, due to sitting for long hours just from doing Uber,” he said.

In the first two years of driving for Uber he used his own Toyota Prius and explained that “there are plenty of days where minus gas, I make less than minimum wage.” When he first started driving, he was making $1,200 to $1,400 a week before expenses, but has struggled to continue making that even by increasing his work hours to 10- to 12-hour days, six or seven days a week.

All the drivers that we spoke to resonated the same beliefs that they are thankful that technology has enabled humans to have an app which connects you to riders and helps you earn instantly from dropping them to a destination but after the core problem is solved there are a huge number of issues that need to be addressed. Uber is aware of all the problems but is not willing to do anything because either they think that the proposed changes will not significantly help the drivers or it will significantly hurt the riders and the number of rides happening on their platform will fall leading to massive losses at a time when investors are looking for a clear path to profitability.

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