Bunker Door


Confessions of an Ex-Uber Driver:
How I Lost My Soul and Got It Back

My mother-in-law first suggested I should try driving for Uber. It seemed a dubious proposition…living in Novato, I suspected the economics of driving to San Francisco (where the rides are) might not make it very lucrative. And I shared the opinion that Uber drivers can’t get a job doing anything else. Since that describes me, I became an Uber driver.

As I developed routes and strategies, I loved that Uber was so flexible…I could start and end any time, and go wherever I chose. Early mornings and evenings were the busiest, and most profitable, times to drive. My lifestyle skews mornings so I drove the AM rush hour. I needed to be on the road by 6 to miss the traffic, and if I ran late, the consequence was a soul-crushingly slow commute, and the realization that only drivers who made it to San Francisco were making any money.

As I got better at it, Uber began offering weekly bonuses. One week, Uber dangled a particularly juicy carrot: Complete 80 trips a week and make $200 extra…four weeks in a row, another $1000. Being in a financial hole, I committed myself to the incentive. Since I was doing about 60 trips a week, I had to expand my hours, and six-days-a-week turned into seven. I drove 16 days in a row to get the $1800. The money saved my bacon, but it also established a pattern that would have costs I wouldn’t realize until later.

Just as I had the bonuses figured out, Uber started messing with them, making them harder to achieve. I began to realize what an amazing skill Uber has, in which they dangle its carrot so that a driver might do 10 extra trips a week and still miss the bonus. This is what Uber’s algorithms seem designed to do.

I ran numbers to see what I was actually making. Uber’s skill in carrot-wielding revealed itself here as well…I averaged around $16 an hour. I began to see myself as a small cog in a very big machine…one in which drivers weren’t really human beings, but a commodity to be replaced, like a burned-out bulb.

I began to see myself that way. The best part of Uber…the ability to turn the money on and off…became the worst part. If I considered taking a day off, I asked myself if it was worth leaving $140 on the table. Usually, it wasn’t. So I continued.

My days got bleaker. I started cussing out drivers, not caring if passengers rated me lower. My wife began to harp on my constant crankiness, making it worse.

One Saturday, I picked up a passenger in San Francisco. Looking for traffic and seeing none, I turned and pow!…an accident. We pulled to the curb and exchanged information. My passenger reported neck pain and wanted to see a doctor. Likely he just didn’t want to ride in my car.

Somehow, it was still driveable, and I needed to take photos and contact Uber. I encountered problems and had to call technical support. The technician seemed to lack skill, training or empathy. No “I’m sorry” or “that’s too bad,” just a check-off-the-boxes response, followed by a nearly unusable automated survey.

My car too mangled for Uber, I headed back to Marin. I was on the bridge where it occurred to me that I don’t need to be doing this any more. So I decided to stop.

Ever since, I’ve experienced an exhilarating feeling of freedom. I no longer have a source of income, but I’m not obsessed with it any more. My wife feels she has her husband back.

For a long time, I felt like a hamster on a wheel. I’m happy to report that I’m enjoying life as a free-range hamster.