It’s no secret that I’ve been unemployed for quite a long time now. My previous job ran out in February and I was on unemployment for the six months that you get to find a new job. After months of holding out for something that more closely aligned with the kind of work I’d like to be doing, I started getting a bit less selective and began seriously considering going back to in person office jobs as the deadline to stop receiving my biweekly checks got closer. Then the injectors on my truck decided that they were going to fail on me, a nice $1500 or more expense I just don’t have the fund for, and any kind of in person gig became once again not an option for me.
As I worried over the inevitability that I wouldn’t find a job by the time my unemployment rant out, I began to expand my thinking into other possible areas of making money. I had considered doing rideshare as a part time gig before back when I still had my Ford Fusion, but I was making plenty of money at the time and it just didn’t seem worth it to give up my spare time going to cart strangers around in my personal vehicle. Fast forward a couple of years, though, and now I’m in a situation where personal preference just doesn’t have as much urgency as it used to.
So a few weeks ago I started driving for Lyft, and so far the experience has been a pretty positive one. I’m not making anywhere near what I was earning from my last job, but I have to say that my job satisfaction is much higher than it was chained to a desk all day staring at a computer screen. I’m more or less my own boss and I decided when and where I’m going to work for the day. For the first time in my life I’m marginally self-employed, and that’s a dream I’ve been yearning for most of my adult life.
Of course, nothing is ever perfect and there are several things about the rideshare thing that really bothers me on a fairly regular basis. The current model seems designed to really make it almost impossible for drivers to have any real autonomy or decision making about the rides they want to accept. Sure, they provide you with some basic information, but Lyft especially doesn’t provide enough information to make a truly informed decision about what rides make sense to do…meaning are they profitable enough. I haven’t started with Uber yet, but my perusal of YouTube videos complaining against the company makes it seem like it’s pretty much the same there as well.
I think the part that really bothers me the most is that I’m forced to sit around waiting for the Lyft algorithm to dole out ride opportunities to me. There have been times I’ve had to sit around for a half hour or more waiting for a ride, and by then I’m desperate enough to be doing something that I end up with rides I wouldn’t normally accept. They’ve created that age old gambler’s trap, where you are forced to wait and wait and wait for the reward to come, and you’re so hyped up by the time the ding arrives that the judgement you normal rely on has been overruled by the primal need to make the kill.
After a bit of thought, it occurred to me that there is a perfectly reasonable fix to this problem that would not only do away with the need for an algorithm, but also put a lot more control back in the hands of drivers: switch to a bulletin board model. Rather than an algorithm trying to match drivers with riders, just have riders post the ride they want and allow drivers to see all available rides within their area. The drivers peruse the list, find a ride they like, accepts the ride and drives to the pickup. The passenger is notified that their ride has been fulfilled, is picked up and dropped off, and everyone is happy.
Well, everyone except the rideshare company, I suppose. It is through control that these companies are able to manipulate the tiny variables over the myriad rides out there to maximize their own profits…and this is why something like this would never happen. If they allow drivers to have full control over what fares they accept, then the company won’t be able to capitalize on all the little bullshit rides that don’t make any money for drivers. It is only when they have the ability to try to scam us into accepting them that they are able to put extra money in their own pockets.
I certainly don’t begrudge anyone their right to make as much money as they want, but it’s hard to have any sympathy for ride companies like Uber and Lyft when everything they do seems centered around scamming everyone using their platform. Even something as simple as paying for the time and distance to pickup a passenger is something that is only fair, but seems to be completely ignored by these massive companies. As I’ve said on several YouTube comments, if the wheels are rolling, we should be getting paid.
Of course, this isn’t the first article to be written about this particular topic, and it obviously won’t be the last. The rideshare giants are like every other big corporation, so they want to have their cake and eat it, too. They want to treat us like employees and then classify us as independent contractors. If they were serious about our roles as IC’s, they would provide every detail about the fair upfront so we can make informed decisions on which fares we’re going to take. They’d also pay for every minute and mile that is “booked”.
Anyway, right now I’m making the money I need to make and I enjoy the work I’m doing for the most part, even after I take out all my expenses, so these things are mostly moderate annoyances rather than anger inducing injustices. It just sucks that these companies get away with the kind of manipulation that they do and refuse to just be fair about things. If only there were someone out there who could embarrass these companies enough to force them to straighten up and fly right.