One evening in 2008, during a visit to Paris to attend a web conference, Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp were unable to hail a cab. Camp had previously founded StumbleUpon and Kalanick had started Red Swoosh, a peer-to-peer file-sharing company. After complaining to each other about the problem, the two entrepreneurs decided that waiting around for a cab didn’t make sense in the age of smartphones. In 2009, the Uber web app was born out of that idea. In seven short years, Kalanick and Camp’s ride-sharing service has grown into a $60 billion-plus company that operates in nearly 500 cities around the world.
When an Uber user needs to go somewhere, he or she opens the smartphone app and requests a ride. The app identifies the user’s location, and potential drivers see the request. When a driver is available and accepts the ride, the customer is informed how much the ride will cost, as well as what kind of car will pick them up. The user can track the car’s location on the app’s map as the driver approaches. Once the two parties find each other, off they go. When the ride is complete, the driver is automatically paid through the rider’s Uber account – no cash changes or awkward conversation necessary. Uber says this process increases safety for both the driver and the passengers; the vehicle’s movements are tracked at all times, and riders don’t need to worry about pulling out their wallets.
In addition to adding comfort and safety, Uber also offers more choices than cab services. Riders can request UberX for a basic, low-cost ride; UberXL for a larger, group-friendly vehicle; or UberSelect for a premium ride in more upscale car, like an SUV or a limo. Uber also offers accessible vehicles for wheelchair users or parents who need child seats, as well as the option of carpooling with strangers to cut down on the cost of a trip. In some cities, Uber offers airport shuttles.
Recently, Uber began competing with popular delivery services. Customers are now able to place restaurant orders to be picked up and delivered by Uber, similar to food-delivery service GrubHub. Small businesses can use Uber for deliveries of low-cost items, like flowers or groceries.
Becoming an Uber rider is easy – just download the app on your smartphone and fill in the required information. To request a ride, simply input your current location and the destination. The app then calculates the cost of the journey. One significant advantage of Uber over a traditional cab service is that once a price is accepted, it cannot change – even if the car gets caught in traffic or the driver deviates from the most efficient route.
That said, new riders will quickly become aware of surge pricing. Uber determines the price of a ride according to supply and demand. Surge prices go into effect when there’s a large number of users requesting rides in the same area. This can be caused by regular rush hour, a concert or festival in the area, or a rainstorm hitting the center of a busy city. When surge pricing is in effect, riders will be notified on the app. To complete their request for a driver, they must accept the higher charges. Surge prices are a way for Uber to encourage drivers to work during peak times, since they’ll earn more money per trip.
When you arrive at your destination, simply thank your Uber driver and hop out. No money needs to be exchanged. (Historically, tipping was not allowed in Uber, but that has changed in some locations.) After a ride, you can rate the driver using a one-to-five star scale on the app. Your rating helps future riders know if a driver is good. Consistent low ratings can impair a driver’s ability to get assignments.
Similarly, the driver also has the opportunity to rate the rider. Riders who are rude to the driver, leave a mess in the car, or engage in other socially unacceptable behavior may eventually find themselves banned from the service. Riders should remember that, while they’re paying for a ride, they are still sharing the driver’s personal vehicle and should behave in a respectful manner.
Driving for Uber
Becoming an Uber driver is, understandably, a bit more difficult than becoming a rider. Uber originally recruited drivers by playing up the “ride-share” concept and downplaying the “chauffeur” aspect. (In other words, why not use your car to make money instead of sitting around doing nothing?) For some drivers, Uber is a side gig on nights and weekends. For others, it’s a full-time job. In some areas, Uber ran aggressive marketing campaigns to recruit new drivers, telling the media that typical drivers gross $90,000-$100,000 a year.
There are problems with such claims – primarily that Uber drivers pay their own expenses, including car payments, gas, insurance, and maintenance, all of which get subtracted from their gross pay before any actual profit can be determined. Numerous investigations by various media outlets also reveal that, in many cases, Uber’s claims of six-figure gross incomes were wildly exaggerated. In early July 2016, BuzzFeed News reported that, based on leaked data and Uber’s own responses, drivers’ net profits are generally less than $13.25 an hour.
Still interested in applying to be a driver? To become an Uber driver, you must be 21 or older and a licensed driver for at least three years. You must pass a background check and have a clean driving record. You must have insurance and own a four-door vehicle, with the capacity for at least four passengers, registered in the state in which you live. The vehicle must be from the 2001 model year or newer (although this varies somewhat from city to city). Once you’re approved, you can log into the app whenever you’re free and start accepting ride requests.