Mrs. UpintheValley decided she wanted to get a manicure over the weekend. ‘Twas raining, so she called an Uber. She claims her app was set to UberPool by mistake, but a car was at the door in three minutes, having already picked up another passenger in the neighborhood. Off they went, and she was deposited, quickly and dryly, two miles away at the salon.
Her bill: 79 cents.
You can’t even buy the weekly edition of the LA Times for that. You can’t get a candy bar at the corner store. The Metro bus is $1.75, one way. Normal UberX is 90 cents per mile, with a five dollar minimum, and a four dollar cancellation fee. But if you can slipstream in as the second passenger on a short Pool ride, you can turn another working American’s Prius into the Tap-Tap bus of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Uber drivers, needless to say, hate UberPool. First world service at Third World prices, with first world overhead eating your balance sheet.
“But I tipped him!” Mrs. U says in her defense. Not having any singles handy, she handed him four quarters. I type this to shame her.
To be fair, UberPool rides are rarely this cheap, but they are now an inescapable part of driving. The arc of economic justice may be long, but in the end, ubiquity bends all prices toward zero. In theory, a driver can turn down Pool rides. In practice, once his acceptance rate drops below 80% (and it will if he says no to Pool) he loses driver incentive$. Without incentive$, his take home drops below what one could justify for wear and tear on a good vehicle. Pool was created in answer to rider dissatisfaction with surge pricing. Uber created incentives to mollify drivers dissatisfied with Pool pricing, but the catch is you have to drive a whole lot more than you normally would in order to attain them.
It’s a splendid thing working class people can avail themselves of an affordable ride hailing service. It’s a blessing for the formerly unemployed and people in need of extra night work to have a side gig. The unknown element in the equation is the means of production: the car itself. We are very early in the life cycle of ride-share apps. In my experience, the Uber payout justifies new tires and brake pads. New transmission, not so much.
When the heavy repair bills roll in this coming year or two, what then? How many drivers will leave the app? How many will buy the new transmission? More telling, how many will stay on the app but ride the old transmission until it spits metal shavings and drops like a hansom cab draft horse in the August heat, right in the middle of the 405 commute?
Most of them, I suspect.
Jack Baruth, who writes beautifully at The Truth About Cars, has some thoughts on that topic.
My wife tipped her manicurist three bucks for a job well done. She can afford to be generous with my money.
I wonder what my brother Uber driver did with the quarters.