Saturday, August 29, 2015

Uber's Dishonesty

So, here's a lesson on how Uber really works.

You may have heard that there is a debate over whether Uber drivers should be independent contractors or employees.  At the heart of this issue is what kind of company Uber actually is.  Uber claims that they don't provide rides for people.  They just connect drivers with people who need rides.

OK.  Here's some info.  As a customer, when you open the app, you see all those little cars on the map?  Well, some of them are real, but some of them may not be.  Because Uber sometimes adds extra icons to create the illusion that there are plenty of drivers around.

The driver's side is worse.  We see 'surge' areas on our maps, which indicate a higher rate if you book a trip in that area.  This is to encourage drivers to head to those areas.  My assumption was that if there are more customers than drivers in a given area, then surge pricing pops up to alleviate that problem.  But this is also not quite true.  Surges shown on the map are actually projections of where drivers will be needed, not the current reality.  But they've essentially admitted to me that a driver is not guaranteed the rate shown on the map.  If I'm staring at the screen and there's a x2.4 surge and I get a call, I have no idea what the rate will be for that trip.  It might be x2.4, or it might be x1.2 or it might be the normal rate.  

Note that Uber tells the customer about surge pricing and asks them to confirm it when they book the trip.  But the driver is not told the rate - we don't know the rate until after the trip is completed.  And the rate shown on the map can not be trusted.

What this adds up to is a false marketplace.  So while Uber claims they are just connecting riders and drivers, they are also providing false information on both ends.  And that is why they could be running afoul of the independent contractor laws.

I really like the idea of Uber.  I like the flexible hours and just the fact that I'm able to pay my bills by doing it.  And I would do it even if there was never any surge pricing.  But it's become clear to me that they are at best disingenuous and at worst dishonest in how they deal with people.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Going Uphill and Downhill

After my book group tonight, we were standing around and talking and someone mentioned the idea of a bike hike on a particular freeway.  And I thought to myself that it sounded like an easy ride, because it would be basically downhill.  But I don't know this particular highway so I had no basis for thinking that.  So why did I?

I quickly realized that I have a construct in my head - not a belief, mind you, but a vague idea - that if you're travelling from North to South, you're going downhill.  Sure, there may be various ups and downs along the way, but it's essentially downhill.  And vice-versa: if you're travelling South to North you're going uphill.

Of course this makes no sense.  But I grew up in an area where the mountains are always to the North, so North has always been uphill.  And when we give directions, we use the words that way: you travel 'up' to Canada or 'down' to San Diego.

Thinking about it, I'm sure there have been many times when I've been travelling upon a more or less flat stretch of the 5 while in my head I felt like I was going either uphill or downhill.