It's time to start paying attention to the protests.
Over the past month, drivers from across Uber's platform — black-car drivers, UberSelect luxury sedan drivers and UberX drivers who just use their personal vehicles — have protested at the technology company's Dallas headquarters in the West End. Rates have dipped too low, they say, and they're being required to pick up rides they lose money on. Uber itself, the drivers claim, is screwing them over by implying that a tip is included in Uber's standard pricing.
Uber, and UberX specifically, is perhaps most useful when used for short trips within Dallas' urban core. The service has made hopping between Dallas' interior neighborhoods a breeze: Summon a car on your phone, and you can get from Uptown to Deep Ellum in less than 10 minutes without worrying about whether you had too much to drink or finding your next parking spot. Same for heading from downtown to Bishop Arts or Lowest Greenville or vice versa. A trip that can be an enormous pain on DART, or the start of a long night if you tether yourself to your car, becomes easy. And cheap. Maybe too cheap.
Heading from downtown to most destinations in Uptown or Deep Ellum on UberX will cost you the minimum fare — up to $4.20 now, but it was $3.50 a month ago. Uber takes $1.70 out of that $4.20 off the top for what it calls a "safe rides fee," leaving $2.50 for the driver. Then Uber takes its standard 20 percent cut, so a driver makes less than half the fare, $2, on a minimum-cost trip. Any profits seen by the driver are microscopic, at best. The rider taking the trip probably isn't tipping either, because few carry cash, and you can't do it in the app.
Long trips have their own set of problems. If you choose to traverse DFW in an Uber car, you might think you're going to make a driver pretty happy. The fare from Dallas to Fort Worth usually ends up running about $40, far cheaper than a cab, but not chump change by any means. If you've ever made the trip, though, and asked a driver how they feel about long(ish) hauls, they'll tell you the fare isn't worth it. Many Uber drivers I've talked to try to operate in a limited area around their homes or offices. They're just trying to make a bit of extra cash — one guy I've ridden with a couple of times has now financed an over-the-top home theater with Uber cash. When they have to take someone to Fort Worth, they'll often turn the app off upon arrival and head back, missing at least 30 minutes of fares. This happens for a couple of reasons. First, drivers can't see riders' intended destinations before pickup. Even if you've typed it into the app on your phone, the driver has no idea where you're headed until they hit the start ride button in their rider app. Second, if a driver turns down too many requests, as they might on a trip back from the 'burbs, they can get kicked off the service entirely. And again, you're not tipping, no matter how good the driver's Spotify radio station was, unless you managed to remember to pick up some small bills before your trip. Uber use happens mostly on impulse, so it's easy to see how that doesn't often happen.
Uber has revolutionized getting around Dallas without a car. Yellow Cab, the city's longtime heavy hitter, is all but forgotten. DART is actually tolerable, maybe better than tolerable when you use it in combination with transportation-for-hire car services. So what's to be done when it seems like Uber is bleeding its drivers — who, admittedly, don't have to work for Uber — dry? Maybe we should all just start using Lyft.
Functionally, Lyft operates just like Uber. You open the app, summon a car and usually get one pretty quickly. Lyft's rates are still lower than any of Dallas' cab companies, but they're slightly more equitable than Uber's — 90 cents rather than 85 cents a mile and 15 cents rather than 10 cents a minute. The main reason we should all think about switching is that you can tip in the app. It's the same seamless experience, the one that makes ride-sharing so much better than getting in a cab, but you can tip without cash when you've taken an especially short or long trip, one of your friends was especially obnoxious or you weren't where you said you'd be while getting picked up.
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