Uber drivers protested in front of its San Francisco headquarters, claiming they have not been treated fairly by the ride-hailing company. (Connor Hunt/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Uber drivers protested in front of its San Francisco headquarters, claiming they have not been treated fairly by the ride-hailing company. (Connor Hunt/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Time to accept gig economy for what it is

http://www.sfexaminer.com/category/the-city/sf-news-columns/i-drive-sf/

I’m under doctor’s orders not to discuss Uber or Lyft on the Internet. It’s bad for my high blood pressure. So I stopped ranting on Twitter and unfollowed all the various Facebook groups that I once regularly patrolled. Now I have one less pill to swallow.

Last week, though, with news of an Uber strike reaching a crescendo, I ventured onto the forums to have a looksee. There was some earnest chatter about not turning the app on for a few days and someone made a decent flyer. Otherwise, business as usual: Lots of whining about Uber’s policies, newbies seeking advice and the occasional screenshot of a decent ride during a high surge rate.

Uber drivers tend to be a disgruntled lot. I was ticked off most of the time I drove for Uber, too. The pay is never consistent, they deactivate drivers without question, they deny drivers tips and the rating system is draconian.

This isn’t the first time Uber “partners” have gone on strike. Last September, I went to a protest outside Uber headquarters. Besides meeting Mansurel and Jacob, two cab drivers who helped me through the process of getting my A-card, the strike did no good. When I checked the app, a plethora of cars were still available.

In the gig economy, there are no rules. It’s every man or woman for his or her self. I’m sure plenty of drivers saw this latest strike as the perfect opportunity to get behind the wheel and make some money. After all, it’s the scab mentality that drives Uber’s success, and what has led to the current dismal state of driving for hire in San Francisco.

Did I notice any difference on the street last weekend from this alleged strike? Not really.

Maybe there were more pink glowstaches than usual, since most drivers run both apps and, to make their point, logged into Lyft’s instead of Uber’s. But those glowing dash lights — which look more like lips to me — tend to stand out anyway.

Sometimes, as I snake my way through The City in my rattletrap bomber, I see glowstaches everywhere I look. Even when I close my eyes, they’re dancing around in the air like I’m on a bad acid trip. That’s when I feel the spirit of Travis Bickle rise up inside me and I start fantasizing about turning Eleventh Street into a demolition derby.

That may just be my high blood pressure talking though.

“Have you thought about switching over?” this guy asked me the other night after I admitted that Uber and Lyft have an impact on my bottom line. “I mean if you can’t beat them, might as well join them, right?”

I get questioned about my decision to drive a cab at least three of four times a night. I avoid mentioning that I did the Uber and Lyft thing before switching to taxi, or the more obvious reason that I no longer have a car, and focus on the real problem.

Uber drivers don’t make money. Which is why they’re trying to organize strikes. Uber and Lyft have saturated the market with a seemingly endless supply of drivers ­— 16,000 at last count in the Bay Area alone. And drivers come into The City from as far away as Sacramento and Salinas. The competition makes it impossible for anyone to make money, whether you’re in a cab or an Uber-Lyft.

I’m sure the irony and absurdity are lost on these burgeoning Joe Hills, but everything Uber drivers are demanding you get as a cab driver: reasonable and consistent rates, job protection and, of course, tips. Plus, as an added bonus, you don’t have to commit insurance fraud.

If Uber drivers really wanted to take a stand, they’d switch to cab driving. Otherwise, accept the exploitation of the gig economy for what it is and shut up already.

Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, there is a transportation war going on in the streets of San Francisco. But until we’re throwing Molotov cocktails out our windows at each other, all this Uber dissent is just a bunch of empty Facebook posts and tweets with no real significance besides aggravating my high blood pressure.

Kelly Dessaint is a San Francisco taxi driver. Write to him at piltdownlad@gmail.com and @piltdownlad.cabsride hailingUber

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