We also think it has the potential to reshape entire cities as it makes once-remote neighborhoods suddenly convenient for people who don’t want to drive.
But Hoboken, N.J., resident David Fagin tells us that much of this progress may be coming at the expense of Uber’s drivers, particularly in Northern Jersey, where it borders New York City. We noted earlier that a quirk in taxi driver licensing regulations has led to an excess of drivers in New Jersey and a dearth in New York — making Uber a much better deal in the Garden State than the Big Apple.
This, Fagin says, works against Jersey Uber drivers, especially if they have to ferry passengers into New York. They’re banned from picking up fares on the way back — and so lose valuable driving time while stuck in traffic at the Hudson river crossings. “To drive for Uber in New Jersey is to be short-changed in virtually every way possible by an unfair and under-developed system in immediate need of revisions,” he says.
His comments were similar to many we’ve heard from other Uber drivers. The drivers who love working for Uber tend to be those who dip in and out of the service on a part time basis — the folks on UberX, the cheapest of Uber’s services. Professional drivers trying to earn a full-time living have grumbled that the money is not as good as livery cab service.
Josh Mohrer, general manager for Uber NY/NJ, declined to address Fagin’s claims specifically. He gave us this statement:
Since launching in November, drivers have been flocking to uberX in NJ as a flexible and lucrative way to make income. In the weeks and months ahead, we will continue to deliver that option to even more NJ riders and drivers — expanding the service throughout the state.
Fagin’s comments — which we’ve reproduced in full below — should be taken with a pinch of salt. Everyone who works for a living wants more money, of course. And even in Fagin’s nightmare scenario — the uncompensated return trip from JFK airport to New York — the driver appears to be making around $US20 an hour, on Fagin’s numbers. (Drivers get a $US20 surcharge on cross-Hudson rides to make up for it.) That’s not going to make you rich, but it’s not minimum wage either.
But still, it’s interesting to hear what Uber is like from the perspective of a person in the driver’s seat.
Here’s Fagin’s take on driving for Uber:
Since it’s arrival to the N.Y./N.J. area, many people have been talking about Uber and how great- or not so great- it is, but none really from the perspective of the driver.
With that in mind, a few months ago, I went “undercover” and became an Uber driver in my home town of Hoboken in order to find out what it was like to work for a company that’s taking in about $US20 million a week. Here’s what I discovered:
While it’s great to be able to make your own hours, take off whenever you want to, and not have to answer to a boss, the bottom line is: To drive for Uber in New Jersey is to be short-changed in virtually every way possible by an unfair and under-developed system in immediate need of revisions. Here are a few areas you touched on in your piece and some you didn’t.
According to Uber, “Surge Pricing” is a computer-generated algorithm which activates when the demand for drivers is so high, Uber is forced to charge double, sometimes triple, the normal fare in order to “get more drivers on the road.” This whole system is a farce. Especially, in N.J. where surge pricing is hardly ever used -and when it is, 9-out-of-10 times, it’s gone as fast as it appears. I always tell Hoboken riders who complain about having to pay $US15 to go five blocks, next time wait about 10 minutes and it will disappear.
But, let’s be honest; the whole “surge-pricing” thing is simply a way to make more money. In New Jersey, surge pricing is in effect for such short periods that by the time an off-duty driver may get wind that prices are doubled, and decide to head to his vehicle, it will be over.
The whole thing of Uber telling you “We’re trying to get more drivers on the road!” is just hogwash. As far as New York and the outer boroughs go, surge-pricing’s almost always in effect simply because they’re constantly under-staffed due to strict TLC restrictions. Why Uber follows TLC laws in New York, and practically ignores them everywhere else, is beyond me. I imagine it has something to do with the fact that New York City can match Uber in the legal coffers dept. without blinking.
Thus, your assumption that N.J. drivers will hardly ever experience surge pricing is absolutely correct. And, honestly, the most frustrating thing for a New Jersey driver, is to glance down at his phone and see red, highlighted “surge areas” all over his map — except N.J.
The one area where surge pricing would actually be both beneficial to drivers in both states, as well as readily accepted by riders, is weather.
Currently, not even in the nastiest blizzards, like we saw just a few weeks ago, nor during Wrath of God-type thunderstorms — or any other type of severe weather where drivers are out there risking their necks is surge pricing activated. And that’s just plain ridiculous.
This is because, as I mentioned above, Uber’s algorithm is designed only to respond to demand/availability, and nothing else. It is not based on inclement weather or driving conditions of any kind. A huge mistake if you ask me, as a few drivers, myself included, ventured out in those 5-foot high snowdrifts — sliding through intersections and playing Bumper Cars with parked vehicles on numerous occasions, due to icy roads.
On one occasion on a particular icy road, my brakes locked and I was forced to swerve into oncoming traffic to avoid hitting the car in front of me. With a passenger in my back seat. Meanwhile, Uber treated the blizzard like any other Spring day. And it pissed a lot of people off. Including me. To the point where some drivers have begun talking about forming an informal union. There’s absolutely no reason why Uber’s surge-pricing shouldn’t activate in bad weather, in both New York, as well as New Jersey.
Uber has so far turned a blind eye to this issue, with the folks in the N.Y. office going as far as to coldly reply, “If it’s too dangerous for you, next time just stay home.”
New York vs. New Jersey
Aside from the surge-pricing issue, you also mentioned the double-standard of driving in N.Y. as opposed to N.J. This is probably the most important issue Uber needs to address, and the one which has the potential to do the most damage to their public relations. Not only between Uber and their N.J. drivers, but how customers feel about Uber as well.
At present, it’s almost twice the fare to go the same distance from N.Y. to N.J. as it is from N.J. to N.Y.
Case in point, a trip from Hoboken to JFK will cost a rider about $US65, while a trip from JFK to Hoboken will cost upwards of around $US100 or more. This is apparently because Uber is forced to obey New York City’s TLC fare laws, which is fine. That’s how it goes. The problem is, not only does the N.J. driver get to make the same trip for less money, he/she gets the privilege of sitting in Manhattan traffic for an hour or two on the way back, without the slightest possibility of a return fare or adequate compensation for his/her time.
At present, the standard rate of commission for Uber drivers everywhere is 80%. This may sound like a lot, but if you take a N.J. driver that spends two or more hours heading into the city and back for a $US60 fare, he/she will average only about $US24/hr. Factor in the gas, and it drops to about $US20/hr.
This is a rate which a N.J. driver can easily earn simply by staying local and doing 3-4 quick and easy “Path Train” trips, without the additional stress of driving in Manhattan and the added wear and tear on his/her vehicle. But, if the driver refuses to make the trip, he/she could face termination. That’s just not fair.
Uber needs to acknowledge this hypocritical situation and compensate the N.J. driver with an increased commission and/or higher rates for heading across the river (which will still be way below your average taxi/car service), or else they will begin to see a backlash of drivers refusing trips to the five boroughs, as it’s just not worth the hassle. This will no doubt have a snowball affect on riders, as well.
Additionally, the “wait” charge at the moment for down time is only about .30 per minute. So, while a N.J. driver waits for a rider, or sits in traffic attempting to traverse the morning reverse commute from Hoboken to points in north Jersey, it’s practically free. Uber needs to bump the wait fee up to at least .50/min, as it’s personally taken me an hour to take a client from Hoboken to Secaucus at 9 a.m. – a 5 mile trip – for a total fare of about $US18. This is obviously great for a rider, but insulting to a driver who’s spent the past sixty minutes in traffic – and now has to return, for about $US14 bucks.
Uber New Jersey’s “over-saturation” problem as you call it, is due to the simple fact they allow virtually anyone with a pulse to drive for them. [Uber actually does a criminal background check on its drivers.] And, while it may be great for Uber’s profits — and even Uber users for a while, who have 10 drivers sitting a block away when they call- ultimately, this “come one, come all” mentality will result in a boat-load of frustrated Hoboken/Jersey City area residents who are picked up by drivers from Albania or Kazakhstan and who have no idea where they’re going because they don’t know the town.
Thus, they end up taking 20 min. to find a place that’s 5 min. away. I have a lot of friends who’ve complained about this and it’s rampant in this area.
In all of these situations, be it weather, trips across the river, or wait times, every-single Uber user I’ve spoken with have all said they’d happily pay a bit more to be picked up promptly in a snow storm without having to wait an hour, or to not have to haggle with a cabbie about the fare to/from the city, etc. After all, the reason Uber’s so popular in the first place is because the cab companies did such a nice job of alienating every-single one of their customers in the tri-state area, I’ll bet not a single one would feel the slightest bit bad if they all went out of business tomorrow.
In closing, I would say while your article offers genuine insight on why Uber makes it a more doable move to leave the city for the ‘burbs, if the Ubertarian party doesn’t address these issues, and recognise they need to treat the Hoboken area driver as a “different animal,” all these things will eventually come back to bite them. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon enough.
Then, by the time “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” sell their co-op in the city and go to closing on the Waterfront Hoboken condo they have been waiting so long to buy, they will arrive just in time for N.J. drivers to organise, form a union, and refuse to pick Mr. and Mrs. Smith up, period. The end result being a new, somewhat cheaper home for The Smiths with a $US40 round-trip ride to the train. Then everyone loses.
Except, of course, the cab companies; who will be there to take the stranded riders for $US30.