Uber has recently increased its rates in Orange County by 20 cents (now $1.10 a mile), which several drivers speculate could be an incentive to move drivers out of crowded areas like Los Angeles. Some even say they saw Uber representatives in Orange County offering free gas if you recruit a new driver.
But even if rates are on the rise in OC, they're still considered low to many drivers.
Earlier this January, Orange County was one of the 48 cities where Uber enforced pay cuts in an attempt to increase ridership. Uber said that to make up for it, it would guarantee driver wages in every city they cut pay rates for, depending when hours are at peak. However, drivers had to accept 90% of ride requests, do one trip per hour, and be online 50 of the 60 minutes to qualify.
These changes are just some of the several fluctuations Uber drivers have dealt with in the past couple of years, all indicative of the company's goal to keep costs as low as possible to compete with other ridesharing companies like Lyft (and at the cost of the driver). They say so themselves on their Orange County website: "Uber wants to drive rates as low as possible," it reads. "Payment is automatic through the app and fares are usually cheaper than a taxi."
OC Uber drivers have gone to online forums like UberPeople to express their frustrations with pay, voicing that wages are rip-offs and unreliable. In the meanwhile, Uber also faces a lawsuit by California drivers who say they've been misclassified as independent contractors instead of employees (which places the financial burden of operations onto their workers and cheats them out of 401k contributions, benefits, and expenses like gas and car maintenance). Last September, 200 Uber drivers protested outside of the company's Santa Monica office for bad working conditions as well.
Harry Campbell, an Uber driver who's done pickups in OC and founder of The Rideshare Guy Blog and Podcast thinks most drivers underestimate the cost of operating their vehicle and that Uber and Lyft take advantage of this when providing income numbers.
"Most drivers have come to realize that you can't really trust the rideshare companies when they give out numbers on earning potential," he says. "There are definitely lots of part-time drivers out there making good money by cherry-picking the best hours to drive and lots of full-time drivers making it work, but it's not exactly going to make you rich. Many of the full-time drivers are living paycheck to paycheck and do feel like they are under-paid for the services they are providing, but don't have a better option."
Uber's argument is that driving jobs are normally worked by people who already have full-time jobs or need to make some cash to float on during transition periods; in brief, they're not meant to make you a living. In terms of the changing pay rates, Uber spokesperson Taylor Patterson says the company is constantly evolving as a business, and that means making adjustments in different markets.
"We're always very clear as communicative with our drivers with what those changes will look like," she says. "As we grow, we see what works and what doesn't, and we're gonna make adjustments that we need to."
Perhaps the next incentive for workers will be to drive for free.