In the driver’s seat with Uber

Harold Banks, Staff Reporter

The rise of ridesharing companies, such as Uber and Lyft, represents an opportunity for students to balance school and work in ways never before possible. Whether you’ve procrastinated signing up for optimally timed classes or simply took on too many units, balancing school with work can be more daunting than navigating De Anza’s criminally un- wieldy website.

Apart from the difficult task of making sure your class times and work times don’t intersect, there are other issues of timing. If you’re working on a group assignment, getting everyone’s schedules in line can be nearly as hard as the actual work. In the past, if you had to work, you had to work. Not so in the case of ridesharing.

With the ability to work when and where you want, drivers can now make work adjust to their lives, instead of the other way around. But is it ultimately worth it? Based on my experience driving for Uber, the answer is yes – and no. It all depends what you expect from the experience. Plus, I just love giving cop-out answers.

Pro: You can work on your own schedule. Uber was an absolute lifesaver. Instead of working two or three days a week at my regular job and living on Top Ramen and tap water, I was now able to work literally any place, any time. Add in the fact that Uber pays every week, with minimal planning, I’ve been able to get out of many tight spots. With no boss to tell me to stop milking the clock, I can keep driving until I make the money I need. Or I run out of gas money.

Con: You can work on your own schedule. No, I’m not delirious or deranged. The first pro is also a con.

You see, driving gets boring sometimes. And I’m a bit of an introvert. And I might see someone selling girl scout cookies. And I’m getting tired. And hey, what’s that shiny thing over there? The thing with being your own boss is that there’s no one to hold you accountable. For natural self-starters, that’s fine. For normal human beings, forcing yourself to continue your monotonous job can be a challenge. There’s always that nagging temptation that, “Hell, I can make the money tomorrow.”

Pro: You meet new people every day on the job. For those looking to network, or are simply friendly, Uber provides a great opportunity to

connect with new people as well as brush up on their social skills. In the age of texting and social media, face to face (or face to back- of-head), interaction is a skill many students entering the workforce are lacking. Make no mistake about it, if you don’t know how to interact well with people, moving up the career ladder will be a tougher task than it already is. Especially for a reserved person such as myself, driving Uber is a great way to practice those social skills.

Con: Uber is kind of a crappy company. At least enough drivers think so to spur protests in many cities across the country complaining about many issues, such as lowering fares (and thus driver wages), a lack of benefits one might get from a “real” employer, the 20 percent cut Uber takes from each fare and the company’s over-hiring practices, among others. As a student using Uber to supplement my regular job, some of these issues don’t really bother me as much as they should. If you’re depending on it to pay rent, you have a tough haul ahead.

Pro: Did I mention you get paid every week? This might be my favorite part of working for Uber. As a student, unexpected expenses are the norm, and having to weather the storm for one week is a lot better than two weeks or a month. My procrastination is pathological. I always seem to register for classes or buy my books at the last minute, and once I have to absolutely have them, I’m often dead broke. Uber has bailed me out of that situation more than once.

Con: You never know who’s gonna get in your car. The unmistakeable smell of Jack Daniel’s lounged in the air as if to remind me that, despite the awkward silence, I was not alone. Yes, the passenger was so blotto, I could distinguish what brand he was drinking. After he confirmed he was who he was supposed to be, the man didn’t breathe a word. In fact, I’m not completely convinced he breathed at all. Not a sound had come from the back seat and it was starting to creep me out. That was when it dawned on me: I’m letting random people climb into my car in the middle of the night. When he finally broke the silence, after what seemed like an eternity, everything he said was technically in English. More specifically, though, it was crazy talk. Not the fun kind of crazy, but the kind of crazy where I begin to wonder how badly I’ll get hurt if I’m forced to tuck and roll out of a moving vehicle. I glanced in the back seat to see if he was on the phone. Nope, he was definitely talking to me. Or, talking at me. After he finally got out, I called it a night. I needed a drink.

Bottom line: Uber is great for students, as long as you know what you’re getting into. Based on my experience, I wouldn’t drive Uber as a primary source of income. It can be unpredictable: You might make a killing one week, and not do so hot the next. Also, the wear and tear you put on your car needs to be factored into the money you’re making. But as a student trying to make a few extra bucks on a flexible schedule, I’ve benefitted greatly from Uber. The first few times my earnings were deposited into my bank account, I was almost surprised. It seemed too easy. If you’re realistic with your expectations, it just might be.