Random conversations with Uber drivers

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For several months now, I’ve been taking Uber at least once a week. This is usually during my coding days or if my schedules are tight that taking the car to a meeting and looking for parking will just be a huge hassle.

During these days, most of the Uber drivers would spark a conversation. The conversations started out with mundane topics such as traffic, gas prices and the usual politics. Eventually, I would steer the discussion towards how the drivers fare with the Uber network. While I won’t ask too many detailed questions, I’d allow them to volunteer the information.

For the most part, the Uber business is still very good. One driver tells me they could still earn as much as Php37,000 in a week. That nets the owner around Php22k after Uber takes its 20% and the driver gets his 20% share as well.

That’s the normal setup — 60% to the owner of the car, 20% to the driver and 20% goes to Uber. If the owner is also the driver, then they get 80% of the proceeds. The driver of the brand new Toyota Fortuner that I got managed to rack up Php93,000 on his first six weeks since December with an average of around 10 to 11 bookings per day. The high revenue could also be attributed to the high sruge rates during the Christmas season.

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Of course, this driver is the exception. He basically lives in his brother’s Fortuner for most of the week, plying the routes of Makati and The Fort 7 days a week and almost round the clock. He would still drive up until the wee hours of the morning, picking a lot of late-night partygoers along the way and booking travelers going to and from the airport. He’d sleep in free parking slots and wake up just before 6am so he’d won’t be fined by the traffic enforcers. He has friends and relatives in a few cities in the metro that he’d visit if he needs to take a shower and change up then drive back to his home town in Pampanga once every two weeks to get a new set of clothes.

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Other drivers have much less stress with running Uber. One drives his boss to work every day and picks up passengers in between runs. It’s a more cost-effective way to recoup the investment on the loaned car. Another one owns a small fleet of Toyota Innovas and Mitsubishi Monteros that they provide for short-term lease and for out-of-town trips. Many more have just invested in a brand new car thru a bank loan hoping that they’d recoup their mortgage from the profits of running on Uber. So far, it’s working out quite well. That brand new Toyota Fortuner costs Php26,300 a month on a 5 year loan.

Drivers of Mitrubishi Monteros have different storis though. Either I’m just always in luck or most of the Uber Black cars are Montero Sports. About 4 out of 5 Uber Black cars that I get in the last couple of months are Monteros.

Since they’re the more controversial cars due to the SUA issue (Sudden Unintended Acceleration), they share the most interesting and funny stories. During the peak of the SUA issue, Uber drivers would get a lot of cancellations whenever a passenger discovers the one they got is a Montero. That very same day it broke out on TV last December, one Montero Sport driver shared that he got zero bookings for the entire day. Now that the issue has died down, bookings are back to normal.

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As more and more SUVs are enrolled into Uber Black, we’re seeing a wider mix of car models although we very rarely see the likes of Nissan Patrols or that Mini Cooper that we used to spot during the first few months of Uber in Manila. Today, the pool is mostly dominated by Monteros.

Majority of the drivers we talked to say Uber is still a really good business. Uber riders are also satisfied with the quality of vehicles, the ride experience and the options. Them surge pricing that occasionally surprised a lot of riders has caused bills reaching over Php2,000 for a Metro Manila ride is indeed a nightmare, it is still the option of the rider to foot the bill or not. That’s perhaps the only biggest compromise the public have to deal with in accepting innovative technologies like Uber.

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