The author.
The author. Peter Kuel

The Music Always Matters
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This New Year’s Eve, millions of people across the country will raise a glass to ring in 2018. Then many of them will pull out their smart phones and call an Uber or Lyft driver to make sure they get home safely. I’m one of those drivers, and while I’ll deliver you safely to your doorstep, my job isn’t delivering for me.

I am originally from South Sudan. I came to the United States in 2003 as a refugee, and in 2008, I moved from Iowa to Seattle to work as a cab driver.

I started driving for Uber in 2014, and since then, I’ve logged almost 23,000 trips. When I first started, we could earn good money driving for Uber: $2.40 per mile. But then fares started getting lower and lower. The rates went to $1.87. Then they went to $1.35. Right now, Uber pays $1.05 per mile.

Because I’m getting less than half of what I earned three years ago, that means I’m working longer and longer hours in order to try to keep up. I drive 14-16 hours some days, because the only thing you can do to make money is to keep on driving. I get sleepy, but I have to keep on driving. My back hurts from being in a car so much, but I just keep driving. I support my 14 year old daughter, and I pay my parents’ rent and my own. I have to make my bills like everyone else, but I’m stuck working more and more, for less and less money.

Sometimes you work for hours and don’t pick anybody up. When I do have fares, I don’t even know where I am taking a person until they are actually in my car. I’m lucky if I pick up someone who lives far away, because then maybe I can make a little money. With the fare cuts, I have to work long days every day, and I especially have to work holidays, which means if I ever want to take a holiday with my family, it’s money out of my pocket.

New Year’s Eve is a good night because lots of people need rides home from their celebrations. You can make money, but it's only one night of the year. People go out. They pay the extra “surge” pricing that Uber charges, but they also get drunk and say and do things. Even in the best of times, if a customer gives me a bad rating, if they don’t like my face—no matter who was in the wrong—I risk getting deactivated by Uber, no questions asked of the customer. So I just have to ignore whatever happens with a customer. I have to hope no one gets sick in my car, because then I lose more time and more fare, and maybe even my job.

Some of my friends have it even worse. Back when we were being paid more, some of them had quit other jobs and bought cars through the company. And the company deducts their car payments from their fares. They are stuck with Uber and have even more to lose if they get a bad rating.

The company says that we drivers are its “partners,” but a partner is someone who gets a say in decisions made by the company, and Uber controls everything. When they lower our rates, it’s their choice, not ours, and we have no say in the matter. They call us their partners, but it's Uber who has decided to give us no benefits, no vacation, no holiday pay, no health insurance, and no retirement. We pay for our cars, our fuel, our insurance and our maintenance, because Uber tells us that we have to. That’s not a partnership.

I love driving. I’m proud that I can get people safely home to start their year, but I’d like to start my year with changes to this system. I want fair pay. I want to work normal hours that leave me time to spend with my family, and I want drivers like me to have a say in what the company does. We deliver for Uber. Uber should deliver for us.