Behind the Uber wheel: People just like us

Story and photo by Gaby Strnad

Jose Ortiz’s car is immaculately clean with a tin of candy resting between the driver and passenger seats. “Drop That Kitty” by Ty Dolla $ign plays on the radio. It’s Saturday night and Ortiz is no stranger to the wishes of his party-seeking clientele.

“Welcome to Jose’s limo service, here to help you roll up in style,” he said. Ortiz drives a Toyota Camry.

Four months ago Ortiz decided to supplement his income as a delivery driver by applying to Uber. He now drives for the ride-sharing company three times a week.

“It’s fun. It’s actually fun. I only do it when I want to. You know, I don’t have a boss on top of me saying ‘hey you have to come to work,’ I can just do it whenever,” he says.

Since its debut in 2009 Uber (formerly UberCab) has changed the definition of a taxicab service. Drivers are more than just a means of transportation from A to B.

Like Ortiz, most drivers hold regular daytime jobs and use Uber as a source of extra income. They have become more than just your average taxi driver. They are your friends, co-workers, and neighbors.

Anjelica Roman, an account manager for Arrow Electronics in Colorado, became an Uber driver two years ago after graduating from college.

“This isn’t income I need, it’s income I want,” she said.

“If I want something new, or a nice vacation, I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to save money to pay for it. I just hop in my car and drive for a couple days,” said Roman.

Ensworth, of Lakewood, California, also looked to Uber to “make some extra income.” However, his motivation for driving goes beyond just a nice vacation.

“I’ve got a daughter who just started college. She’s up in Oregon at Southern Oregon University. But she loves it there, so I want to make it happen for her,” he said.

Ensworth works fourteen-hour shifts Monday through Thursday as a clerk for a local trucking company. On weekends, he settles into his Kia Optima for twelve-hour shifts with Uber, servicing areas near Orange and as far away as Los Angeles.

“It seems like all I do is work, but when I’m driving it’s actually nice for me. I get to get out and about. I meet new people,” he said.

Most drivers describe their experiences with Uber as generally positive, according to the app’s user ratability feature. Ensworth could think of only one instance of deviant rider behavior, while Ortiz was happy to report he had encountered “nothing too crazy so far.”

“[Driving with Uber] has been amazing. I’ve met a lot of interesting people from all over the world,” said Ari Jogiel-Schlam, self-titled fashionpreneur and creator of the brand LEOPARDËT.

Anjelica Roman, from Arrow Electronics in Colorado, believes that the best part of Uber is its “driver-centric” impact. She believes the flexibility and sense of control Uber gives their drivers is “unparalleled,” and is largely why they are able to provide exceptional service.   

Many riders agree that driver’s services are a reflection of the freedom to choose their means of income. These men and women have broken the mold of traditional driving services, and it appears to be working in their favor.

“There’s much less of a barrier between me and the driver with Uber than it is for, say, a typical taxi. It feels relaxed and easy,” said Samantha Choy, a sophomore communication studies major at Chapman University.

Drivers also appreciate the restructuring of the driver-rider relationship. After all, they are real people too, and wish to be treated as such.

“I appreciate it when riders ask me about my life because I’m more than just their driver. But I also don’t mind if you don’t say anything at all, because sometimes a ride in peace is just what you need,” said Ensworth.

Roman is optimistic about the benefits of working for the company. While she acknowledges that driving “isn’t for everyone,” at the very least, she hopes people realize Uber drivers each have their own story to tell.

“I have met multiple people that had just given up on working, but had given Uber a shot. Now they are able to pay off their bills and feel like they’re contributing to their families. This business is something that can really help people,” she says.

Indeed, Uber seems to be much more than a typical taxi service.

+ posts