By Virginia Flanders
In an age of apps and cell phones, we can send a text in a second and see faces from thousands of miles away with the tap of a touchscreen. We can even get from point A to point B with the use of an app.
Established in 2009, Uber served 400 million customers a month in 2017 and is growing. There are two Uber apps – one for drivers and one for riders.
Angel O’Brien is an Oxford Uber driver. O’Brien said she moved to Oxford last June to be closer to family and because her daughter, Blessing Perkins, would be attending Ole Miss in the fall.
“I found a job before we moved up here, and when I got here, it didn’t work out,” she said. “My older son said, ‘Mom, why don’t you try driving Uber there,’ and so I put it off for a month. Then I started driving, and I realized that it affords me total freedom, and that’s why I do it.”
According to a 2015 Business Insider report, many Uber drivers stick with it because they like the flexibility the work provides. O’Brien agrees with the majority. She said she loves not having to “punch a time clock” or ask for time off.
In 2017, www.businessofapps.com reported that there were 1.5 million Uber drivers in the world in 2017, and 71 percent have family at home and prefer the flexibility Uber allows them.
“Most of the time, you can find me out at night,” said O’Brien. “I drive between 7 at night and 2 in the morning,” she said.
O’Brien drives almost every night and has driven for more than 2,000 customers in the past five months, which averages around 100 rides a week.
“Some weeks are more, and some weeks are less,” she said. “You know, of course, at Christmas, it was totally dead. There was nobody here. So that was a slow month.”
O’Brien said the public usually only hears bad stories in the media regarding the company’s safety reputation, but she said that doesn’t paint an accurate picture of the company and its drivers. She provided a counter example that happened in winter.
“This girl put another girl in my car,” she said, “and the girl was so inebriated she couldn’t remember which apartment was hers, couldn’t find her keys, couldn’t find anything,” O’Brien said. “I dropped her off, and normally I would just leave, but I knew she was really bad, so I watched her, and she fell in the snow and passed out.”
O’Brien said there could have been a news headline the next morning saying an Oxford girl froze to death in the snow, and any number of people could have dropped her off and left her.
“She’s okay,” said O’Brien. “I went back, pulled her out of the snow, spent a half an hour with her, tried to find her keys, got her into her apartment, and if I didn’t get another call right away, I was gonna go back to that bar, find the friend, and tell the friend that she’s not a friend,” she said.
The first step as a rider after downloading the Uber app is to provide basic information, such as your name, number and credit card information. Then you can search for a ride by entering an address in the “Where to?” box. Confirm the destination and your exact pick-up spot by dropping a pin on the map, and your ride time and cost is estimated for you.
Different types of Uber services run at different rates. The more riders in the car, the more expensive the ride is – a process Uber has called “surge pricing.” Different types of rides offered are UberX, UberXL, and UberSelect.
UberX is typically a standard sized car, like a Toyota Corolla, that seats up to four riders. UberXL cars are bigger vehicles that can carry up to six passengers, like a Hyundai Santa Fe, and UberSelect vehicles are high end brands like Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
Once you pick a driver near you, you’ll receive a message telling you the car is on the way and its estimated time of arrival. Uber provides first names of both drivers and riders to the other. The rider gets their driver’s rating before the car arrives, and the car’s color, model, and registration number.
The app even tracks the location of the car with an icon on the map. Once they arrive, simply jump in, say hello, and you’re on the road. A progress bar is provided at the top of the screen during the ride that includes the ETA to your destination. Also, a newer feature allows you to share your trip’s progress through Facebook, Gmail, text message and more to ensure safety for both the driver and riders.
O’Brien’s daughter, Perkins, said her mother’s job affects her socially in both positive and negative ways. People reach out to her and tell her how great her mom is, but her mom sometimes tells her stories about friends being disrespectful and rude.
However, “She definitely uses it as a ministry and not just a source of income,” said Perkins,” who thinks of her mother as the “mom of the campus.” “She’s just like everyone’s mom. All of my friends know her, and she takes care of everybody.”
O’Brien agrees that she views her job as a ministry. “It’s not about the Uber driver,” she said. “It’s about what happens in between the time you get out of the Uber to where you’re going. I just think that friends here should take better care of each other.”
Digital Trends explains that the Uber app pays the driver automatically with the card on file. Customers are given the option to rate the drivers after a ride, and to leave a tip, but both are optional.