Confessions of an Uber economist

Uber (and other ride-sharing services, like Lyft) have all the things economists love: Rampant competition, disruptive technology, and—of course—people. So when Uber came to Portland, the Econ Minute economist decided he had to be a driver.

Signing up to be a driver was a snap. Scan and upload your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and city business license. Then, head off to a (free) vehicle inspection. Then, patiently wait for the background check to go through.

I began the process on Monday morning, and just a little after noon on Friday, I got a text from Uber welcoming me aboard as a driver.

I fired up the Uber driver … I mean “partner” … app, and 20 minutes later I had my first fare.

Uday (not his real name, but close enough) was about 7 minutes away from the Econ Minute world headquarters. When the order came in, I jumped in my car and put the Uber logo in my window ($1,000 fine for not displaying the logo when on duty).

Uday was on the corner eating his bento box lunch waiting for me and flagged me down. He got in with his delicious smelling lunch and told me where he was going. He said I didn’t need Uber’s driving directions because it was an easy straight shot up MLK to the salon where he was getting his hair cut.

He had a million questions about Uber in Portland and noted that I seemed to be the only Uber driver working on a Friday. He knew I was new and guessed it was my first day. I informed him it was actually my first hour.

I learned that Uday was originally from Sierra Leone and has lived in Portland about five years. He’s a soccer player and works around the Lloyd District.

We didn’t have much of a chance to chat, because the ride was so short. I dropped him off, shook his hand, and he wished me luck.

Here’s the rundown of my first Uber ride:

  • Total fare (price to rider): $8.80.
  • Driver revenue (money to me): $6.24.

Total round trip for me was about 30 minutes, door-to-door, so that works out to about $13.00 an hour.

But, I should also subtract out the cost of mileage (or should I?), which would cut that amount in half.

The next experiment is a full-day on the Uber clock.