A Science Experiment for the BC Graduate Tech Club (and my wallet)
A Blog Post by Jacqueline Ouellet, BC MBA '16
I’ve been an Uber driver for about a month now. I’ve logged a total of 7.5 hours on the road, chauffeuring people around Boston and the burbs. About a quarter of the people I’ve driven around have asked me how I became an Uber driver and why I’m doing it. I tell them it’s for two reasons. The first reason is to help pad the wallet a bit while I readjust to living without an income. The second is for BC.
I was lucky enough to be accepted to go on this year’s Tech Trek West, a field study to visit tech firms in Seattle and Silicon Valley (more to come on that experience in my next blog post.) One of the firms we’re visiting is Uber. I figured some inside insight wouldn’t hurt when we have the chance to talk to BC alumni during our time meeting with the company. I was also incredibly interested in how Uber got so popular, why it works the way it does, and some rider and driver pain points.
Arguably the biggest pain point for riders is surge pricing. As an Economics major (BC ’09!), I immediately liked the concept of surge pricing. Not that I’m willing to spend the money for 4x the normal fare, but it makes perfect economic sense. If you’re willing to pay for it, you should be able to get a ride across the city, even if you are paying top dollar. Many riders hate this, feeling as though they are being taken advantage of when they need a ride the most. Well as it turns out, Uber drivers are real people, too, and also would prefer to go out to dinner on a Friday night or be sleeping at 2 AM when the bars close. Surge pricing gets more drivers on the road when more people need rides. Simple economics, hence the appeal.
On the driver side, my biggest frustration is that I’m not able to choose an area within which to drive. All drivers are at the whim of the riders – drivers aren’t actually shown the destination of the rider until the rider gets in the car and the driver swipes “start trip” or asks the rider, “where to?” This means if things go poorly, as a driver I could potentially end up in New Hampshire towards the end of the night, an hour or more away from home with no guarantee a request will come through for a ride back to Chestnut Hill.
While there are a couple possible improvements in logistics, the ease of use is top-notch. The driver app, like the rider app, is incredibly intuitive and easy to use. Uber certainly makes it easy for drivers to know how much money they’re making and how they compare against the top drivers out there. As you can see in the screenshot below, I’m making better money per hour than the top drivers (because I only drive during times of surge pricing), but I’m working fewer hours and taking many fewer trips. This dashboard makes it easy to see how I’m stacking up against other drivers and definitely providers an incentive to stay on top and keep driving.
The screenshot below makes it easy for me to see when the busiest hours are and when I’m most likely to see surge pricing. This is mostly intuitive, but it’s nice to have a visual. It also makes me wonder why 4 AM Monday – Thursday is one of their busiest hours.
Being involved with the company on a new level like this really got me spending a lot of time thinking about small tweaks they could make to the app to help alleviate rider and driver pain points. As I’m also involved with fundraising for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, It also made me wonder about opportunities to drive for charity. I’m sure there’s a segment of the population out there that has limited funds to donate to charities they’re passionate about, but has a car and time and would be willing to drive people around knowing the money earned would go directly to their favorite charity.
All in all, it’s been a good experience so far. I’ve picked up other MBAs from both BU and Harvard and have even been able to do a bit of networking while driving people around. If nothing else, it’s great practice talking about any topic under the sun with a stranger. More to come on this in my next post!