Uber drivers were surprised to see CEO Travis Kalanick forced out of the company this week, but they weren’t sad to see him go. They said he had a God complex, that his caught-on-tape outburst toward a driver was “disgusting,” and that he built a “totally immoral company.”
They also said they’ll keep driving for that company — because it delivers them an income that rival ride-hailing services cannot.
Vox rode with several drivers in the Washington area on Wednesday to hear their reactions to Kalanick’s resignation, which came amid heavy pressure from investors. They spared few words criticizing the former CEO and the culture he created at Uber.
“If you start your own company, it should never get to the point that you think you are God and that you can do or say whatever you want,” driver Larry Carwell said as he maneuvered his Kia Forte through the streets of Southeast DC. “That’s not the world we live in anymore. Somebody is going to call you out on it.”
Carwell is a full-time truck driver who drives for Uber on the side. He wants to be proud to say he works for Uber, he said, and right now he doesn't feel that way.
“I hope,” he said, “they can put someone in [the CEO] role who is a positive influence from the top down.”
Kalanick had the wrong priorities
The drivers were well aware of the allegations of a toxic work culture at Uber’s headquarters in San Francisco — a place where sexual harassment and sexism reportedly went unchecked. Some of the drivers had even seen the viral video of Kalanick berating an Uber driver (“it was disgusting,” said one driver).
Many of the drivers said they have mixed feelings about the company they work for (or “work with,” as many clarified). One woman with seven children, Shemekia King, said driving for Uber allowed her to make enough money to quit her security guard job and spend more time with her kids.
Another driver, who declined to give his name because he is undergoing a top-secret security clearance review for a federal job, said he is ashamed to work for a “totally immoral company” that treats its drivers so badly.
The 52-year-old driver, who is behind the wheel 12 hours a day, seven days a week, had a long list of complaints about the company, including late payments and frustration with company representatives. “I have very little faith that anything will change,” he said.
His frustration echoed that of other drivers, who said the company does not communicate enough with them, and that it always takes a customer's word over theirs, without asking drivers for their side in a dispute.
Despite these frustrations, none of the drivers planned to stop working for the company or to switch to a competitor like Lyft. The money is too good, they said, even though it means they have to work long hours to make it worthwhile. Most of them had worked for Lyft in the past, or do so occasionally, and they all agreed that the company has more perks for drivers — it just doesn’t have enough users in the Washington area.
Uber needs to value drivers
Andre Oli, who has been driving for Uber for nine months, worried that the upheaval at the company will make people stop using the ride-hailing service. He said he loves driving for the company and that he quit his job as a marketing and public relations professional because he wanted to create his own schedule, which he can now. But to make good money as a driver, he says, you can’t be lazy. He picks up about 200 riders a week, and regularly works 12-hour days.
“Sometimes I make $1,500 a week, and that’s not even my best week,” he said, as he drove his Toyota Sienna minivan through Arlington. It ends up paying more than his desk job did. Now he’s planning to take a month-long vacation to India, China, and Dubai, something he said he could never do before. His major complaint about Uber was not that the company takes about 25 percent of his earnings for each ride, but that the company treats its customers better than its drivers.
Oli said he took a hiatus from Uber for a few days this year because he was upset that the company refunded a customer’s ride without calling him to see what had happened. “It’s not true that the customer is always right,” he said. “They need to contact the driver first and give them the opportunity to explain.”
Oli started driving again after a company representative called to check on him after noticing he had stopped driving. That should have happened from the start, he said. As a public relations professional, Oli had some ideas about how Uber could improve its image.
“I would focus more on building interpersonal relationships with drivers,” he said. “How you treat [drivers] reflects who you are as a company and how you treat people in general.”
This week, Uber was already making efforts to appease its drivers. Carwell pointed to the notification he saw Wednesday on his Uber application.
“We heard what you had to say,” the notification said, announcing that the company would start giving riders the option to tip drivers and would start charging riders for making drivers wait more than two minutes at their pickup sites. Carwell seemed hopeful.
“I hope the culture changes,” he said. “As a driver, you want to feel comfortable saying you work for Uber.”