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Uber's Bumpy Ride To LAX Is A Good Thing, Driver Explains

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I'm Lexus Jones. I have a regular full-time job but on the weekends and occasional weeknights I drive for Uber. Over the last couple of years I have driven over 2,000 trips for Uber. At first I drove on the UberX platform. Now I drive a luxury car on the Uber Plus platform. Whenever I think that I have seen it all, something new happens. I will be sharing those stories here. I will also answer questions and give advice on how to get the most out of your rides.

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The Encounter (Photo by Khris Griffis via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
This week ride-hailing apps hit a roadblock when the L.A. City Council overwhelmingly voted against allowing companies like Uber and Lyft from picking up passengers at the LAX terminals—for now.

This isn't a death sentence for the companies' journey to the airport; it simply delays the inevitable approval. It gives officials 20 days to investigate things like how rigorous Uber's background checks are. That is especially important for Uber, in light of a recent discovery that a handful of Uber drivers cited at LAX have serious criminal records.

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Some Uber drivers are disappointed by the vote, claiming it's the result of L.A. taxi companies who have spent big bucks in lobbying efforts since 2013. However, there are many drivers like me who welcome this delay.

Why? Because Uber as a company needs to slow its roll.

One of the issues I have with Uber is their frenzied approach to expanding as quickly as possible with little regard to their drivers' and passengers' best interest. Some speculate that the reason Uber is trying to expand at breakneck speed is so they can launch an I.P.O. ASAP and then cash out ASAP and disappear ASAP.

Uber's LAX embarrassment shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who has followed the company's hiring practices. They've been hiring pretty much anyone with a pulse and a car less than 15 years old. With that practice, you're bound to get some bad apples who a) have foul attitudes b) have sketchy pasts and c) reflect poorly on your brand. Aren't those some of the main reasons we hated riding in cabs?

Uber is obsessed with having as many vehicles on the road as possible, but it doesn't seem to care too much about the quality of the experience. Even their own miserable rating system only weeds out the worst 2% of its lowest-rated drivers. So it shouldn't be too shocking that there were some drivers on its platforms who have criminal records (who then broke LAX's rules and got cited).

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If Uber would just relax, slow down, and spend as much effort retaining good drivers as it does in trying to hire every Tom, Dick and Harry, they could maintain the distinction of being different than its taxi rivals. Instead they hire cab rejects merely because they have a 6-year old Prius.

Honest Uber drivers welcome tougher background checks. Fingerprint us. Look closely at our records. And if we get cited breaking the one rule at LAX—like picking up passengers at the terminal—then suspend or fire us.

Wouldn't you rather have a fleet of 20,000 Uber drivers with clean records, clean cars, and great attitudes than an army of 30,000 drivers where every third driver is shady or ticked off?

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If Uber worried more about retention than insane expansion they'd reward proven drivers with bonuses.

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Currently, Uber takes a 20% cut from Uber X drivers and 28% from Uber Plus and Uber XL drivers. Why not lower that commission for drivers once they have driven a certain amount of rides in a year (say, a thousand) to reward their loyalty to the platform and their dedication?

How about giving a year-end cash bonus to drivers who maintain a 4.9 rating or higher? Or best of all: why not put a goddamned tip button in the app?

That's how you keep solid drivers on the road and that's how you motivate people to be better at their jobs.

Instead we read about Uber being worth billions and billions while the drivers—the heart of the company—see none of that growing valuation. Worse, we see fares being slashed annually around the country. How is that motivation to keep the inside of our cars clean, to spend money out of our pockets on bottled water and treats, or to get that one extra car wash?

Before Uber spends millions on self-driving cars to replace its human drivers or to expand to India and China, why not invest on making the current app in the US better? The GPS is notoriously buggy and despite constant updates, including the most current one, finding the passenger is a daily adventure for drivers who increasingly rely on using the phone to call and ask, "Where are you? Your pin says you're in the Pacific Ocean."

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We want to trust that Uber isn't creating its own bubble. But there have been so many times in their past this company has driven the rates down as low as it can—in its foolish pursuit to "destroy" its competitors—when all it's did was kill any profit to good drivers.

And when you lose the good Uber drivers, you start seeing the bad Uber drivers in the news being caught doing the creepy, illegal and immoral things.

It's good that Uber hit a road block this week. Perhaps they can look at it as a moment to pause, recalibrate, and perfect what they already have before they take their next step. And trust me, they have plenty to work on.

Lexus will answer your questions. So leave them in the comments below or e-mail us at tips@laist.com. Follow Lexus on Twitter at @uberlexus

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