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What It's Like To Be An Uber Driver In 2015

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Uber driving files (Photo by Luke Novak via the Creative Commons on Flickr)
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I'm Lexus Jones. I have a regular full-time job but on the weekends and a few weeknight 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.

What is it like to be an Uber driver?

It's fun. It's freaky. It's exciting. Sometimes it's scary.

Once I had a guy with an oversized white T-shirt, big baggy pants and a bandana on his head sit in the front seat (which is uncommon) and ask me to take him to a gas station and wait. I thought, "Is he going to rob this place and make me the getaway driver?" Fortunately he just wanted to some smokes and a 40 ounce beer. But I have had some other scary rides.

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Another time, what appeared to be a pimp and his prostitute were in the back seat, very irritated at what went down before I arrived. They talked to each other about guns and how they would get some, and who they would use it towards.

I picked them up in a good part of town and dropped them off in an even better neighborhood. I was very confused.

What's not shocking is as soon as you put your Uber sign up on your windshield lots of people hate you who don't even know you. Cabbies, valet guys, the cops, and other ride share drivers often give you dirty looks and try to throw shade. (Keep trying.)

Some passengers treat you like their long-lost therapist. Some treat you like their long-lost chauffeur who they're pissed at for some reason and bark directions at you. Some people are obviously control freaks who want to backseat drive but also want to text. You can see them alternating every 15 seconds from their phone to your driving like a nervous tick. Chill out, boss, we'll get there.

Late at night you see car accidents and people puking. So much vomit.

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In Long Beach I once saw a car speeding by at 2 am. A college girl's head sticking out of a rolled-down window. The side of the car was going to need some attention as she hurled and hurled. The car, probably an Uber, just kept going.

I've seen people asleep at the wheel at stop lights. I've heard college boys beg their date to let them have sex in the back of my car. People have snorted drugs back there while their friends protested. I may have delivered a hooker or two to their awaiting Johns.

Most of the time you're oblivious to the shenanigans. A good driver is more concerned with the traffic ahead and around them.

Underneath it all is Uber itself, who takes 20% of fares from UberX drivers (and an even bigger cut from UberPlus and UberSUV drivers) and invests millions of that into driverless cars so they can eliminate us.

It's weird driving all night and early in the morning for a start-up valued (on paper) for more than FedEx and who are doing everything they can to replace us with robots as quickly as possible. Perhaps you heard about Uber recently "gutted Carnegie Mellon’s top robotics lab to build self-driving cars"? Our "partner" gave a whole staff of scientists six-figure bonuses and huge raises to develop cars that would drive themselves. Human drivers at Uber have never received any bonuses for driving our own cars, paying our own gas, and helping build Uber to what it is. So yeah, that's not the best feeling.

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It's also quite unusual to work for (with?) a company who doesn't give you their phone number and lowers your pay rate on a whim.

They call us partners, but we have no say. They call themselves a technology company, not a transportation company, yet the same exact technology that you use to hail an UberX vehicle also gets you an UberPlus sedan but they take a bigger cut from Plus rides. If the technology was the same, shouldn't the commission also be the same?

They disconnect us without warning over small matters and big ones, and then take days and sometimes weeks to work with us to resolve the problem (which is usually just a paperwork issue on their side).

And worse of all, the company floods the streets with as many drivers as they can sign up, with little regard to quality. You don't know how often I get passengers relieved that I speak English and actually know where their destination is. Uber didn't used to be like that. Cabs did.

Many of us stay with it because on any given day you can pick up someone who wants to go somewhere really far. And if we are extremely lucky, they will ask us to take them back. This doesn't happen all the time, but every day there are stories among drivers of people who just want to get in a car and go: price be damned.

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The shorter rides can be fun. The passengers are usually going somewhere exciting, or returning from somewhere good. They're happy. Music is playing. If traffic isn't bad, you might find yourself living vicariously through them.

Some passengers teach you about certain buildings. Some tell you their personal love stories. Some whine. Some cry. But 9 out of 10 times it is a very, very positive ride with smart, happy, interesting people.

A few years ago, before the price slashes, driving was addictive because 8 hours could net you $300. For a while Uber was only taking 5% commission. You could work for a few hours and make $100 while driving around good people. Unless it was surging exorbitantly high, no one ever complained about the price because it was usually half of what cabs cost.

But since Uber was only taking a small percentage of the fare, the company never felt the pinch when they cut prices quarter after quarter, city by city. It's the drivers who pay for the gas, the cars, the "free" water, and the upkeep. As the "temporary" price cuts continued and became permanent, though, the buzz eventually faded.

Some of us bought luxury cars or SUVs to escape the downward spiral on Uber X to graduate to more profitable platforms, but now those platforms have too many drivers. You have to really hustle to make what we once made simply driving Uber X. It's not rare to see more Plus vehicles driving down Sunset than Uber X cars. We wait for Uber to advertise for Uber Plus to educate people that we exist and what we are, but they never do. Nor do they create any promotions. They just keep signing up more drivers and counting their money and investing in robots or China or anything other than existing U.S. drivers.

If it sounds like I'm whining, I am a little bit. We all do a little. A year ago Uber had ads on Facebook that you may have seen. It said things like "Make $75,000 a year with your own car." They don't say that any more. Their price cuts and hiring practices have ended any hope of making any real money as a driver.

So now being an Uber driver is more about trying to make $20 an hour, gross, if you can, as a side job. Which isn't horrible. It just isn't what many of us were promised or signed up for.

Meanwhile, Uber becomes the richest start-up in recent history, all while telling passengers not to tip their drivers.

That about sums up what it's like to be an Uber driver in L.A.

Next week 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