Travis Kalanick, your Uber drivers don’t know you and they don’t really care

This unidentified Uber driver probably doesn't care about Uber's problems.
Image: Shutterstock / Jne Valokuvaus

“He stepped down? No way!”

I was on my fourth Uber ride of the afternoon, trying to gauge the temperature of the contractors who are the life’s blood of the increasingly controversial startup.

Firas, who was taking me back to Mashable‘s mid-town Manhattan office had no idea that Uber CEO and founder Travis Kalanick was taking time away from the company to focus on becoming a better leader and deal with the death of his mother.

Like most of my other drivers, Firas (none of the drivers provided their last names) is under 30, has been driving an Uber for less than two years (most I spoke to had just a year under their belt) and is not exactly connected to the day-to-day machinations of the company that pays him.

Another driver, Temba, a 29-year-old native of Nepal, said he wasn’t concerned about Uber’s management issues, but did grant that, “Maybe it [affects] passenger who takes Uber on basis of name or good will.”

Temba agreed with my other drivers and said there is no communication from Uber about the company. “It’s hard to believe whether the company exists or not,” he offered as we creeped through East Side traffic. Though he does credit Uber with “changing the whole concept of getting a cab.”

Temba is an avid Google News reader and he knew a lot about the company, though he initially said he thought Kalanick was leaving for vacation. However, Temba was soon ticking off Uber disaster talking points like a CNN talking head.

  • He’s grieving for the death of his mother, giving her a proper goodbye.

  • There’s some investigation by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

  • Even Kalanick was subject to investigation

  • It was all about the females not being treated properly and not getting proper pay

Temba clearly had the gist of it, but like other drivers I spoke to, these issues were but a distant rumble in the world of Uber’s empire and its drivers.

For most of them, the focus is on the work, the good and bad of it. Each of them told me that business isn’t as good as it was a year ago, but it had nothing to do with Uber executive departures and everything to do with too many drivers.

Zhejun, who came to the U.S. from China, started driving a year ago, when he would quickly hop from one fare to another. Now, he told me as he turned onto 18th Street, the wait is 5-to-10 minutes in between each ride.

He has no idea who Kalanick is, but has an inkling of the shakeup.

“I just know a lot of people, the high-class management, left Uber,” he told me.

Zhejun added that the company has never sent out any kind of email or memo about what they’re up to.

Uber appears to have maintained its distance from drivers from pretty much Day One. Firas, a Brooklyn native, didn’t even have to take the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) test to become a driver. Now they all do.

One thing they all have in common, though, is that Uber had them watch a two-hour training video, one they could go through at their leisure on their home computer.

Zhejun, who is 25 and wants to go back to school to get his masters in economics, tried to describe its contents to me.

It’s mostly the TLC rules, but a few things stuck out, like adhering to Vision Zero traffic rules, which require you drive no faster than 25 mph in the city, waiting for pedestrians before making a turn and “Sexual Travel.”

I asked him to repeat the term and then explain what it means. “You can’t deliver the prostitute. It’s prohibited,” he said. In other words, driving sex workers to sex jobs is a big no-no.

Drivers like Zhejun and Firas simply don’t care about Kalanick and perhaps that’s because, at least at a corporate level, Uber doesn’t appear to pay much attention to its drivers. The drivers have the app, they follow the rules, everyone gets paid, and they’re mostly happy or at least not unhappy.

All of them told me they preferred Uber over Lyft. Some, like my first driver Mohammed, who came to the U.S. two years ago (he didn’t want to share where from) and has 10 cousins who are all Uber drivers, tries to serve multiple ride-sharing services. However, Mohammed still prefers Uber because “rich people use Lyft.”

Firas sticks with Uber because he can’t imagine having four phones in his car.

He’s also not sweating the Uber mess because ride-sharing is not his future.

“Hopefully, I’ll become a physical therapist and then I’ll treat Uber drivers,” he said.

One other attribute all the drivers shared was their willingness to talk. Perhaps it was their desire to get a good Uber rating my drivers were all four and above or maybe they were caught off guard by my questions.

Mohammed, though, revealed why he shared so freely. As I stepped out of the car, he looked back at me with a huge grin and said, “You work for Uber?” I wanted to explain again what I was doing, but I realized that would keep him from getting to his next fare.

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