September 17, 2014 KME Digital

The Uber Project: Day 1



So, I’m trying a little experiment with that ride-sharing system, Uber. It’s a personal experiment, in no way associated with that company. Why? Because our business is seasonal, and as great as the year has been so far, bottom line-speaking, we’re starting to enter the “slow season.” The slow season is an agonizingly slow yet rapid decrease in the number of work requests we get until about April.

We have a number of ideas and methods to mitigate the downturn, but one thing I’ve always considered is getting another job. The problem — I don’t want to give up the flexibility that running this company gives me, and it has to be worth the time spent away from “the helm.” I don’t want to work for someone else if I can’t devote my full attention to that job. Uber might be the perfect solution to this.

I actually signed up months ago but the summer chaos kept me extremely busy. Plus, during these months I’m essentially on-call for the inevitable crises that require backup or even a replacement crew leader. Yesterday, however, I took the truck out for an Uber test run.

I’m not sure what I expected, but I know I wasn’t expecting to be blown away. It’s so simple!

I started in the late morning — probably not peak hours, which is what I wanted to avoid this first time out. I used the Uber-provided phone to go online around the intersection of Duke and Quaker streets here in Alexandria, and I headed into the city. I figured I’d get a ping pretty quickly, but I was surprised to get all the way up 14th street before the first “ping.” I was only a few blocks away and was able to get to the pick-up address within minutes.

It was a man, about middle-aged, on the other side of the street. He looked at my truck, but since it didn’t have any Uber signage on it, he didn’t seem to realize I was there. So, I hopped out, crossed the street, and went up and asked him if he was looking for an Uber driver. He looked at me, then my truck, and laughed.

Yeah. Great start.

I guess Ford F150s aren’t part of the UberX fleet, so he was understandably surprised. But, it’s black, it’s got a big crew cab, and tons of room.

The drive took about 20 minutes to go from Point A to Point B near Foggy Bottom. Boom. Done.

I decided to head over to Union Station. After all, that’s where battalions of cabs hang out. Sure enough, I got a ping, but it was from a nearby residence. I picked her up and took her maybe ten blocks away. It wasn’t a huge ride, but she seemed to appreciate it.

My third ride of the day was from the Foggy Bottom area to Dulles Airport. He was fairly quiet, but eventually we got to talking and he told me about a friend he has in San Francisco, where Uber got started. This buddy ran some kind of Air Conditioning service and started doing Uber on the side, but it didn’t take too long for him to realize Uber was a much more lucrative thing. Granted, he drives about 13 hours per day, but he’s making around $10,000 per month. That’s not what I’m aiming for (I love my truck and don’t want to kill it with miles or other perils of the city), but hey, it’s nice to know what’s possible.

So, I’m going to keep at it. It was fun, this little experiment. Let’s see where it goes.

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