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Fargo Uber drivers talk pros and cons of the job

FARGO--Uber arrived here almost a year ago. So what do drivers think about working for the ride-hailing service? Fargo drivers say they like being able to work whenever they want, meeting interesting passengers and making some extra dough. But as...

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Jimmy Taiwo, 29.

 

FARGO--Uber arrived here almost a year ago. So what do drivers think about working for the ride-hailing service?

Fargo drivers say they like being able to work whenever they want, meeting interesting passengers and making some extra dough. But as with any job, there are downsides. Some drivers say it's hard to make a living.

Uber driver Jimmy Taiwo, 29, said a good personality is all it takes. "As long as you're a sociable person, you're just a people person, Uber is just going to be a piece of cake for you."

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Uber launched in Fargo in May and connects riders and drivers through a smartphone app. Drivers work on their own schedule and are paid a portion of riders' fares.

Taiwo, a genial graduate student, said he earned almost $2,000 in one week last fall when North Dakota State University beat the University of North Dakota in football.

"I couldn't believe it. It was just ringing--beep beep beep," Taiwo said, describing the process by which Uber drivers accept ride requests through the smartphone app.

In a normal week, Taiwo makes $800 to $900, which surprised him. "Since I've started doing Uber, I've actually relied on it, because it can bring in so much income," he said.

Taiwo said it wasn't until Uber recently decided to cut fares, in a gamble to boost ridership, that he watched his earnings drop by a third.

Taiwo, a sales manager by day, is like many drivers who work for Uber part time.

Ismail Dini, 29, drives for Uber when he's not driving a school bus. The flexibility of Uber--drivers can sign in and out as they wish--is ideal for him. "You pick your own hours," he said.

One downside, say Dini and other Fargo drivers, is the unpredictable pay. "Sometimes you can put eight hours, 10 hours, you don't get what you expect," said Dini, who came to the U.S. from Ethiopia. "$20, $30 a whole day; sometimes it's nothing."

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Driver Andre Jordheim, 57, is trying to turn driving for Uber into a full-time job. He, too, finds that the pay can be paltry.

"It averages right around 5 bucks an hour, and that's before gas and taxes," he said, noting that Uber takes a 25 percent cut.

He earned a lot more money driving a conventional taxi, but he said he left the industry because it's a dying business.

"I could see a time coming where it would not be sustainable anymore," Jordheim said.

Looking for something new, the former truck driver from Walcott scoured jobs at an employment agency, but his options were limited without a college degree. Uber doesn't require a bachelor's degree, but it does make drivers pass a background check and use a newer car. Jordheim found the company's success attractive. "If I can just scrape by with this--I mean, I see the trend only going up," he said.

Part of the reason he turned to Uber was to avoid returning to driving truck. "That is not just a job, that is an alternate life," he said. "You live either in the seat or behind it."

Between rides, Jordheim pores over books. The voracious reader counts 2,000 volumes stacked in his home. "That's how come I got to have a three-bedroom apartment; because two rooms are a library," he said.

Jordheim also likes meeting new people. Through driving for Uber, he meets "the entire range of human variety, everything from doctors and professors to homeless people, and everything in between."

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Taiwo said the vast majority of his more than 2,000 passengers since he started driving in May have been good people with "different stories to tell and share with you. And it's fascinating."

He has only experienced two bad rides. In one case, a woman called him a racial slur. "Very, very few--a little out of the mighty ocean--are really bad eggs," he said.

A passenger yelled at Uber driver Tiffany Knott, who is disabled, because she could not put his luggage in the car trunk. "I can't lift stuff, and some people are really nice about that and understanding and other people are not so much," said Knott, who moved here from Florida for the better job market.

On the whole, drivers say they get to meet a lot of friendly and interesting people. Knott gave a ride to one passenger who attended the same Velvet Acid Christ concert she did in Denver.

"I am very into the metal, grunge, underground scenes and sometimes I get people in my car who can tell me where to go and introduce me to new bands that are pretty cool," said Knott.

Uber drivers operate in a kind of meritocracy in which passengers, who can give the driver a rating of zero to five stars, hold great power. Knott learned the hard way that anything less than a stellar rating can get a driver booted.

The 25-year-old said that system is unfair. Uber fired her because her average rating was 4.5, which was below the minimum rating of 4.7. She was re-hired after paying to take a course. "Our rating system is that you have to basically maintain a 5-star rating," she said.

On the flip side,  the rating system keeps drivers from slipping into poor customer service, Taiwo said.

"The rating system actually makes people check their own behavior," he said. "It makes the whole system balanced, and makes everybody go home happy."


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