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gig economy

The Gig Economy

Last summer some of my regular work evaporated and I joined the ridesharing “gig economy” to help pad my bank account. It was certainly a unique experience. I once drove a teenager to meet his friend in a random parking lot—for less than a minute―and then back home, a trip that while short for a friendly meeting was coincidentally the perfect amount of time needed to buy some weed.

Or the time I happened to drive, or “escort,” a very elegantly dressed woman to a man’s house late in the evening. Ironically, the woman had never been to the man’s house and the man likewise didn’t know where she lived, given his inability to help me find her address when it didn’t show up on the map correctly.

Once, I also drove a pouty and belligerently drunk woman, who after a minor disagreement with her polite and sober boyfriend, rolled down my window and screamed “HELP ME!” to random passersby. As I said, it was a memorable few months—and an experience I hope I won’t ever have to endure again.

 

The Trials Of Ridesharing

 

I was enthusiastic at first but quickly found that after long shifts on the road I developed the laconic persona of a dead-eyed cabby whose been behind the wheel far too long to be chatty.

It was flexible and it was money I could go out and get when I needed it—but it wasn’t much. Working 20-30 hours a week I could make $300-$500, but that didn’t account for money spent on gas or the 25 percent of the take one should set aside for self-employment taxes.

Though, my experience seems aligned with national trends. According to a study released last fall by the JPMorgan Chase Institute, the majority of rideshare drivers between October 2012 and March 2018 only drove three months out of the year, with only 12.5 percent driving 10 months of the year or more.

According to the same study, the popularity of rideshare apps is also taking a bite out of drivers’ profits. With the average monthly driver income falling by nearly half from late 2013 to the spring of 2018, while during the same period the number of households earning income from these rideshare apps grew by 20 times.

Pat Black experienced some of the same beginner’s optimism that I did when he signed up with the food delivery app GrubHub in late 2016. “I was so excited,” he says. “I was going to be the delivery guy that goes above and beyond.” He even wore a shirt and tie at first to make a good impression, and hopefully increase the likelihood of getting a few good tips.

“I wanted to look sharp, then a couple weeks later I was like ‘no, [expletive] that,’” Mr. Black says. Unlike most ridesharing apps, he had to sign up for shifts and only worked about 10 hours a week, and often found customers would notify him that he would be tipped in cash at delivery only to stiff him at the door. He also says the company refused to pay him base pay for three shifts, leading to him to quit. After less than a year he said he would only average $200, or usually less, in a week with the app.

 

The Benefits Of Entrepreneurship

 

Where Mr. Black and myself found “gigging” frustrating and unsustainable, Jon Smith has found recharging electric Lime scooters to be almost like a calling.

He’s a proud “juicer” as they are called in the business. He’s so into the eco-friendly model of the Limes that he himself only retrieves them on foot and then rides them back to his house to be recharged, compared to most juicers who round up scooters in trucks and vans. He will also often recruit friends and family to go retrieve the scooters and take them back to his house.

“I’ve often ridden two scooters at a time back, with one on each foot,” Mr. Smith says. It can be challenging work harvesting the Limes at night and deploying them before 7AM the next morning, but Mr. Smith finds he can make about $300 a week for only about 15 to 20 hours a week of work. It balances well with his other gigs working as an artist and a glassblower and selling his wares in Salt Lake City’s Liberty Park.

Mr. Smith enjoys the flexibility and the chance to work with his family and to support an environmentally conscious business model. “This is right down my alley,” Mr. Smith says. “And it’s nice extra revenue that keeps me within my own beliefs.”

 

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