Driving for dollars
Reagan Rucker knew she wanted to join the thousands of local motorists hauling strangers around in their cars the first time she took an UberX ride as a passenger.
The single mother from Northeast Washington had been out of work three years last fall when a friend took her to run errands using the smartphone-based ride-share service, which links people needing rides with car owners willing to give them — for a price. Suddenly, the onetime waitress could envision herself driving for dollars.
“I said ‘Let me try this,’ “said Rucker, 40, who took on a $300 monthly payment for a 2009 Hyundai Elantra (to meet Uber’s requirements for late-model, four-door sedans), went through criminal-background and driving-record checks, and began her unexpected career as a driver for hire. By her third week, she’d logged 51.5 hours and cleared $1,280 after Uber’s 20 percent cut. That’s a $64,000-a-year clip, if she could keep up the pace of driving nights, weekends and while her two teenage daughters are in school.
“That was a lot of driving,” Rucker said. “Money is a motivator.”
Rucker is among the flood of local drivers flocking to join ride-share companies that have recently arrived in the Washington area such as UberX, Sidecar and Lyft (whose cars sport bushy pink mustaches on the grille). The firms won’t give exact numbers, but an UberX spokesman said thousands of Washington area drivers have signed up since the service launched in September. Unlike Uber’s more upscale “black car” service, UberX relies on modest sedans at rates meant to be competitive with regular cab fares.
City officials and traditional taxi companies are scrambling to respond to the upstarts. The D.C. Taxicab Commission on Wednesday took up proposed new restrictions on ride-share drivers, from limiting the number of hours they can drive and increasing the amount of their liability coverage to allowing taxis to mimic Uber’s dynamic pricing model in some circumstances. Proposals under consideration by the D.C. Council with the most support would leave the driving hours alone but mandate higher insurance requirements, background checks, and zerotolerance drug and alcohol standards.
The industry, meanwhile, is trying to sow doubts about the amateur hacks through a “Who’s Driving You?” social media campaign funded by the Rockville, Md.-based Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association.
None of that has stopped mobs of students, waiters, translators and former cabbies from vacuuming their mats, applying the Armor All and opening the rear doors to tech-savvy passengers looking for new ways to get around. Flexible hours, low start-up costs and the security of cash-free transactions are attracting drivers who wouldn’t consider driving a regular taxi.
Rucker never thought about becoming a cabbie. But she is fine responding to calls from pre-registered customers using the Uber smartphone app. The company handles the money, billing the passenger’s credit card on file and then paying— minus Uber’s share — into Rucker’s account.
“I feel very safe,” Rucker said. “They have a record of everyone who gets in my car and everything that goes on.”