My Deplorable Uber Driver

On a recent Nor’easter-tinged odyssey from Boston to Seattle, Dallas, Washington, D.C., and back home to Boston, I took quite a few Uber rides. All of my drivers across three cities were immigrants from either Ethiopia or Somalia, with two exceptions: a Bangladeshi and a while male in his 30s.

In Dallas there is a lot of Presidential history, starting with the unfortunate memory of JFK being shot (by a guy who fired just three bullets; not like our modern AR-15 sprayers) and ending with the George W. Bush Presidential Library. I asked one of the Ethiopian drivers what he thought of President Trump: “Obama was in office for 8 years and didn’t change anything, so now I don’t pay attention to who is president or what he says.” What about on immigration? “Trump is not bothering me.”

In Seattle there is an infinite supply of virtue. People there say that they will do anything for homeless people… except provide homes for them. So the streets are packed with folks who are camping in the cold rain. (Contrast to Dallas, where nobody talks about their love for the vulnerable, yet the conservative Christians have set up “missions” that provide services, including beds, for the homeless. I didn’t see anyone sleeping in the street.) One of my Uber drivers, however, was that white male native-born American. He lived in Marysville, just north of the Boeing factory in Everett, Washington. He had voted for Trump because he thought that (a) welfare programs were enabling Americans to spend their lives as drug addicts, and (b) immigrants were reducing the wages of people such as himself (MIT has been looking into the net income of Uber/Lyft drivers and, if their initial number of $3.37 per hour is correct, the availability of Ethiopian and Somalian labor has indeed had a negative effect on this Deplorable!).

Separately, the Seattle airport requires drivers to show up in an electric or a hybrid car. In practice that means every Uber on an airport run is a Prius. I was shocked at how noisy the Prius is on the highway (my airport trips were at midnight and at 6:00 am and therefore we were able to exceed the usual 5 mph practical speed limit on I-5).



  1. Dom

    March 11, 2018 @ 2:32 pm


    You might be shocked by how much noisier the back seat is compared to the front seat in many cars.

  2. Andrea Matranga

    March 11, 2018 @ 3:12 pm


    That figure for uber drivers is incorrect, as was pointed out by the Uber chief economist and confirmed by the lead author.

  3. philg

    March 11, 2018 @ 3:22 pm


    It is still an interesting number. It shows that a coastal elite economist was happy to assume that everyone driving an Uber nationwide was irrational/stupid. An ordinary person, without a Ph.D. in econ and a job at MIT, would probably say “Since McDonald’s pays $12/hour and people are not generally stupid, my calculation must be wrong.”

  4. Anonymous

    March 11, 2018 @ 5:00 pm


    The MIT study reeked of 1%ers deciding that a job wasn’t good enough for someone else and they’re better off with nothing.

  5. Patrick M O'Keefe

    March 11, 2018 @ 5:01 pm


    I’ve been living in various countries in Europe for the past three years. I take Ubers fairly often here. When I ask the drivers about Uber they almost always express high satisfaction. They like that they can work whenever and as much or as little as they like. They invariably claim they made more money with Uber than whatever it was that they were doing before. I would say a majority of Uber drivers that I’ve had in Europe were natives of the respective country, except for London where they were usually fairly recent immigrants. I can recall only one Uber driver that had a negative attitude about the company. It was in Brighton, England and the driver had been a traditional taxi driver before and preferred the regularity of that, even though he was making more money with Uber. The main concern that I often heard expressed from Uber drivers was that the authorities might curtail its operation.

  6. No Where Man

    March 11, 2018 @ 5:12 pm


    the unfortunate memory of JFK being shot (by a guy who fired just three bullets;

    RFK was shot three times by an Palestinian immigrant that fired four bullets.

  7. Andrea Matranga

    March 12, 2018 @ 12:15 am


    One explanation I’d heard about the supposedly low wages from UBER was that people were using it as a sort of credit line. They had money sunk in their car, and by driving it a few thousand miles more they could get cash right now in exchange for more depreciation.

  8. Fazal Majid

    March 12, 2018 @ 12:43 am


    I suspect depreciation tables for the Prius are overly conservative. Its innovative drivetrain should be much more reliable than the average automatic transmission.

    Uber and Lyft are spending money hand over fist. Most of that surplus goes to riders, but drivers get some too, including signing bonuses. Of course, entrenched public employees unions like transit workers’ are lobbying hard to stifle the competition, and the Uber/Lyft drivers are helping them in the court of public opinion with their deplorable driving and double-parking practices.

  9. Babe

    March 12, 2018 @ 6:37 am


    I’m curious how many immigrants or H1-B visa holders you employed at your now defunct tech companies?

    Was it due to a lack of U.S. workers or cheaper labor?

  10. George A.

    March 12, 2018 @ 9:36 am


    In Massachusetts, maybe other states too, when you buy car insurance, you are asked if your car will be used for “people transportation”. Based on that answer, you will be charged more for insurance.

    I wonder how many Uber and Lyft drivers answer “Yes” to this question or renew their policy once they sign up with Uber or Lyft?

  11. philg

    March 12, 2018 @ 10:11 am


    Babe: I have never employed a H1-B visa holder. I think that is practical only for the biggest employers because the administrative costs are so high. The more bureaucratic the system, the more it benefits the biggest enterprises.

    The largest company that I ran (about 80 programmers) had a standard (and low) base salary for software developers. The real money was in the annual bonus. Since we were recruiting from universities such as MIT we had some immigrants. We hired anyone who was qualified so we never rejected an American-born applicant in favor of an immigrant. But on the other hand, we were presumably able to get workers for lower pay thanks to immigration (since immigration has boosted the supply of labor).

  12. philg

    March 12, 2018 @ 10:21 am


    (But of course, like any rational profit-maximizing employer, I would have employed only immigrants if I could have found them and they would have done the same work for less money. Just as I would have hired only women or minorities if the “pay gap” figures cited by politicians were real (i.e., same quality of worker is available at 77 cents on the dollar). Having higher labor costs than competitors, for a given unit of output, would have been fatal to the companies that I founded. So of course we would seek to minimize labor costs, just as our competitors were doing.)

  13. Jim

    March 12, 2018 @ 10:38 pm


    During a taxi ride from the Johannesburg airport to my hotel, the driver informed me that it would be unwise to take an Uber during my stay. I was told the Uber drivers, and their passengers, are routinely shot and killed because they were stealing the jobs from the taxi drivers.

    I took that with a grain of salt, but I nevertheless took regular taxis whenever I needed a ride.

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