ITHACA (WSKG) - Ride sharing became available in Upstate New York in late June. However, since the school year started, demand is surging in Ithaca, home to Cornell University and Ithaca College. We wanted to know what it’s like to be an Uber or Lyft driver in Ithaca right now. Ultimately, is it a good job?
At the start of his Friday evening shift, Thomas Harris sits behind the wheel of his enormous SUV. He lives in Buffalo, but drives hours to Ithaca just to work for Uber. Initially, he tried it in Buffalo. But when he saw how much money Uber drivers made per hour in Ithaca, it was a no brainer.
Thomas said, “I love it. I get to meet a lot of people.”
A lot of the time, he likes his riders. Early on in this night, a few women headed to a movie got a little flirtatious. “I took an Uber ride with this really cute guy. Well you’re cute too Uber driver,” said one female passenger. “Yeah, it seems to me a correlation. There are like cute Uber drivers in Ithaca."
But, Thomas doesn't always get love. Sometimes, he picks up drunk college students. That happens about once a night. Thomas tries to drop them off as quickly as possible. While drunk college students can be annoying, dark trips to the woods in the middle of the night are worse.
“I got another trip request that took me up into the woods, on the side of a mountain. And, it was 3, 4 o’clock in the morning. And, you know, they had a couple beers in them — well, more than a couple,” said Thomas.
The riders were freaked out, and worried about being tracked. Thomas then noted, “I had to remind them that Uber’s tracking the both of us.”
For his personal safety, he contacted Uber. They were never paired together again.
At about 10:30, at a stop sign, Thomas leaned his head against the steering wheel. He was talking to a client who could not figure out how to update the pickup location.
After he hung up the phone, he said, “I ain’t got time for all that. Now that means I have to waste time finding him, and waste gas, trying to find him.”
Wasting gas and money is another concern for Thomas. Uber does not offer benefits to drivers, or deduct taxes.
But, he does earn more money than he once did; probably about $16 an hour. That’s a lot for Uber. That’s probably because there’s high demand for it in Ithaca and not enough drivers. Uber’s prices surge during popular times, like a Friday night. For example, at one point, there was a price surge of six times the normal rate.
That could be temporary. In most American cities, Uber and Lyft drivers make less than what Thomas earns per hour
So far so good for Thomas. He makes more than he did as a radio DJ at Buffalo’s urban radio station. And he definitely prefers Uber over his old day job as a telephone support professional.
“If you’re, independent, and working for yourself, in a sense, then you can sleep in in the morning, when you want. You don’t have to go clock somebody’s clock,” Thomas explained.
For Thomas, except for the riders who can’t set a pickup location and the drunks, it’s an empowering job.