Harry Campbell wants everyone to know that driving for Uber is harder than it might seem.
As a passenger, it can appear as though making a living as a contractor for the ridesharing behemoth involves little more than downloading the app, but “there’s just a whole lot more to it than that,” Campbell told me over the phone.
He would know, because Campbell is one of the only people demystifying how to run a business as an Uber driver.
Campbell lives in Orange County, California. He quit his job as an aerospace engineer early last year to work full-time on his blog, The Ride Share Guy. It’s now the most popular resource for the hundreds of thousands of drivers for Uber and its competitors.
“I’m really the only person doing it on this level that’s not working directly for the companies,” said Campbell, who started driving for both Uber and Lyft to make extra cash in early 2014. Back then when he tried to find information online about ways to optimize the experience, he found nothing. So he started his own blog.
Last month, The Ride Share Guy racked up nearly 500,000 page views, according to analytics Campbell provided me with. He also has a podcast that is downloaded thousands of times each month, a video course aimed at teaching new drivers, a YouTube channel, and a small coaching service, which provides one-on-one advice to drivers.
"I sometimes joke that if Uber and Lyft were better about customer service I wouldn’t have a job."
He was able to build his small media empire, which he says now pays more than his engineering gig, in part because of the horrifyingly dismal customer service that Uber, Lyft, and other gig economy jobs provide to their contractors, Campbell told me.
In most cases, there’s no phone number or in-person office a driver can go for assistance when they have problems (Uber is now experimenting with in-person customer service hubs in several major cities).
While many times conversations about Uber customer service are put in terms of passengers, it’s really “the drivers who are constantly interacting with customer support,” Campbell said. “I sometimes joke that if Uber and Lyft were better about customer service I wouldn’t have a job."
The most popular post on The Ride Share Guy—which has been read more than half a million times—is titled "Top 9 Ways To Contact Uber When You Need Help." Campbell pointed out to me that it’s not even a post about how to best deal with the company, it’s literally just a guide to where drivers can find contact information. “This really epitomized the struggle of dealing with Uber customer service,” he said.
When asked to comment on their customer service policies for drivers, a spokesperson from Uber pointed toward new features intended to improve their experience, including a redesigned app for drivers and in-app support calling. Lyft did not immediately return requests for comment.
Uber drivers have to figure out how to operate what is essentially a small franchised business, except without the typical intensive training and in-person conferences provided to small business owners by their parent company. All that Uber provides is a “couple of short YouTube videos that no no one watches,” Campbell explained.
Individuals who want to drive for Uber must navigate an incredibly complex set of hurdles. For one, they need special insurance, a certain type of car, and in some cities they may need a commercial license. Although Uber provides some information, all of the details are not clear to drivers, many of whom have never worked within a mobile application before.
Even when they do start driving, they have to figure out the best neighborhoods, times, and kinds of passengers to pick up, not to mention how to deal with all kinds of people in one of the most intimate customer service gigs out there. Drivers also must also must continuously relearn Uber's ever-shifting bonus structures and driver terms and conditions.
The Ride Share guy is one of the only independent resources that provides some clarity. Campbell and his half a dozen or so contributors—all of whom are former or current drivers themselves—cover topics as basic on how to use the Uber app, to ones as in-depth as an analysis of new features the company and its competitors are trying out.
While Campbell does receive a kickback when new drivers sign up for Uber, Lyft, or Sidecar through his blog, he doesn’t directly work for any of them, nor does he shy away from vocalizing criticism on his blog.
Campbell regrets not turning more of that criticism into better conditions for drivers. “One thing I’ve been disappointed in myself is that I haven’t really been able to affect a whole lot of change,” he said.
I asked if he envisioned himself morphing into more of an advocate. No, he said, he wants to keep building on the blog. "But I’m keeping my options open.”
Uber Earth is Motherboard’s exploration of the ways Uber has already changed the world and how it stands to do so in the future. Follow along here.