How Rideshare Driving in LA has Changed (Spectrum News) feat. RSG Contributor Sergio Avedian

Do you think rideshare has changed in your market? Most of us who have been around for a few years would probably say yes. In 2019, our contributor Sergio Avedian got the opportunity to appear on a Spectrum News segment all about how rideshare has changed in Los Angeles.

Take a look at the interview with Sergio below, and scroll if you’d like to read a transcript of the interview.

Alex Cohen: Welcome back to Inside the Issues. I’m Alex Cohen and we are talking about ride sharing in Southern California. Drivers say that working for companies like Lyft and Uber can be a great way to make some quick cash, set your own schedule and meet new people, travel all over town, but some days just sucks.

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Alex Cohen: That is a video titled, Let’s just say I didn’t have the best day. It was made by Dave Livaudais, aka Dave the Uber Slave, who joins me now in studio along with Sergio [Avettian 00:00:56]. Both gentlemen drive cars around here in Southern California. Sergio, let’s start with you. How did you get into this ride sharing world and why?

Sergio: I got into ride sharing about four years ago. Originally I was actually on Wall Street for about 18 years and then became a PGA pro professional, actually instructor. Then about four years ago we were discussing with a friend of ours, he was doing ride share and then I said, “Let me just give this thing a try.” I started doing it and initially it was great. It was fantastic. Now it’s kind of, it’s the good, the bad and the ugly now. Now they have cut the rates so much that [crosstalk 00:01:44].

Alex Cohen: We’re going to get to that. We’re going to get to that. How it kind of went from this wonderful world to maybe a not so wonderful one. Dave, how did you get into this world and why the name Dave the Uber slave?

Dave L.: Before I started driving for Uber, I had a driving job for a talent agency in LA. I was able to make more money driving for Uber, so I switched over to driving for Uber. My channel, Dave the Uber Slave,-

Alex Cohen: Yeah, Dave the Uber Slave, just that name, how’ you get it?

Dave L.: Well, okay. My friend started calling me that because I was kind of addicted to driving. He would tell me like, “Hey, let’s go to the beach, let’s go surf,” and I was like, “I’m working.” I wanted to make money. I was like focused on making money and in the beginning it was pretty good. He would call me-

Alex Cohen: What’d he say, you were addicted to it though. What was it about it for you that was so compelling? What did you like?

Dave L.: My friend, as a joke, would call me Dave the Uber Slave over the phone, like … What was addicting?

Alex Cohen: Yeah.

Dave L.: Picking up new people, meeting new people, like 20 different people or more a day. Then also it’s kind of like a game working in an app. I really like working through an app, not having to deal with a boss and you pick up your people, you drop them off. You feel very free. It’s not like a normal job.

Sergio: I mean, that’s the other thing is I’ve been in LA for over 25 years. Half of the town, I didn’t even know. It takes you places that you’ve never been. It’s kind of cool thing just to drive and discover parts of town that you never seen before.

Dave L.: Is there a spot downtown that you really like eating, but you live on the West side?

Alex Cohen: Yeah.

Dave L.: Well, you go drive a few passenger around, eventually you’re going to be downtown and then you can go stop and get a sandwich at Phillipe’s.

Alex Cohen: Yeah, and who does not love a sandwich at Phillipe’s. Okay. I’m seeing all the bright and shiny aspects of it, but Sergio, as you mentioned you loved it at first and then it kind of started, your feelings were more complicated. When did you start kind of noticing, hey, this wasn’t what it used to be and what were some of the signs for you?

Sergio: It was a point of reference. When Uber X, which is the most popular platform on Uber, where most people order it, it started in 2012, July 4th. At that time it was $3.25 cents a mile that the driver would get paid. It’s seven years later, we’re at 60 cents a mile, driver gets paid 60 cents a mile. You could tell, I mean, that’s down about 70%. From four years ago till now, most drivers gross earnings, I would say I was probably down 50 to 60%.

Alex Cohen: Yeah. I’m just going to reiterate here that we reached out to both Uber and Lyft because we would have loved to have heard it from their side, but we’ll be-

Sergio: I would have too.

Alex Cohen: Yeah, right. But what we can take away from a lot of the news headlines over the years is that they launched with this great idea, but then figuring out how to pay for it has been the real challenge for them.

Sergio: I mean Alex, it’s like, there’s three groups of people who are very happy about this. Obviously the top executives, and then the VCs, venture capitalists who initially invested in it and got about 10000% return on their money, and the passenger. All three groups are living in a subsidized fantasy land pretty much, except the driver. To us is, I mean at 60 cents a mile when the government allows you a 58 cent deduction, how many 2 cents can you put together to make money?

Alex Cohen: I know. I hear you. Our viewers might recall that back in May, Uber drivers in 10 cities including here in Los Angeles, they staged a strike for what they said was a lack of transparency, unfair pay.

Dave L.: I was there.

Sergio: So was I.

Alex Cohen: Yeah, Dave, talk to me about what that day was like and whether or not you feel like your concerns have been heard at all by these companies.

Dave L.: Okay. Ever since Uber started, they play hardball. They fight for what they want and really the protest was about getting attention from different labor groups, which they have like responded and the different … Every city has their own group that are protesting and they’re in communication. We’ve gotten a lot of support. It was really more about just getting attention and I feel like we’ve achieved that.

Sergio: Yeah, I agree. I mean media coverage, [crosstalk 00:06:01] –

Dave L.: Part of why I’m here right now, I feel is those protests-

Sergio: This was not the first strike or whatever you want to call it, protest. The first one was last year and there were maybe 30, 40 drivers. At this one there were close to four or 500 drivers. There is a small group in Los Angeles, it’s called Rideshare Drivers United, RDU. They are doing a fantastic job. They’re up to about 6,000 members now. They’re not a union, they’re just a group. They were there and a lot of other people were there, but the problem is there is about 60 to 80,000 rideshare drivers in Los Angeles, and you can’t reach them because Uber has their information.

Sergio: We can’t put people together to voice our concerns. Uber and Lyft just kind of put them aside and just go, hey, we’ll deal with it when we have to deal with it.

Dave L.: I went to Sacramento for the protests a couple of weeks ago.

Alex Cohen: We should just couch for our viewers, these were slightly different protests in that this was specifically looking at assembly bill five, which has to do, and we’ve actually spent a whole hour on this looking at the difference between independent contractors and full time employees. It got a little bit confusing because there were rideshare drivers on both sides of the issues that were there. I just want to set that up.

Dave L.: Right. Well, the day I went up was the day that Uber set up the protest. Uber DoorDashers, Postmaters, they’re all risking becoming employees. The companies set up their own protest and actually paid people to come out with vouchers and they provided food from all these different food trucks. It just seems really shady to me. They also gave us these shirts that say, “I’m independent.” I should have brought the shirt to show you.

Alex Cohen: Just to push back, look, I understand. I think it’s really interesting politically. There are people who get paid to gather signatures for petitions. Politics doesn’t work without money. It’s a complicated question, but I want to reign it back in for a moment because what’s interesting is that both of you in the midst of things changing and maybe not being as great as it used to be, have launched these kinds of side hustles. You’ve got your YouTube channel, which we saw. Sergio, you are a ridesharing coach, which I think is just fascinating. We’ve only got about a minute left, but can you talk about the work that you do with new drivers to make their worlds a bit better?

Sergio: Sure. I mean, well, I’m a senior contributor with The Rideshare Guy, it’s probably the largest blog in the country, and I’m their Los Angeles driver coach. Keep it simple. If you want to feed a man, give him a fish. If you want to feed a man for life, teach him how to fish. Rideshare is not a complicated thing. It’s not rocket science. You get in your car, you drive, you put gas, you keep driving, but you have to have a strategy. Without a strategy, you’re going to average about maybe $15 an hour gross. That’s before expenses.

Sergio: With a strategy, with some help, with knowing your city, where it’s going to surge, when it’s going to surge obviously, then you can increase your earnings probably six to $7 an hour.

Alex Cohen: What’s one little strategy? Like what’s [crosstalk 00:09:02]?

Sergio: Oh, one little strategy is how to position yourself correctly and be patient and not accept every request that Uber sends you.

Dave L.: [crosstalk 00:09:08] filters.

Sergio: Yeah. That’s not complicated.

Dave L.: He was telling me, you gave me some good tips on destination [crosstalk 00:09:11].

Alex Cohen: Explain. Explain this. What should you do with the destination filter?

Sergio: Well, destination filter is Uber allows us to filter as a day to, let’s say I take a ride from LAX and end up in Newport Beach. From Newport Beach I don’t want to keep going further South. Destination filter stops rides from taking you further South, but what it does also is that I can set my destination filter from Newport Beach back to LAX, let’s say. Then whoever’s going to LAX from Newport Beach, I will get matched with that passenger. It allows you to get back into the [inaudible 00:09:45]. It allows you to get back home. A lot of drivers use it to get back home at night at the end of the day, which I teach them not to do, but that’s their prerogative. [crosstalk 00:00:09:53],

Alex Cohen: I love it. You learned how to figure out Wall Street. You learned how to figure out golf and now you’re figuring out ridesharing. Sergio, Dave,-

Sergio: Thank you.

Alex Cohen: -it has been great chatting with you both. Thank you for driving by our studios.

Dave L.: Thank you, Alex.

Sergio: Thank you.

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