Ride-share company recruits on West Side

November 19, 2014
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Uber, the popular ride-sharing company that’s competing with the taxi industry, held a job fair at Austin’s Chicago Public Library, 4826 W. Chicago Ave., Monday to entice residents to sign up to become drivers.

With Austin’s unemployment rate still in double figures, it’s clear there’s a need in the community for a business that can provide jobs for residents, said state Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago).

“It’s critical that the Austin area build relationships with every business that’s legal and provides opportunities for people to support their families,” Ford said. “There are some real opportunities with Uber.”

Uber hires over 95 percent of its drivers from areas deemed by the city of Chicago to be underserved, said Chris Taylor, general manager for Uber Chicago.

Those drivers come from Chicago and the suburbs, Taylor said.

The job works like this: People in need of a ride use an app on their smart phone to be picked up by a nearby Uber driver, said Madhu Josyula, a recruiter for Uber. Drivers receive an alert on their phone about customers and pick them up at their preferred location, Josyula said.

The fare is deducted directly from the customer’s bank account, which is linked to the Uber app, so there is no need for cash transactions, Josyula said.

Each week, drivers receive a statement notifying them of their earnings, which are directly deposited in their bank accounts, Josyul said. Drivers must have a bank account set up for direct deposit to get paid.

The system works very much like a traditional taxi cab service, except there is no waiting around for a cab to drive by; the customer just uses the app, and an Uber driver is there to pick them up in a matter of minutes, Josyula said.

Lobbyists for both sides have grown increasingly vocal about the amount of regulation needed and how, exactly, to define ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft, which also operates in Chicago.

One major difference is that taxi cabs licensed by the city must purchase a medallion to show they’ve been cleared by the city to operate; those medallions can cost tens of thousands of dollars, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Ride-share companies are not required to purchase the medallions.

Those discrepancies and a lack of safety oversight have many taxi cab drivers and owners calling foul.

“The city’s legislation does not provide enough regulation to provide for the safety of the riding public,” said Peter Enger, secretary treasurer for the United Taxidrivers Community Council.

Uber requires drivers to submit their own pictures of their vehicles as a safety inspection, a procedure for checking the safety of a vehicle Enger called “a joke.”

Enger also said he’s worried companies such as Uber are not concerned about the safety of their drivers as much as they are about maximizing profits.

To be hired by Uber, an applicant needs to have a valid driver’s license and be listed on the insurance for the vehicle that is used. Uber relies on a third party to conduct background checks, including motor vehicle records and criminal background checks, to make sure drivers are in compliance with the law, said Matt Doyle, a recruiter for Uber.

The background check goes back seven years, which is good news for people with a previous record in the criminal justice system because Uber gives them a chance to start over with gainful employment, while other companies might not hire them.

“If they are felony friendly, then hopefully things that are in my past won’t be a factor,” said Austin resident Harry Ranson, who was at Monday’s event looking for more information about Uber.

Ranson said he was referred to the job fair through the Safer Foundation, which helps ex-offenders find jobs.

The drivers are independent contractors with Uber, which means the drivers set their own hours, decide which fares they will respond to and drive their own vehicles, Doyle said.

The flexibility in the schedule is a “golden opportunity,” said Shawn Dorsey, an Oak Park resident who grew up in Austin.

 “I’m just looking for a work your own hours, kind of an independent kind of thing, instead of having to go and report to someone,” Dorsey said.

The income driving for Uber could provide would be a good supplement to his income, since he was laid off from his job in the railroad industry two years ago, Dorsey said.

The Austin neighborhood was chosen for the site of the job fair because about 40 percent of Uber fares begin or end in underserved areas like Austin, Taylor said.

With so many fares going in and out of those underserved areas, it just makes sense to hire drivers from those areas, Taylor said.

Locally, Uber drivers may pick up fares anywhere in the city except at O’Hare International Airport, Midway International Airport and McCormick Place, although drivers may drop off customers at those locations.

Uber guarantees new drivers will make at least $3,200 in their first month of driving for the company, provided they work at least 40 hours per week, pick up at least 80 percent of the fares sent to them and maintain at least a 4.8 out of 5 rating based on customer feedback, Josyula said.

Uber is offering to help drivers without a car get one through partnerships with local auto dealers and financial institutions. Uber drivers can choose between two financing options through the company to purchase or lease a car of their own, Josyula said.

Additionally, Uber has partnered with Robert Morris University to offer drivers 10 percent off tuition, Josyul said.

“It’s very important that we don’t miss out on things that other communities have,” Rep. Ford said. “Austin should be included in every opportunity possible for its families if we are going to improve the quality of life and reduce violence in the Austin community.”

Two people filled out an application at Monday’s job fair, and more are anticipated to apply in coming weeks, Taylor said.

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