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Uber Attracts Drivers From All Walks Of Life

Sinduja Rangarajan |
April 3, 2014 | 4:39 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter



Vajra Hodges is a freelance architect, a budding photographer and a filmmaker. Enoch Shadkam is a former taxi driver who drove cabs in L.A. for 15 years. They both come from totally different backgrounds and have little in common, except one thing: they're both uberX drivers.

Hodges graduated from the University of Southern California in 2006 and joined Perkins and Will, a renowned architecture firm in downtown Los Angeles. He quit after six years to pursue his passions – photography and filmmaking. 

"I was feeling creatively stifled," Hodges said. "It was a corporate job and I got some really great opportunities, but I was also doing bathroom details."

He is currently working on several freelance architecture and photography projects, and also wants to explore a career in filmmaking. For a guy who wants to don several hats at the same time, driving for uberX is a perfect part-time job, Hodges said. 

Vajra Hodges doing what he likes the most | Photo by Sinduja Rangarajan
Vajra Hodges doing what he likes the most | Photo by Sinduja Rangarajan

"I am able to manage these different things by just remaining completely flexible," he said. "With Uber, I can work whenever I want and as much as I want. So if I have a freelance-paying gig, I can discontinue working for Uber for a while. I don't have a boss I have to answer to."

But it's not just the flexibility that attracts him to Uber; Hodges likes driving around the city and going to places that he never thought he would.

Some times, when he spots a beautiful building, Hodges stops the app, pulls over and marvels at the architecture. Other times, he will stop to photograph a beautiful scene in the city in the middle of the day, if business is slow.

"When I was working in the corporate world, I could never get out of the office and see all the beautiful architecture and landscapes around Los Angeles," he said. 

One day, he drove a passenger all the way to Laguna Beach and visited Torrance and Manhattan Beach on the way back because he received calls from these places. 

"When you are taken off the beaten path like that, all of sudden you discover all these new things," he said.

Enoch Shadkam in his car | Photo by Sinduja Rangarajan
Enoch Shadkam in his car | Photo by Sinduja Rangarajan
While Hodges drives for uberX for the flexibility it offers, Shadkam's reasons are completely different. Shadkam immigrated to the United States from Armenia in 1985 and has been driving for a living ever since. He drove trucks and airport shuttles before driving cabs in Los Angeles.

As a cab driver, he spent $700 to $800 per week just to lease a taxi from a company like the Beverly Hills Cab Company. He would spend an average of 100 hours every week driving, 50 to 60 hours of which went toward making up just the lease.

“They don’t care if you drive or don’t drive or fall sick. They just want the money,” he said.

He switched to uberX after his friend (another uberX driver) told him that he doesn't have to lease a cab to drive for Uber. He bought a black Toyota Prius and started driving for uberX immediately. The monthly installment for his car is just an eighth of what he paid for leasing the taxi.

Now, he works for half the number of hours every week and yet, makes more money. 

"It's too good to be true," he said. "Uber is the future of transportation."

uberX fares are lower than taxis in most cities, especially in Los Angeles. In fact, out of the 29 cities in the U.S. that uberX is available in, L.A. has the lowest base fares. And yet, Shadkam does not complain. He gets more rides with uberX, and doesn't have to spend time scouting for rides at airports and train stations. 

SEE ALSO: Why Did A L.A. Cab Driver Switch to uberX?

Both Hodges and Shadkam complain about Uber's rating system. Uber's official policy states that drivers must maintain a rating of 4.7 to stay active in the system, according to Hodges. 

"That means that seven out of 10 riders that you take should give you a five," Hodges said. "And that's a pretty high standard to meet in any industry."

Customers think they are giving a good rating when they give a rating of four, but they're not, Hodges said. Hodges wants a rating of 4 to mean a "good satisfactory service" and 5 to mean "excellent". He doesn't want to get penalized for getting a 4. While Hodges wants to hear constructive feedback from his customers, numbers alone don't help in anyway. 

From Uber.com | Infographic by Sinduja Rangarajan
From Uber.com | Infographic by Sinduja Rangarajan

Shadkam, on the other hand, wants Uber to offer training programs for drivers who don't perform up to the mark. 

"One customer complaint and you're fired," he said. "They are too harsh with the drivers."

SEE ALSO: Uber's Surge Pricing Strategy Might Hurt Drivers And Passengers

However, both said that these were minor quibbles as compared to what the company was offering them - a way to pursue their dreams, without any worries. 

Reach staff reporter Sinduja Rangarajan here. Follow her on twitter here.



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