Where Do Uber and Lyft Drivers Get Their Cars? They Rent Them From Another Startup

Herbie

Uber and Lyft drivers, as a rule, tend to show up in relatively new, very clean cars. That’s one of these car services’ selling points, after all: with Uber and Lyft, you won’t have to ride in a junky taxi where the air conditioning is broken and the upholstery is torn.

But how do Uber and Lyft drivers afford these cars? Some, no doubt, already own or have access to these kinds of cars—but if you don’t, there’s a startup ready to help you, and it’s called Breeze.

Breeze rents cars to ride-share drivers. Or, as they put it: “Breeze empowers job seekers by handing them keys to cars optimized for use in today’s on-demand ecosystem.”

The startup provides cars to drivers in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle, all for a $250 membership fee plus a $195 weekly fee. Drivers get 2,500 miles per month included; anything above that costs 15 cents a mile.

Doing some quick math, this means that a Breeze user will pay $780/month to rent a Breeze car (not counting the $250 membership fee). This January, Uber released data stating “on average, driver-partners make $19 per hour.” Using that data, it takes 41 hours, or just over one week of driving, for an Uber driver to pay for a Breeze car.

But not all Uber drivers drive full-time. The Medium story The Other Government-Protected Industry Uber Will Bulldoze: Auto Dealers,” which is where I first learned about Breeze, notes that “81% of Uber drivers are part-time. Many just drive to supplement their income in between jobs or while attending college.”

So it could easily take an average Uber driver two weeks of part-time Uber driving to pay off the Breeze car rental. Half the driver’s work—or more—could go right back into paying for the car.

This is, of course, all before the costs of gas, insurance, taxes, the smartphone bill required to connect to Uber/Lyft, and those water bottles that I never actually drink, even when the drivers offer them.

Breeze’s FAQ addresses the cost/time issue this way: “We recommend that you commit at least 20 hours a week in order to earn a supplementary source of income in addition to covering your car payments. Most of our current members commit upwards of 30-40 hours a week.” I like the subtle implication that many of their best drivers put in more than 40 hours a week, because it’s probably true. If you are putting $780/month towards a car rental, you had better make it worth your while.

I’d like to see some more numbers on this, but it turns out that Uber itself provides the best number of all. The same study that lists the average Uber driver income as $19/hr also includes a chart titled “Driver-partners spend Uber income on:” and it turns out that 49 percent of all Uber drivers use Uber income to make car payments, and 62 percent of “people who lease/finance their car” use Uber income to make car payments.

People are literally driving for Uber to pay for the car they use to drive for Uber.

You could argue that anyone with both an income and a car uses their income to make car payments, at least until they get the car fully paid off, but the Uber/Lyft/Breeze system still feels unfair and slightly manipulative, like the old business of making employees rent their tools from the company store. The “company store” is now spread out across multiple startups, but it still works on the basic idea of getting as much money off someone else’s labor as possible: when you are a driver-partner, Uber takes a cut of your income in exchange for providing you with clients, and Breeze takes a cut in exchange for the car. Meanwhile, you do the work that makes both Uber and Breeze possible.

Does that seem unfair to you, or is it the old “same as it ever was?”

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