I sat down for a chat with Alex and Rafael, two of Arcade City Austin’s most experienced drivers. In the first part of this interview, we discuss what it’s like working as a rideshare driver and how being involved in the Arcade City community compares to working for companies like Uber and Lyft.
space.elf: How did you get into driving?
Alex: Well, I was an aspiring artist and I always wanted to find ways to expand my free time as much as humanly possible. I slowly realized that working 9-5 is not great if you want to do something else with your life. And I know many people who would agree with that.
Rafael: I like the freedom of time and being able to set my own schedule while still making $25- 30 an hour. I have two kids and need to be home early to take care of them.
Alex: Initially, I saw this new app called Lyft. This was in Austin in 2013 or 2014…I don’t remember exactly how, but I stumbled across it and thought, “what a great idea!” You know, they promised flexibility of time and you could be your own boss - an independent contractor. Everything that everybody wants to hear.
I had to 2 seater at the time. I sold it immediately and bought a car that fit their regulations. And I started driving. In the beginning, and I stress this was really just in the beginning, driving for Lyft was very good. It was an empowering feeling because I was making really good money and I was having really great interactions with my customers. There was a time when I even drove through a storm and that really sharpened my perception of what a community is supposed to look like - helping each other through these dangerous and scary situations when no other person would want to be out there. And yet there I was at three in the morning, picking people up in the middle of a storm.
It was a great experience until the company started showing it’s true colors. It’s always the middleman…the big bad wolf. Lyft slowly started taking more and more of our money and time away from us. What was once promised to be a great and flexible way to be your own boss slowly became a trap. Many of us drivers did not want to admit it, or we weren’t able to recognize it and truly see what was happening. But the results were slowly becoming apparent. Much to our dismay.
space.elf: What were some of the things that changed?
Alex: The big thing that changed was that the middleman, Lyft, started taking more than 20% of our income. Every few months they would reduce their initial prices a little bit further. They started cutting our rates, with the false promise that cheaper fares meant we were going to have more rides. But that was never the case. That never fulfilled itself.
Rafael: At first, it was $5.00 minimum guaranteed to the drivers for 1 or 2 miles, then it became $3.20. They were taking more and more money away from us. Eventually their cut was huge: 30 - 40% of every ride. So I decided I needed to find something else. Luckily, in 2016, [after The City of Austin voted to have all rideshare drivers fingerprinted] Lyft & Uber pulled out of Austin and Arcade City came along to fill up the gap.
space.elf: How did you first hear about Arcade City?
Rafael: After Uber and Lyft left, a group of drivers held a conference to discuss what we should do next. Somebody mentioned that there was a platform with a page on facebook where people were requesting rides and drivers who already had their credentials verified through Uber or Lyft were able pick up customers. I signed up & was verified right away. In less than two weeks the community went from under 10,000 people to over 20,000.
Alex: There was a massive influx of people coming over to Arcade City at the time. You know, in a city like Austin people don’t like the bait and switch type of stuff. People don’t like being bullied. Arcade City was a breath of fresh air.
space.elf: How do people request rides through the Arcade City group? Can anyone just post on the page and say hey I need a ride?
Rafael: No, you need to first be referred by someone in the group, either a driver or rider. And then you need to be approved by one of the moderators. Then you can start requesting your needs.
Alex: Arcade City isn’t just rides. That’s maybe 80% The rest is deliveries and other stuff. And it’s interesting. It became a self-sustaining community just by being itself. Because it started on facebook, there’s no anonymity. We all see each other. The drivers see who the riders are and the riders see the drivers.
It’s a dynamic forum… one that goes around the city itself and helps people with the various needs of the day - whatever they might be - a ride or a chore or whatever.
Rafael: I’m a very social person and I create a lot of relationships with people. The more I know someone the more comfortable I am. I like to get to know my customers so I know what’s going to happen. You have to be very careful when vetting people because it’s a community based on cash as well.
space.elf: Arcade City is the only of the 3 rideshare company mentioned that accepts cash as a payment method, right?
Alex: Yes, and not just cash. It’s all the various ways that payment is possible nowadays.
Rafael: Or exchange. In Arcade City you can exchange rides for goods or services or food or anything you can think of.
Alex: People can offer to pay in whichever way they like, and it’s up to the drivers to set the conditions and choose what type of payment they will accept.
space.elf: Does Arcade City take a cut from the drivers?
Alex: No. Drivers keep all their earnings.
space.elf: So the drivers set their own rates?
Alex: Well, it’s really donation based with a set suggested donation of $2 per mile. This rate has been approved by the moderators and the drivers. We all wanted to give a good price for the drivers. We wanted them to have a fair price so they can live a comfortable and a good life. And that’s why you see that everybody using the service is using it every day. It’s a necessity in today’s life. You can’t get ahead if you’re just surviving.
The difference between Arcade City and Lyft and Uber is that Lyft and Uber don’t care about driver’s quality of life. They only cares about making you work on their corporate, technological, hamster wheel. With those companies, drivers only exist to make their corporate goals possible.
Arcade City takes the focus away from that and instead focuses on people’s everyday needs and I think that’s such an important change of perspective.
Rafael: With Arcade City, you’re the owner. You’re a businessman, and this is your company. You want to take care of it. You’re investing in yourself and you’re investing in your community - the people you trust and have relationships with. Your customers are going to keep on calling you and you can make a living out of it. I don’t have another job and I own my own time.