During my most recent visit to San Francisco, my wife and I jumped on an Uber after eating at Chubby Noodle (you must get the Korean pork tacos!). The driver overheard us speak in Spanish and asked us where we were from. We told him we lived in New York but both grew up in El Salvador. Excitedly, he exclaimed that he too was from El Salvador.
Our driver’s name was Manuel. He had moved to the United States in the late 1980s to escape El Salvador’s violent civil war. He then worked as a truck driver for more than 20 years. He took a big hit in 2007 when he couldn’t afford his home anymore and defaulted on his mortgage. In 2014, he was laid off from his trucking job and had been struggling to make ends meet. After searching for a new trucking job for 6 months, a buddy of his told him to try working as an Uber driver.
Manuel applied to Uber back in September 2015. After a couple of interviews and background checks, Manuel finally became an Uber driver on December 31st, 2015. His first night on the job was New Year’s, and he was quite happy with how much he had made that first night. He had done more than 60 rides in the first few days and said his overall experience was quite good mainly because he found passengers to be very friendly.
Manuel was driving a brand new Toyota Camry. He proudly proclaimed that the car was his. This didn’t compute: hadn’t he been out of a job for all of 2015? It turns out that Uber was helping Manuel lease the car. Under Uber’s Xchange Leasing program, Manuel could lease the Toyota for three years with a relatively low termination fee and unlimited mileage. I don’t know how Uber’s car payments compare to other financing options, but I liked that through the Xchange program car payments are automatically deducted from the driver’s weekly earnings. This imposes financial discipline and ultimately helps somebody like Manuel – a subprime borrower – to rebuild his credit.
(While the leasing program has been around since 2013, I was admittedly unaware of this since most Ubers in NYC operate directly under fleet partners, abstracting ownership and leasing issues away from the drivers.)
It may not be the American dream, but I found Manuel’s story a powerful and refreshing reminder of how Uber is helping generate a positive impact for many drivers.