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Uber Black drivers on Uber X and snitching to the PPA

Uber Black drivers could always count on 30th Street Station. Hang around there almost anytime and you pick up a fare right away. But not since the introduction of the legally-disputed UberX service in Philadelphia last month. As the cheaper Uber service thrives, Black drivers find themselves waiting too often instead of driving.

“Now you’re waiting three hours at the train station,” said an Uber Black driver, who asked to remain anonymous.

That driver said he used to make $200 on Friday nights after accounting for gasoline costs. On Friday nights during the three weekends since the introduction of UberX, he said he’s made about half as much.

The drop in business is creating friction. The Philadelphia Parking Authority, which still considers UberX illegal but has allowed Uber Black since 2012, is trying to capitalize by asking Uber Black drivers to snitch on UberX drivers. In a recent blog post, the PPA wrote, “this disregard for your partnership is especially egregious in light of all the certification requirements, training and vehicle financing obligations to which you have committed for this company.”

Uber Black has a base fee of $7 and a total travel time expense that starts at $3.75 per mile, compared to a $3 base rate and $2.25 per mile for an UberX. The UberX often costs less or the same as a cab; the Uber Black can be twice as expensive as either for a short trip.

And the difference is all in the wheels Black is considered a limo service. Drivers must have special certification, and the cars must be black, classified as luxury sedans or SUVs and must be 2010 or newer. Where UberX drivers can drive just about any four-door car as long as it’s not older than a 2004 model, Uber Black drivers often buy or lease cars. With car and insurance payments, some need to earn as much as $2,000 in fares per week to make a decent living.

Aziz Wardigee, another Uber Black driver, bought a 2013 Chevrolet Suburban just so he could be an Uber Black driver here in Philly. He said his business has gone down since the introduction of UberX — but he’s convinced that drop is temporary.

The other day, he said, he was at 30th Street Station waiting on customers. He saw a customer mistakenly order an Uber X; he’d wanted Black. Once customers have a few weeks to better understand the differences between the two services, he said, he expects business to improve.

“I believe that people can go and buy a cheesesteak at a hot dog stand,” Wardigee said, “or they can buy a cheesesteak at a nice restaurant that is more expensive.”

He’s noticed other Uber Black drivers are angry at UberX. Wardigee said rather than assist the PPA, he’s told Uber Black drivers to step it up, professionally: to always wear ties, keep their cars clean and listen to the customers.

The driver who spoke with Billy Penn and requested anonymity said he tries to share some of his thoughts with Uber but says contacting them is nearly impossible.

“The problem with Uber is you just send an email,” the driver said. “You can’t talk to anybody.”

Bennett said Uber always had “an open door, an open line.” Asked whether that meant a phone number drivers could call, he said, he “can’t say.” But “we want to listen… they (drivers a)’re the engine of the system. They’re the ones who keep Uber moving.”

Meanwhile, in spite of any complaints – from drivers or from the PPA – Uber still has no plans to cease its UberX service.

“It’s a mess,” said the anonymous Uber Black driver.

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