The Atlantic

Driving for Uber When You Can’t Afford a Car

In South Africa, extreme inequality means that drivers have a much more difficult time turning a profit with the ride-share service.
Source: Schalk van Zuydam / AP

In 2013, Uber was in the midst of an aggressive global expansion when it launched in South Africa. The app requires a critical mass of drivers to function properly, otherwise riders must wait prohibitively long for trips. In Cape Town, a Zimbabwean driver who I will call Mike (he asked that his name not be used because he fears deactivation for criticizing the platform) attended several meetings held by Uber managers seeking to win over potential drivers. He enjoyed the free sandwiches and coffee they offered him. “In the first six months those guys were beautiful to us,” he recalled.

After arriving in Cape Town, Mike had initially worked in hotels and restaurants, later becoming a meter-taxi driver. When he heard about Uber from some former colleagues—they spoke of higher earnings, no shift managers—he immediately signed up. Uber’s was the same as it is everywhere else: “Make good money. Drive when you want. No office, no boss.” Mike’s

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