I did the math and it turns out I rode through 37 miles of São Paulo’s legendary traffic to come up with this story.
On the bus, I took notes while doing the classic transit dance amidst the constricted environment comprising of backpacks, wallets, seats and people. In cabs, all I had to worry about writing in my notepad and getting the cabbie his cash. And when using Uber, I had to think about even less.
It’s still a novel experience here in São Paulo: A few taps on my smartphone and a luxury black car with tinted windows showed up on the a street guided by a tie-wearing chauffeur. As a whole, the Uber package is an experience for customers, an ace in the hole for investors, and a fierce attack on the cabbies of which and every country Uber comes to—including Brazil.
“We’re not a livery company,” Guilherme Telles said, speaking in Portuguese, as if he was trying to rule out the common misconception that Uber Brazil actually owns and operates the cars it dispatches—instead, it charges independent cab drivers for being the middleman between driver and fare. With that, the young chief of operations for the company in São Paulo welcomed me to his office.
With his shirt sleeves pulled up and a passionate discourse not unfamiliar to Silicon Valley, he told me about the tool which, according to him, can solve one of the biggest issues of the traffic-snarled Paulista capital: mobility. “We have the technology, the resources, and the right people to tackle this,” he said.
In Brazil, the only option currently available is Uber Black, both in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. The app premiered on the country in mid-June, giving me more than enough time to play the boss with one of Uber’s chauffeurs.
Besides showing up looking sharp with a beautiful sedan, they generally open the doors for you, offer you some cold bottled water, and use GPS. Except for that detail, I wasn’t all that accustomed to such pampering—not to mention being called “sir” during a typical conversation between driver and passenger.
Those driving for Uber knows that refined service is vital to stay on the job. At the end of each trip, the chauffeur gets graded by the passenger, and to stay at the platform they have to consistently get high marks.
“[The driver] must have have a score of at least 4.6 stars out of 5, around 92 percent approval. I deactivate anyone below 4.6. The secret is: Happy driver, happy user,” Guilherme told me. That led me to the chicken or egg dilemma: Are the drivers nice because they want to get good grades or do they get good grades because they’re nice? Well, when it comes to money, both reasons are valid.
The car and insurance for passengers’ personal injuries belong to the guy behind the wheel. The company has no contractual ties to the drivers.
The payment for each trip is charged directly on the passenger’s credit card registered within the service. Uber’s tax is the sum of the following items: The minutes the trip took multiplied by BRL $0.42 (US $0.18), kilometers ran multiplied by BRL $2.42 ($1.01), and an initial price of BRL $5.00 ($2.09). From that value, 20 percent goes to Uber’s piggy bank and the rest right into the chauffeur’s wallet.
That’s one of the few attachments between both ends. The car and insurance for passengers’ personal injuries belong to the guy behind the wheel. The company has no contractual ties to the drivers.
“Uber is a technological platform that connects passengers to drivers,” said Guilherme. That high-minded talk doesn’t always resonate with drivers or riders. The former, especially in the US, have pushed back against Uber’s cutthroat approach to its relationship with drivers, and in California, there’s a new association devoted to fighting for labor rights. Meanwhile, riders have criticized Uber both for its confusing surge pricing policies as well as safety and insurance concerns.