Being a driver at uber or shipt isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, tampa workers say gas pain


Indeed, hundreds if not thousands of people in the Tampa Bay area are working today as independent contractors for ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft or are delivering Publix groceries for Shipt. People who rent out rooms in their house through Airbnb also fall into this category.

As an independent contractor, you’re responsible for the wear and tear on your car and your house. You’re responsible for paying more taxes than you would if you were employed full time somewhere else, as companies often pick up some of the taxes for you. That doesn’t include paying for your own insurance, which may not cover you if you get in an accident if you don’t have a commercial grade policy or if the insurance company finds out you’re renting your home to strangers.

Loper moved to Clearwater to be closer to his elderly parents after working as an investment banker on Wall Street in New York and as an entrepreneur in the television business for many years. To make a little extra cash, he signed up for Uber.

Last year he drove 35,000 miles that he was paid for as an Uber driver. He made $4,500 for the year, or an average of $11 an hour, for driving on the weekends in his 2008 Chrysler Town & Country mini van. But he wasn’t paid for the additional 10,000 miles he drove to pick up jobs or for the maintenance required on his van.

Employing independent contractors makes a lot of sense for these companies. There’s little overhead or investment in equipment. There’s no need to provide health insurance or other employee benefits, though Airbnb does offer a "host protection coverage" for some injuries and property damage.

Katherine Voss, 36, said she made nearly $1,000 picking up and dropping off people as a Lyft and Uber driver at the Gasparilla parade last year. Voss saw a Lyft ad on Craigslist, and was looking to make a career change after working as a paralegal for several years.

These tech companies have come under fire for a variety of reasons — from customer safety to fair compensation — over the years. Class action lawsuits have been filed in some cases. In others, Uber and Airbnb services been banned for reasons related to taxi company contracts and paying local tourism taxes.

"I think any sort of innovation that is driven by markets doing what markets do is ultimately a positive development," said Sean Snaith, executive director of the Institute of Economic Competitiveness at the University of Central Florida. "It’s disruptive. Often times, these sort of advances are. But no one is forcing them to provide this service or become a driver. They’re improving their own situation, or else they wouldn’t do it."

"With this new on-demand economy, these jobs fit right in," said William Perez, a tax accountant based in San Francisco who has written about tax issues related to Uber drivers and other independent contractors. "It’s interesting to see how quickly someone can get back into the labor market through these kinds of jobs with relatively no hoops to jump through."

"If someone lost a full time job and are doing Uber because there was nothing else, then that person’s situation may not have improved from their previous job. But on the other hand, what are the options?" Snaith said. "It’s an improvement over what they were doing at that time."

"I have a 4-year-old son with a sensory processing disorder so it’s hard to leave him in the care of others who don’t know his quirks. I also have no family close by who can watch him so this is a way I can stay home and be here for him as well as pay my mortgage and bills," said Mangold, 40. She sets her own price to rent the rooms in her home, and Airbnb takes a commission from it. "I’m also saving for the home repairs we still need, which are pretty expensive."

Alexis Martinez, 25, from Seminole Heights, has been working part-time as a Shipt shopper since the company launched in Tampa Bay earlier this summer. Come January, she plans to ramp up her hours to get full-time work, which she says is absolutely doable.