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Coming to America

September 24, 2015

Filed under: observations,Sharing economy — Tags: , , , , , , — admin @ 9:47 am

Took my car to be serviced this week, so I used BART to get back and forth to the dealership. I just needed a short ride from my home to the station and back. I used a cab inon e direction and Lyft in the other.

The result was two distinct views of America.

Note to self: It’s no longer good to ask a cab driver, “How’s business?” – my standard line, rather than just sitting in silence.

The cab driver, who was Indian and spoke with a typical accent, launched into what was probably a frequently repeated refrain about Uber and Lyft.

“Those drivers don’t make any money,” he told me. “After paying for their cars and insurance and gas they lose money, every day they drive.” he continued.

I asked how long he had been driving and he proudly said, 23 years, although he wasn’t sure how much longer he could continue. “Business used to be good, but now, sometimes I make less than $100 in a day,” he told me.

I asked if he had tried driving for one of the new competitors. “Why, I wouldn’t make any money.” Then he added, “The government will have to do something.”

My driver back to retrieve my car turned out to be a young Afghan immigrant who was a translator for the Army near Kabul. He’s been in the US for two years and has been driving his 1-year-old Prius for several ride-sharing services since last December.

He was able to come here with his wife and two children, but left his brother and mother behind. It took him five years to get a visa and he realizes how lucky he is, pointing out that another 10,000 translators may never be granted permission, despite assurances from the US government that they have priority status.

“They have stopped issuing any more visas,” he told me. “And since the Syrian refugee crises, the whole system has stopped.” He admitted that the rest of his family lives in fear because the Taliban know that he worked for the US Army, but, he says, his mother and brother probably will never get out. He speaks with them regularly via cellphone.

Despite that, he says that he is doing very well. His wife is taking English classes and he is studying to get his GED, although he has an IT degree from school in Afghanistan.

“I need to have something to show people. I have nothing from my home.” he says.

While he speaks with an accent, his English is near perfect and it was clear that getting a GED was just a formality. When he first came to this country he worked for a Fremont company testing file servers.

“They paid me $15/hour, but the job was boring, so I tried driving on my days off and found I could make $300/day in 6 hours, – so I quit.” he says. “Now I drive 4 hours a day and study and if I need extra money, I can work on the weekend and make $600 a day.”

Is it any wonder  so many people want to come to the US.


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