Share on Social

Episode 60 Guest Harry Campbell

The last year for Uber and Lyft have been wild: going public, AB5 regulation in California, and now COVID-19 cratering demand. Harry Campbell of The Rideshare Guy shares what he thinks is necessary for ridesharing to survive this challenging time and thrive beyond it.

A pivot from Fixed Route to demand response can help transit agencies continue to serve their communities during trying times. Watch this webinar to learn more! 


Cohen: Josh Cohen
Campbell: Harry Campbell

Cohen: Continuing my special episodes focusing on the impact of COVID-19 on mobility, this week I have Harry Campbell of The Rideshare Guy joining me to share his experience as a rideshare driver, what the impact of COVID-19 will be on the gig economy, and what’s missing to make ridesharing work for drivers, riders, the companies, and the community. Let’s go.

F: Mobility is an essential component to the cities of our future. To build this future, we need to do more than invest in technology; we need to invest in the people who will make the hard decisions necessary to create vibrant, equitable, and sustainable cities. Welcome to The Movement where we talk to the brave leaders who are effecting change in an effort to build a coalition of leaders who will make tomorrow real. Here is your host, TransLoc’s National Director of Policy, Josh Cohen.

Cohen: My guest today is Harry Campbell who most people might know better as The Rideshare Guy. He started driving part time for Uber and Lyft in 2014 and quickly became a must-visit resource for Uber and Lyft drivers. Since then, he is now one of the foremost experts in the gig economy, expanding his coverage to include scooter sharing and food delivery. Welcome to The Movement, Harry.

Campbell: Thanks for having me on, Josh. I’m excited to chat.
Cohen: Well, good. Well, let’s start by giving our audience a little bit more of an introduction to The Rideshare Guy and how you got to be doing the work you’re doing.

Campbell: Yeah. No, it is a bit of a funny story because I guess you would say my formal or classical training—I was an engineer, so I was working for Boeing as an aerospace engineer doing structural analysis, which is basically the exact opposite of what I do now. [LAUGHS] You know, so I was sitting in a cubicle at my day job, you know, with hundreds or thousands of other engineers and doing all the fun stuff that probably anyone who has worked in a corporate environment knows. And, like you mentioned, I actually started driving for Uber and Lyft just around the time when the services were taking off, right when they were kind of getting big, when they were hiring hundreds of thousands of drivers, when they were raising billions of dollars it seemed like every few months.

And for me it just seemed like an interesting opportunity, because normally when you have any new industry or any new business and you kind of are studying it or learning about it you have to do it from the outside. Right? I mean, I guess with Facebook or some of these products you might be a user of it, but you’re still a consumer. Right? And you don’t get to see kind of how the sausage is made. And I think one of the most interesting things for me is that as a driver I started learning a lot about how the companies operated internally. And I sort of combine my knowledge and my experience of actually driving with the companies and that whole side of things but also just getting a better understanding, you know, the bonuses, the financials—right—everything, you know, the product releases and kind of really connecting the dots between the gig workers and the frontline workers on that side and the actual corporate side.

So I like to joke; I think I’m the only person who’s ever driven for Uber but also interviewed their CEO. And so, you know, I often like to try—you know, I think a lot of my work these days is really connecting the two. I have the experience, you know, from talking to all the drivers and doing all the work that I’ve done on the frontlines but also understanding, you know, how the companies are working, how they’re thinking, how they’re operating, and how to meet in the middle for a lot of issues, whether good or bad.

Cohen: That’s really interesting the way you frame that too, because going back to your training as an engineering and doing the structural analysis, like, that’s essentially like what you did there, was by becoming a driver you’re kind of on the inside just like the structure is for an airplane.

Campbell: I will say, you know, especially now that I’m running my own business, I do find myself not all the time but sometimes referring back to my engineer training or even a lot of the content that—you know, because at first I was the one doing all of the content, and over time we’ve hired out a team of writers and content contributors. But at first it was just me doing all the writing. And a lot of the most popular stuff was kind of the nerdy posts where I’m breaking down my earnings and calculating how long, you know, what percentage basically of dead time or how much percent of the time I’m with a passenger and without a passenger and driving to a passenger, and how do I reduce that to make more money and basically my utilization.

So it is funny too when now when especially—you know, which we may get into later—the public is sort of starting to see some of the downsides—right—that come from Uber and Lyft and all of the extra miles that they’re adding to the road. And I can kind of add that context as a driver and sort of, you know, really shine a light. “Okay, they’re added miles, but here is exactly why it’s happening or why drivers are doing it,” and kind of give that on-the-ground perspective too.

Cohen: That’s a good point. And, you know, that human element of ridesharing is obviously kind of a critical part of this. Because I think, obviously, both of the companies, Uber and Lyft, I think have been pretty public about this. At some point they want to remove the human element at some point, be autonomous, reduce most of their costs.

Campbell: Yeah.

Cohen: You know, until then I think we’re going to be in a situation where you’re going to have these rideshare drivers, you’re going to have these delivery drivers who, you know, as we’ve seen in the course of the last couple weeks are considered essential during this COVID-19 crisis and have been encouraged to keep working. And so we’re having, obviously, the AB5 regulation in California, which classifies many gig workers as employees. And of course the CARES Act which came down from Congress—I guess it was put into law over the weekend—gives gig employees some unemployment access.
So there’s a lot of changes going on right now. I’m curious from your perspective, kind of as it relates to COVID-19 or even beyond, kind of what you think will happen next as it relates to the drivers and the gig workers like the food delivery, so forth, and maybe what should happen next, kind of what will and what should.

Campbell: Yeah. Well, I think what we’re seeing right now with COVID-19 is that, you know, the good and bad of some of these business models. Right? I think the good in a lot of ways for Uber and Lyft—the good is that since they are able to variablize all of their expenses, you know, unlike these airplane and, you know, sort of United and, you know, all of these—not the manufacturers but, you know, the actual airline companies. Right? Right now they’re really struggling because they have these huge capital expenditures. Right?

Airplanes, as I know, are very expensive to sit idle and sit empty, and they’re all about utilization right there. Whereas with Uber and Lyft, you know, when they have a bunch of drivers—right now we did a survey of drivers last weekend and 80% of drivers said their earnings are down, demand is down. And what does that mean for Uber and Lyft? Not a whole lot.

If the company is actually losing money on every single ride, they’re actually kind of in a weird way in a better-off situation right now financially than they were before. And so drivers right now are feeling the brunt of a lot of this, you know, kind of COVID-19 situation that’s happening right now. And so what we’ve seen with rideshare is that, you know, as I mentioned, demand is way down. And so we’re seeing that, frankly, like, drivers aren’t really able to make it. And I think the number one question in my inbox over the past couple of weeks from drivers was, “What’s the government going to do?” because I think drivers weren’t necessarily expecting much from Uber and Lyft, and they weren’t expecting much from other options.

Some drivers were switching over to delivery, and other drivers were already delivery drivers. And, you know, we’ve seen definitely an increase in demand there, but Uber, for example, they said on Uber Eats just last week they saw 10% increase in demand. So it’s not huge, but, you know, some of these delivery services are seeing small to medium increases, I guess, is the way I would put it. The only service that I think is really exploding right now is Instacart, because I think everyone is kind of stocking up on groceries; no one wants to go to the grocery store. And so we may see some higher demand spikes in food delivery, but, you know, it just wasn’t really cutting it for a lot of rideshare drivers.

You typically make more transporting a person than you do transporting a burrito. And so for a lot of these drivers, you know, this government stimulus that came through with the $1,200 per person and then, I think, the big piece will be the unemployment that they’re going to potentially get. And I think the big issue that I’ve seen a few people bring up is that, you know, if Uber and Lyft have billions of dollars in their bank account and they’re now basically asking the government for a bailout of their own drivers, I mean, who—you know, is it really the government and really, you know, you and I—right—as taxpayers, is it our responsibility to bail out Uber and Lyft’s drivers when they obviously have a lot of cash? And, you know, I’m not saying that that is right or wrong; it’s a pretty complex discussion which we can get into or not, but it definitely ties into a lot of the AB5 discussions that are happening right now and other issues we’re seeing.

Cohen: I think you’re right. And I think from your standpoint what you’re seeing with that survey you did last week—do you think a lot of these folks will kind of leave the rideshare or gig economy and transition to try to find more full-time work somewhere? Or do you think the fact that we may be moving into more of a recession, kind of bear market kind of situation might mean you have more people who are interested in that type of work?

Campbell: Yeah. So it’s really interesting because Uber and Lyft have sort of always existed in a good economy up until now when you look at the traditional metrics like unemployment percentages and GDP growth. And so it’s always been in kind of a competitive labor market. Right? And I think by the nature of these gig jobs they’re very transitional. You don’t have a lot of people that are signing up to be Uber and Lyft drivers because that’s what they want to do for the rest of their life. You have a lot of people who know that they’re going to be doing it for a few months or that know that they want to try it out or they know they want to do it for a year while they work on something else. So by the nature of the job you’re going to have a lot of people coming in and coming out.

And so I think what’s happening in times like this is that, you know, okay, we’re seeing lower demand on rideshare. Right? In any kind of economic squeeze, you’re going to see lower demand as people sort of—you know, and we’re kind of in the extreme situation right now because no one is leaving the house in a lot of places. But as things come back to normal, you know, we’re going to see that squeeze on even maybe commuting hours. Right? Like, the busiest times to be an Uber and Lyft driver are Friday/Saturday nights when everyone is going out to be bars and restaurants and also Monday through Friday weekdays when people are going to and from work. Right? So if those are the busiest times and we’re seeing less demand there, then there’s going to be less demand for drivers.

You know, so that’s going to obviously—you know, these drivers might make less, but at the same time right now what we’re seeing with some of these food delivery services—like, I got an email from Postmates. And this is a perfect example too. Right? From the media side of my business, we’re recruiting drivers for a lot of these companies; and so we’re technically affiliates for a lot of these companies. I got an email from Postmates the other day that said, “Hey, we have way too many drivers. We’re putting the affiliate program on pause.” Right? And so for someone like me, what that tells me is that, “Wow. They basically don’t need to spend any more money right now on acquiring drivers,” because, like you said—right—in this kind of down economy with no one working and people not having other options, they might see—you know, maybe Uber and Lyft are seeing lower demand; maybe food delivery is seeing increased demand, but they’re seeing a flood of applicants—right—to kind of come onto the platform.

So I think that’s really interesting to think about, the supply and demand side and how both sides of the marketplace are affected in a down economy. And I actually—last year I spent a lot of time thinking about this, talking to a bunch of people, and wrote a pretty kind of nerdy, in-depth article on my site that maybe we can link to; but it’s sort of what would happen to Uber and Lyft in a down economy and examined some of these scenarios.

Cohen: A very timely kind of consideration considering, because I think this is going to be—you know, I think we’ll get through the health part of this hopefully in a number of months, but I think the financial ramifications, I think, are going to echo for a while. So I think some of the COVID-19 acts on mobility have been interesting, in my mind. So obviously, you know, I saw Uber and Lyft eliminated the shared rides, their Pool and their Lyft Line. You know, I’m not as plugged into that, but I got the sense that maybe that was just the good excuse to get rid of those because they weren’t super helpful in a lot of ways.

Campbell: Yeah.

Cohen: Obviously, some communities are restricting nonfamily members from riding together in Ubers and Lyfts. You know, just like public transit, you alluded to ridership is plummeting. You know, you mentioned this before, that Uber—and I think Dara shared this the other day—they have enough cash to kind of make it through this. I’m not as sure about Lyft. But I guess I’m curious. Like, do you think this will fundamentally change ridesharing as a business model? Like, this, whether it’s the combination of COVID-19 and all the challenges there or the combination of COVID-19 plus a recession, like, do you think this business model is going to survive?

Campbell: Yeah, I think this business model is not only going to survive, but I think it actually is one of the few businesses that might flourish in a downturn. You know, I think that—and maybe flourish isn’t the right word. I think that they’re going to be hurt a lot less than more traditional businesses. And I think that it kind of opens Pandora’s box to other companies to sort of see, “Okay, what companies were successful during this bad time? And how can we emulate their business?” whether it’s from a labor perspective or whether it’s from an expense kind of capital, CapEx expense perspective. And so I think that’s the, you know, I guess, good or bad thing depending on what perspective you’re sitting in.

But I think going forward, you know, Uber and Lyft are definitely going to see—as things get back to normal, I think they’ll definitely see, you know, increased, you know, well, I guess less demand than they had before but an increased demand from right now. But at the same time, you know, I think, like, just the mere fact that—right—they have this network of drivers that can kind of go online/offline whenever they need it. Right? They’re not going to have huge supply issues because they’ve got—Uber has 1.3 million drivers in the U.S. And maybe some are going to quick and never come back to Uber because of this whole situation, but as demand ramps back up they can literally use surge pricing and use the bonuses and use a lot of the programs and products they already have to get these drivers back on the road pretty quickly and efficiently, I think, versus a lot of other companies.

So, to answer your question, I don’t really see the business model changing so much. I think the big risk for these companies though is that if, you know, let’s say politicians start to look at their business model because of, you know, the bailout that basically drivers got or because of the labor issues, if there’s—that’s where I think the big risk is still for these companies; their business model is fine, but if some kind of outside force starts to exert pressure, whether it’s political or something else, that’s where I think things could get a little hairy for the companies.

Cohen: Yeah. And I guess that’s the piece that I think we’re still too close to the problem to kind of see as far as, like, what kind of the long-term political impact is going to be on all of the handling of all of this. Right?

Campbell: Yeah.

Cohen: Rightly or wrongly, political or not, like, just the way our elected officials have tried to solve this problem from a health perspective or a financial perspective.

Campbell: Yeah.

Cohen: I think there’s going to be some ramifications from that.

Campbell: Yeah. Well, I think—and really frankly I think right now it’s more of a human problem. Right now, you know, a lot of these drivers and gig workers that, you know, basically are having to make really tough choices. I mean, even, you know, the number-one CDC recommendation right now in the time of COVID is to stay six feet away from people and social distance. Right? If you get into the car with an Uber or Lyft driver, you break that pretty quickly. You know, there’s only three or four feet of space, and you’re in a confined space for 10, 15, 20, 30 minutes.

And so I think right now it’s more about solving those immediate health issues; but also just kind of from a human level, how do you get these workers money for rent? Right? How do you get them money for food? And I think that as time goes on, you know, more people will sort of ask the question, “Okay. We solved that problem. We got people money on the table. But basically should we be doing that—right—in the future? Or is this more Uber and Lyft’s responsibility?”

Cohen: Yeah. Well, and that’s why I think your point about whether what lessons people will take from this experience and for future business models, I think, will be really, really interesting to see. Ridesharing has been undoubtedly popular. You know, I think it solved a problem. Right? In many communities, taxis weren’t a great solution. Right? The flipside is, you know, now we’re starting to get the data on how ridesharing is starting to replace public transit trips, how VMTs, vehicle miles traveled, are up.

I’m curious; from your standpoint, what do you think is needed to get over this hump so that we can have options? Because I think that is the key. We have to have options. Right? I don’t think—public transit alone is not going to solve all of the problems. Scooters are not going to solve all the problems. Bikes aren’t going to solve all the problems. I think we have to have options. So I’m curious what you think the right kind of balance is to make sure we have options, which are key to our future mobility, but also kind of ensuring that the incentive for riders and companies and communities are kind of not out of whack so we don’t have—you know, like the problem that I think in San Francisco where you’ve got just a lot of people moving around that are empty vehicles, you know, and that’s not helpful either. So I’m curious what you think about that.

Campbell: Yeah. Well, Josh, that’s a loaded question, but I’ll do my best to start and dig in, and we can see where you go from there. But, I mean, I think what I will say is, you know, I think the simplest way of putting it is, like, too much of a good thing can be bad. And that’s really what we’re experiencing right now with Uber and Lyft. You know, it’s an amazing service; it was revolutionary. We can go into all of that and do a whole podcast on that, but ultimately when you have 50,000 to 75,000 Uber cars on the streets of New York or Los Angeles—right—you start to actually see some of the negative effects, and you start to visualize—I mean, literally, like, driving down the street you see, like, Uber stickers everywhere on these cars and them double parked and, you know, being terrible drivers.

And I think where it starts though is you have to really understand the perspective of the workers. And that’s kind of, like, what I think is so important in my work and kind of what I’m trying to do by coming on a podcast like this or, you know, a lot of the other projects and work I’ve done in the past, is basically understanding—right—like, there’s a few dynamics that right off the start for example. Right? Like, I know that there have been studies about, you know, like drivers getting tickets and double parking and things like that. Well, as a driver, there’s nowhere for me to pull over; there’s nowhere for me to safely park. And I think when you understand, like, what it’s actually like to be a driver, when you actually have to maintain a 4.6-star rating to stay active on the Uber or Lyft platform, a four rating is basically a failing grade. Right? And so you’re going to do basically whatever it takes to keep that customer happy. And you combine that with the fact that you’ve never received any training from Uber and Lyft because you’re an independent contractor. And they can send you videos, but no one actually watches those, and it’s illegal for them to require you to do training, which would probably be very helpful for you. But, you know, the companies can’t do that for legal reasons.

And so now as a driver you have Josh in your backseat, and he wants to be dropped off right in front of the hotel; there’s nowhere safely to pull over; and, you know, at the same time you don’t really know how to handle that from a customer service point of view. Like we have—it’s a very simple, like, way to handle that as a driver. You can sort of let them know, “Hey, you know, I’d love to drop you off here up front, but I could get a ticket or I could be responsible for a ticket.” You know, there’s sort of a lot of ways to disarm or sort of basically handle those situations. But most of the time drivers drop them off right in the front, and then, you know, double-park and then cause an issue or get a ticket or add to congestion that way. In between trips when drivers are searching for rides, a lot of them don’t understand that it’s probably best to pull over and park. But if you’re downtown in the city, you’re just going to keep cruising around the city because there’s nowhere to park or, you know, there’s no parking lots for you to go.

So I think when you kind of get on that ground level, then you can sort of assess, like, “Okay, there’s definitely some positives and negatives.” But, like, in regards to let’s say you wanted to focus on the VMT—right—like, what are the actual—you know, what parts of that VMT increase are Uber and Lyft actually responsible for? Because they’re definitely responsible for some of it. Right? But what about, you know, for example, the fact that all these drivers in San Francisco—right? It’s a seven-by-seven mile square. You know, no one—I mean, really, I mean, a lot of the people that work there can’t even afford to live there, so the drivers making 20 to 25 bucks an hour are driving in from East Bay, from Sacramento, from south, from north and putting obviously lots of miles on the roads that way too.

But they’ve got to work, and that’s where they have to go. They may be driving into the city for other jobs if, you know, they have to work something. So it sort of depends on what question you’re asking. And then really kind of like—I think you kind of have to get a little bit detailed and understand, like, why—you know, break down some of those reasons why the VMT might be increasing.

Cohen: Yeah. There’s a couple things I heard there that I think are interesting. One is the empathy for the experience of that driver. Right? And so, you know, I like the way you frame that, which is like, “Well, if I have to make this choice between dropping you off in front and getting a five-star or going down the block to where it’s maybe a safer place to do it and getting a four,” they’re incentivized to do that, to double-park and do that, get that five-star rating every time. So, I think, understanding that from an empathetic or empathic—I’m not sure which one, but—point of view, I think, is a critical part.

The other thing I thought was interesting there is that—I think this is kind of maybe the fundamental issue that you highlighted as well, which I think is related to kind of how, I guess, Uber was kind of founded, which is that, you know, this delta between solving the customer’s problem and the regulations put together by the government and how much of a lag there is until that catches up.

Campbell: Yeah.

Cohen: And so in that period, whether that’s a three-month period, a six-month period, 18-month period, whatever, you’re going to have that potential for there to be that situation where it’s like, “Oh, yeah. Well, I’m going to double-park because there is no curb space for me to drop off.” Right?

Campbell: Right. Well, and I think the one thing I would also sort of highlight is just understanding the different constituencies. Right? You sort of have customers; you sort of have drivers; and you have Uber and Lyft. And I would say that customers and Uber and Lyft are very much on the same page. Right? Even if you go back to the origin of the company, Uber, I mean, these are basically guys who wanted a better way of calling for a taxi. They wanted an app; they wanted a frictionless process. It wasn’t taxi drivers who were fed up with the system and wanted to change it. Right?

Cohen: Right. Right. Right.

Campbell: And so a lot of the systems, product designs, you know, product choices that they made over the years have reflected that. And so I would say that it’s kind of, you know, drivers are, you know, very low on the totem pole of priorities. And what that means is that, for example—and so that’s why I think it’s important to understand sort of the motivations of each constituency, so if you’re a regulator and you’re looking at—you know, I think one of the—you know, there’s a few big issues right now.

I think before the whole COVID thing happened I called 2020 the year of regulation for ride hail, because political will has really shifted against them. You know, cities right now are looking at the labor aspect of course with AB5 in California. New York City has instituted a minimum-pay kind of legislation. And then there’s also the congestion that Uber and Lyft are causing and then the taxes and fees—right—because obviously governments need money, and Uber and Lyft supposedly have a lot of money, and so more cities are trying to get taxes and fees out of those. And, I think, like, you have to understand—right—for example, like with fees—right—if you are to raise—a lot of cities do a per-trip fee on each Uber ride. And if you raise that per-trip fee, it makes it more expensive for the rider and none of that is passed on to the driver. Uber just charges more.

So if that’s what you want as a city, great; but I suspect more often than not—you know, it’s funny because a lot of these cities might be looking at labor regulations that are going to help drivers, but they’re sort of hurting them on the fees side. You know, the City of Seattle actually instituted a really unique proposal that I saw recently where they increased the fees on Uber and Lyft, but one of the things they did was they took some of that money and they created a third-party driver resolution center. And so if you’re ever—right now if you’re deactivated from Uber and Lyft as a driver, you’re basically out of luck. You’re screwed. You’re on your own. There’s really nothing you can do because it’s kind of like Uber’s way or the high way. And there’s literally nothing you can do, and it really sucks for a lot of drivers.

We get very tough emails that I have to respond to and basically tell them, “I’m sorry. There’s nothing that I can do or anyone can do.” And that’s probably one of the top two or three complaints, is unfair deactivations or just deactivations in general, that whole process. And so the City of Seattle basically, you know, they increased the fees, but they’re kind of taking this big pain point of drivers and now giving that back. So you can kind of imagine a fee like that makes a lot more sense and probably would get broader support from drivers for sure, you know, maybe even passengers and, you know, kind of is a little more holistic than something that’s just more of a, “Let’s raise fees so that the city can have more money.” I think you’re going to get less support on something like that.

Cohen: Yeah. No, that’s an interesting point. And I think that goes back to consistency that I’ve seen in many of the conversations I’ve had about really thinking about from the perspective of the community, what the community’s goals and vision are. Right? And so, you know, you could see a situation where in Seattle, you know, part of that conversation may be around, you know, “We want to make sure that workers’ rights are respected.” Right?

Campbell: Yeah.

Cohen: “And so we’re okay with contributing part of our Uber cost each trip to ensuring that these workers have the right to get a fair hearing about—” you know, again, I don’t know the insides of the resolution center, but—

Campbell: Right. Exactly. And, you know, that’s the thing. Right? Because every city and every situation is different, and so that’s why I think it’s so important that it starts from a place of understanding. You know, I guess it’s so simple in your head. Right? You have to kind of understand the constituents that you’re trying to regulate, but I think what we’ve seen with drivers is that that’s very often not the case. Right? If you go and talk to drivers and—you know, it’s tough. Right? I would say, I mean, that’s kind of why I have a job. It’s because there’s hundreds of thousands—there are millions of drivers, and if you talk to one group of drivers, they might have very different opinions than another groups. So you have to really understand and collate all of those experiences.

If you’re a 40-to-50-hour-a-week driver driving for Uber and Lyft, you probably don’t love the job that much; you’re kind of already working like an employee, don’t get to take advantage of the flexibility, and you might be a big supporter of AB5. But if you’re in that other cohort of, you know, 10 hours a week or less and driving only in the summers or using it really flexible, you’re not doing nearly as many trips, but the service—you really are taking advantage of that flexibility. And so I think if you understand those different constituents and you go out and talk to drivers and you say, “Okay, the top three complaints across the board, whether they’re fulltime, part time, they want to be paid more, they want Uber—you know, they’re not happy with the high commission that Uber and Lyft takes, and they’re pissed off about or they’re worried about unfair deactivations,” then when you’re going to increase the fees, for example, you kind of understand how increasing the fees impacts the top three things that drivers care about. “Okay. They don’t like the rates that Uber and Lyft and charging by increasing the fees. That doesn’t help them much there. They don’t like the commission that Uber and Lyft are charging. You know, increasing the fee doesn’t really help them much there, but maybe we can take some of that money and create a driver resolutions.”

You know, so you sort of obviously have to balance every situation, but, you know, you can at least make informed choices if you understand exactly what the drivers care about and, you know, what the companies and even constituents. Because I think, you know, we’re all kind of customers of Uber and Lyft. And this is even one thing I saw in my years of dealing with people at Uber and Lyft. You know, every employee at Uber and Lyft for years got hundreds of dollars in ride credits every single month. And so they really understood the product from the customer’s point of view and the issues and the challenges there, but Uber for years actually had a rule that none of their employees could actually be drivers for the company because of basically employee independent contractor issues. And that was just so crazy to me that, you know, basically you have a whole company of thousands of people riding Uber but none of them actually driving.

Cohen: Yeah, that’s really fascinating. I think another thing that I kind of was thinking about as you were talking, that you highlighted there when you talk about constituents, you know, I thought about that from the city standpoint. Obviously one of the things that Uber and Lyft did was they created this multisided platform. And they’re kind of in the middle, and they’re kind of facilitating that transaction. What that made me realize is that from a city standpoint when you have that multisided platform, that makes figuring out who your constituent is a lot harder. Right?

And I hadn’t really—I’m kind of thinking about this on the fly here, but, you know, it seems like if you’re a city and you’re thinking about the normal city things that you do, your constituents are pretty clear. Right? It’s like, “Yeah. We’ve got to get the trash. We’ve got to keep people safe,” so forth. It seems like with this you’re introducing another layer there. Right? So you’ve got the community goals; you’ve got the citizen goals; you’ve got the driver. You know, it’s like—

Campbell: Yeah.

Cohen: You know, and then maybe the company goals too. So you’ve got a lot of constituents. And I think that’s part of what makes, on the regulatory side, this even that much more challenging.

Campbell: Yeah. You know, and that’s actually interesting because I’ve never heard it put in that way before, but it totally makes sense—right—that there are these sort of multiple layers. And I think that’s what makes it very challenging for regulators, because they have to understand this—I mean, like, even if let’s say you were kind of, you know, going through this exercise in your head, like, how would you go talk to a bunch of drivers? [LAUGHS] Right? You can’t go to Uber.

You know, if you go to Uber and Lyft, they’re obviously going to curate a nice handful of drivers for you that probably, you know, say—you know, that are more in line with what they care about, what they think about. But to get a more random sample of drivers, I guess, you could try to do an online survey or, you know, go out and take a bunch of rides. But you can sort of see it’s challenging. These are actually a lot of the issues we help companies with, so that’s why I know them well. And, you know, a lot of companies come to us because they’re facing these issues. Even some government agencies have come to us to help with this. And we’ve never done anything formal, but I know that it’s a challenge—right—for regulators, let’s say, in this space. And so, you know, that’s kind of one of the things that I definitely try to help with.

I actually have a chapter in an upcoming academic book that’s kind of basically on—I think the title is a little complex. It’s like qualitative understandings of, you know, basically ride hailing, gig work and all of that. But my chapter that I wrote was basically—you know, I kind of highlighted a few different examples and kind of like where if you understand, like, the drivers and, like, what they’re doing, then you can more effectively regulate them, basically, and how regulate—we’ve seen examples of regulations in the past that, you know, had some probably very positive intention but then in reality just because they didn’t quite understand how the drivers were thinking about it or doing of it or what they actually wanted, it didn’t play out too well in reality, and kind of how that could be fixed.

Cohen: Well, that’s maybe a great segue to where can our audience find out more about your work online and get in contact with you if they’re interested in following more about some of the stuff that you’re working on?

Campbell: Yeah, definitely. Well, I have a website,, and we do a ton of content there. I mean, our main audience there is primarily the gig workers and drivers, but I think we have a lot of other people that are just interested in the industry who follow our stuff. And then I have a podcast myself that’s more of an industry look at rideshare and mobility, kind of from that perspective of the workers. So that’s also called The Rideshare Guy. And basically I think if you type The Rideshare Guy into any box on the internet, I should pop up. But if I don’t, shoot me an email.

Cohen: Wow. That’s good.

Campbell: Shoot me an email, and let me know where I’m not popping up so I can make that happen. And then I’m also on Twitter at @TheRideshareGuy, as you might have guessed. So lots of ways to find me.

Cohen: Well, Harry, I appreciate you sharing a little bit more about this perspective from the driver side or from the gig worker side. I think that’s a critical perspective that we don’t often get to see or hear about, so I appreciate you sharing that. And good luck; stay safe out there.

Campbell: Yeah, definitely. Appreciate you having me on. I’m a big fan of the podcast, so glad I finally made it on as a guest.

Cohen: Thanks you. Appreciate it.

F: Thanks for listening. If you like what you hear, head to Apple Podcasts and subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. You can find out more at Be sure to join us next week for another episode of The Movement.


A pivot from Fixed Route to demand response can help transit agencies continue to serve their communities during trying times. Watch this webinar to learn more!