L.A. is a Great Big Freeway, Put 5 Down and Take an Uber
Luke Gillman @TheLowRoadMag
Luke is a writer and editor from Melbourne, Australia, who is currently based in Los Angeles and soaking up all the comedy, burritos and sunshine he can.
You’re moving to Los Angeles? You’d better get yourself a run-around.
In the lead-up to the big move Stateside, I must have heard this refrain no less than thirty times.
“LA is a great big freeway, put a hundred down and buy a car,” my dad would sing to me sarcastically. “Listen to Burt Bacharach.”
For the first few weeks in La La Land, I had a hire car to get my other half and I around town, but once that was returned I began the search for a vehicle. Anyone who has bought a used car knows it is not an easy process, particularly when you’re working within a budget. And within our budget was usually something like the following:
1992 Honda Accord
Lavender exterior/maroon interior
The car has some issues currently including:
- overheating due to blown head gasket
- windows don't go down except for back passenger side
- odometer stopped tracking mileage about 4 months ago
- no air conditioning
Needless to say I was not feeling inspired about the prospect of spending my time trekking all over the city in pursuit of the least crap crapbox at the lowest price. One day, while ridesharing in an Uber, I got chatting to a gent who lived in Pacific Palisades and worked downtown. He was a wealth manager who had just sold up his car and had no plans to replace it.
“What do you mean?” I asked. “I thought everybody here needed a car.”
My new friend explained that he had run all the numbers –of course, he was a wealth manager– and between the cost of car repayments, gas, insurance and parking, he had decided it was just too expensive.
“So what’s the alternative?” I asked.
“You’re sitting in it,” he replied.
Uber is big business in the US, particularly in the larger cities. Last year the company was valued at US$68 billion, even with heavy losses from their attempts to increase their market share over competitors like Lyft.
More than 20,000 Uber drivers are operating in Los Angeles alone. Much like back in Australia, they all hold a valid state driver’s licence and have to prove they have a clean driving record and criminal history, giving the passenger peace of mind before they get in the vehicle.
For the most part Uber drivers here in the States have been courteous and accommodating, if a little heavy on the brakes. While they’re making less now than they were in previous years per fare, many drivers I’ve spoken to are transitioning to Uber as their main source of income. Two of my drivers have been mothers picking up fares with a kid in the front seat, giving them a chance to earn some cash and keep an eye on Junior.
Taking an Uber here in Los Angeles is damn cheap. A 4-mile (6.4 km) trip on a busy Saturday afternoon to nearby Japantown set me back under US$7. A 30-minute round trip on a weeknight cost me under US$5. My cheapest fare to date is US$1.50 which included a discount for sharing my ride with another traveller. No wonder my wealth-manager buddy was happy to chuck in his BMW.
LA may be a great big freeway, but for the time being I’m going to do my best to steer clear of the car yards and let someone else do the driving for me.