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Uber driver Terry Wu is a living example of the gig economy, donning a range of different hats

More often than not, Uber driver Terry Wu does more than simply deliver his clients to their destinations safely; he provides lively conversation and unexpected experiences for those willing.

“Once on the way to Hong Kong International Airport, a Belgian student, who had stayed in the city overnight, told me he missed out on Hong Kong’s famed local snacks such as waffles and pineapple buns with a thick slice of butter,” recalled Wu. “I suggested taking him to snack food stalls in Tung Chung because we were early for his flight. We had a great time and continue to stay in touch via social media.”

Another time Wu struck up a conversation with a passenger from Singapore, who turned out to be an exporter of electric fans. “He was looking for design and technical professionals to help develop in-store displays for his products. This is one area of my expertise. We exchanged contact details and later I followed up with a business proposal.”

Wu, a chatty and friendly 42-year-old father of one, has joined the growing army of “slashes”, or gig economy workers. In Wu’s case, he is event-management company owner/radio producer/lighting equipment trader/Uber driver.

Shortly after Wu left his producer’s position at Metro Radio Hong Kong at the end of 2003, he established his own event management company. The company provides logistical and technical support for all types of events around the city. “I have continued to work freelance on assignments from Metro Radio, including video shooting. I also help produce the live broadcast of chat shows by actress Nancy Sit Ka-yin on Facebook every month.”

In addition, he helps out at his wife’s family lighting retail business, being mainly responsible for following up with orders and issuing invoices for customers.

Even though Wu juggled several part-time jobs while sharing with his wife the rearing of their daughter, he found that he still had a lot of free time. “Because my event management firm had been in operation for twelve years, I mostly collaborated with other professionals to work on projects on the phone or via email,” he adds.

There are a few basic requirements for drivers: applicants must have a clean driver’s licence and a vehicle that has been on the road for less than 10 years.

Initially Wu picked up passengers for three to four hours every night. He was always engaged in chitchat with a group of fellow drivers via a smartphone app, he says. “It’s such great fun, just like hanging out with friends every night.”

There were the inevitable teething problems.  Wu’s first-ever ride was a nervous experience. “I was not very familiar with the app. The ride was from Tsim Sha Tsui to Mid-Levels. The client may have been an Uber driver himself: he showed me how to start an order and various other practical things,” he says. “It took me a couple of nights to familiarise myself with the app. Learning the routes also takes some commitment. The GPS for urban areas has some room for improvement although it is quite good for the New Territories.”

Wu appreciates the flexibility that comes with the job. “I have since changed my schedule from evenings to daytime so that I can first take my daughter to school. Then I will turn on the app and take orders from 8 to 11am. If I am in my neighbourhood around 11am, I’ll take my wife to work. I will continue to pick up passengers in the afternoon and finish by around 7pm. Then I fetch my wife from work. Sometimes when I have some free time while on event management assignment, I am able to pick up some fares,” he explains. “For the Easter school holiday, I simply took an entire week off to spend time with my daughter.”

In Wu’s case, driving for Uber is a welcome source of extra revenue. “The business for event management is usually quite slow from May to June and between September and November. Now I have the option to pick up more passengers in these periods,” he says.

On the Uber platform, passengers and drivers can rate each other. On a scale of from one to five, with five as the highest, Wu has achieved an average of 4.7. “Sometimes I’ll challenge myself to get more business, partly for the financial reward and partly to test my capability. Because the platform assigns drivers in the vicinity of the clients, I have not seen much competition among drivers.”

Nonetheless there are challenges that people trying to handle multiple jobs face, something that takes getting used to.

For drivers who have just started, Wu suggests that they can pick up orders during the morning peak hours and from early evening till around 8pm to maximise their business. “If they drive as a part-time job to supplement their income, they should always be mindful of balancing driving for Uber and doing other jobs.”


This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Slash and earn.