Theology professor Jennifer Bird drives for Uber

By Dora Totoian | February 15, 2017 10:07pm

by Julia Cramer / The Beacon

When theology professor Jennifer Bird finishes her day teaching at the University of Portland, she turns on her Uber app and waits in the parking lot. But she isn’t waiting for her ride — she’s waiting for clients asking to be driven somewhere.

In addition to teaching at UP, Bird drives for Uber.

It started in May of last year when she needed another source of income, but also needed a job that would be flexible enough to fit her teaching schedule. Driving for Uber allows her to settle her own working hours. She explains that her role as an adjunct professor has required her to hold multiple jobs in addition to teaching. As an adjunct, Bird gets paid by the course and does not receive benefits.

Bird says a typical drive for Uber is 15-20 minutes. Most of her drives are when she’s done teaching at UP — and in between her other jobs. Bird not only teaches at UP, she also teaches at Portland Community College, works for a certified public accountant, hosts an AirBNB and works on speaking engagements related to her work in theology.

About 30 percent of Uber drivers have a part-time job elsewhere. Fare for an Uber ride is calculated based on the time and distance of the trip plus a base fee. They vary slightly by city. In Portland, for example, it’s $0.20 per minute and $1.15 per mile plus the $1.35 booking fee. Uber takes 20 percent of the final fee.

Bird says that if her financial situation permitted her to, she wouldn’t drive for Uber. However, she tries to make the best of it.

“I’d rather be doing something that’s more...what I love to do,” Bird said. “Although it is kind of fun at times. I just try to focus on enjoying it as opposed to being annoyed.”

Her Uber schedule often begins in the UP parking lot, so her clients are sometimes UP students. But she doesn’t think they realize a professor is driving them. Clients have even included celebrities — she once drove actress Chloë Sevigny, whom Bird described as “chill.”

“I was trying to play cool, and I think I was awkward (but) I was trying so hard to play cool,” Bird said.

by Julia Cramer / The Beacon

She describes most people she’s driven as chill, quiet or fun. She’s had almost no negative encounters. Bird makes an effort to be highly sensitive to what her clients are doing or how they’re feeling, especially around travelers she picks up from the airport because they may be more tired than they appear. She gauges if clients want to talk or if they’re content just saying “hi” and then going straight to their phones — which she said is perfectly fine.

She says other Uber drivers at the airport can be seen meticulously detailing and cleaning their cars as they wait for clients, but for her, having a neat car is enough of a service, especially as driving is not her full-time job. However, she does wish she could provide a more comfortable driving experience for certain people.

“I don’t have an aux cord, and I’ve picked up a lot of teenagers and 20-year-olds,” Bird said. “So I feel kind of bad about that.”

Although she tries to see “the big picture” and wishes her work situation was a little simpler, Bird doesn’t mind driving strangers around Portland. However, there is something she wants all users of the Uber app to know.

“You put in not just the street address but the name of the place I’m picking you up,” Bird said. Also, “don’t hit ‘pick me up here’ because GPS sometimes is off.”