Most people heeded the advice of public officials and stayed clear of the roads when white-out conditions struck the Washington region Saturday.
But Osman Khan, 54, was in the saddle of his 2013 Chevrolet Suburban, picking up Uber fares even as heavy snow and gale force winds obscured the view from his windshield.
At one point, he said, he even saw a police cruiser stuck on the side of Interstate 395. By nightfall, it was just him, the authorities and a line of snowplows clearing the way.
So why did he venture out?
“I was thinking that ‘somebody needs to work,’” he said.
When blizzard conditions hit and ride-hailing vehicles disappeared from the map– Khan was the lone blip for miles. His passengers included a doctor and two nurses, a department store manager who needed to make it to Springfield, Va., to open the store Sunday, and yes, a reporter (this one) hustling back to the District after blizzard reporting in Franconia.
“Some people said ‘I could not find a car for four hours,’” Khan said. “They said, ‘we have to be in for this shift, so somebody (can) be with patients.’”
For those willing to take on the risk, it was a lucrative pursuit. Uber fares surged to nearly three times their normal price. The company, said this weekend it would cap its surge-pricing under a snow emergency, but it did not specify the exact figure. (Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos is an investor in Uber.)
In an email, a company spokeswoman said driver-partners were told to be mindful of plows, drive at safe speeds and find safe pickup locations. The company did not explicitly advise drivers to stay off the roads, but people seeking rides observed that no cars were available through much of the District during the height of the storm.
Khan, the Arlington-based operator of Ashura Transportation Service, said he trekked out in the blizzard to make a little extra money to support his daughters – who are 21, 16 and 6. Between his car service and his Uber commission, he pocketed nearly $2,000, he said. He said he spent about 17 hours on the road, putting about 350 miles on his SUV.
He left his home in the early afternoon and wrapped up about 6 a.m. Sunday. Meanwhile, he said, friends and coworkers were pleading with him to get off the road.
“So many of my coworkers were calling me asking ‘what are you doing?’”
Eventually, he had to stop answering. It may have seemed dangerous at the time, but Khan said he has been driving professionally for 12 years. Having put a new set of tires he put on his Suburban last week didn’t hurt.
He said he always ventures out during snowstorms to make a little extra money. It’s not something he would recommend to inexperienced drivers, however. In the end, he said, he did it for his family. The sense of relief he brought to passengers was an added bonus.
“Everybody is going to school and college, so I need to allow them to fulfill all their needs,” he said. “So I have to work.”