^^^^^You are not off the mark, here, but, there are a few things that are better for the driver.
If you can get your hands on a 2011 Camry, which should not be that much trouble, you can go to work and you do have something to show for your money, beat-up as it may be. At the cab company, you are paying just for the set of keys for twelve hours and you have to pay rent on top of that. The cab business in Boston is overregulated and the burden of that overregulation falls heavily on the drivers. In Boston, as in many jurisdictions, there are not many regulations on the TNCs. Thus, you have less worry about harassment from authorities.
Yes, the pay at UberX is crummy, but eight-dollars-fifty an hour is better than zero. Those two may be the only choices to some of these guys.
Yes, there is mistreatment from Uber, but, the mistreatment from the cab companies is far worse.