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I'm a driver for Uber and Lyft — here are 10 things I wish I knew before starting the job

clarke bowman

 

  • I started driving for Lyft and Uber to earn extra money at the beginning of this year. 
  • The job is different from what I expected, and in that time, I’ve learned a lot about driving and even more about myself.
  • These are the 11 things I wish I had known before I started driving strangers in my car for money. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A long time ago, I thought seriously about becoming an Uber and Lyft driver. It was a big decision to make, and left me with many questions, and hardly any way to find the answers. 

Would the people be weird? Is it safe? What is it really like? Would I make a profit? Would it be worth it? 

You read outrageous Uber and Lyft headlines where some drivers are harmed by passengers. You also hear about how much money an Uber and Lyft driver can make in a short time. It left me curious, and really wondering what was real, and what was overblown.

Read more: I’m a driver for both Uber and Lyft — here are 7 reasons Uber is the clear winner for me

Needing to make some money for my upcoming wedding, I eventually convinced myself I could do this. The next day, I signed up for Uber and Lyft.

I’ve learned a lot about driving since then. And through trial and error, I’ve found out a lot myself, too. While some of the things I’ve learned are specific for only certain regions, other aspects of the job are universal.

Here are 11 things I wish I knew before starting driving for Lyft and Uber.

SEE ALSO: I’m a driver for both Uber and Lyft — here are 7 reasons Uber is the clear winner for me

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To make the most money possible, you need to avoid traffic.

Something that is universally loved by Uber and Lyft passengers — and is also a reason why so many people dislike taxis — is that the rate quoted in the app is generally exactly what they pay.

This is because the “per-minute” rate a driver makes is very low, while the “per-mile” rate is pretty decent. The fare won’t suddenly jump up to an unexpected amount just because the driver hit traffic along the route.

While this is a great thing for passengers, it is not so great for drivers. Getting caught in slow or stopped traffic will absolutely kill your dollars-per-hour ratio. In my area, a driver makes about $0.12 per minute, which is the equivalent of $7.20 an hour. In some markets, a driver makes even less. 

To keep making the most money possible, you have to keep your car moving. Down in South Florida, there is traffic seemingly everywhere at peak rush hour times around 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., so I try to avoid driving at those most congested times. I also keep a mental note of areas that have lots of construction and try to avoid those routes as well.

Good things come to those who wait. Don’t drive around looking for a ride — let the ride come to you.

A good fisherman is a patient person. He picks what he thinks is a good spot, baits his hook, casts his line out, and then, he waits. It might take 30 seconds for a bite, or it might take 10 minutes, but the fisherman remains patient. The bite will come.

To remain a profitable driver, you must become like the fisherman. Find a good spot. Be patient. Wait. The ride will come.

I used to drive around between rides, trying to make myself somehow more available to the next rider. 

Don’t do this. 

All driving around did was put unnecessary miles on my car and ensured that I ruined my profit margin by wasting gas. 

Now, unless I am on a ride or heading to pick up a passenger, I try not to drive around aimlessly. My car is my business, and I try to treat it as such. Soon after I drop someone off, I will try to pull over to a safe area like a parking spot in a public plaza and wait there. A podcast or an e-book keeps me entertained between rides, but it’s usually no more than a few minutes until another request comes. If I don’t get a request within 15 minutes, I will start driving toward a known busier area, and I will almost always get a request shortly after.

The real trick to getting a ride request is to make sure you have to use the bathroom. As soon as you get the urge to go to the bathroom, you are guaranteed a 100% chance of immediately getting a ride request, every time.

The closest driver to a passenger usually gets the next ride. Position yourself accordingly.

Driving for Uber and Lyft is a lot like a game. The goal of the game is to earn as much money as possible per hour. 

The best way to play this game is to have a paying passenger at almost all times inside your car. Your opponents of this game are the other drivers on the road, as they are your competition, fighting for your ride requests. You can see these other drivers on the Uber and Lyft passenger apps. Yes, those little cars around your location when you open the app are real.

Sorry, fellow drivers, but I have a wedding I’m saving for.

No one knows exactly how Uber and Lyft calculate which driver gets the next ride, but after driving for a while, you get a feel for where you need to be positioned in order to get the next ride. The ride-hailing apps use an algorithm that calculates your position with current traffic patterns and who can arrive to the passenger first. Then the apps will offer that ride to whichever drivers can arrive at the request first. 

What does this mean? 

In short, the closest driver gets the ride.

If you know there’s a popular hotel that people frequently travel from, don’t wait a half mile away. There are likely drivers between you and that hotel, so they will most likely get the requests first. Get as close as you safely and legally can, and wait. You will almost certainly be rewarded with the next ride request.

Contrary to popular belief, the airport queue is generally not worth waiting in.

Many people believe that the airport is where you can make the most money as a rideshare driver. 

Some drivers around the country only do rides coming from the airport. Most airports have a dedicated waiting area for Uber and Lyft drivers that the apps will direct you to. It’s called “the queue.” You can see how many people are waiting before you arrive. Upon entering, the apps automatically add you into this first-come, first-served queue and will tell you your position in line.

Deciding if waiting in the queue for airport rides are a heavily market-dependent area. In my area, and a lot of other areas, the majority of the time it is not worth it to sit in the airport queue and wait for a ride. 

I have seen up to 250 drivers in the Uber queue at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport. On average, that is at least a two-hour wait. 

Drivers aren’t paid when they’re waiting for a ride in the queue. They’re not paid for sitting in the 10 minutes of traffic before they arrive to you in the pickup area. And there is certainly no ride in the world that can justify a two-hour wait.

I remember the first time I tried out the queue, just to see how it worked. I hopped in with 80 cars ahead of me. Nearly an hour and a half later, I finally received a ride request. I arrived, loaded my passengers’ heavy luggage, and started the ride. Their dropoff location was a hotel a short distance away. Ten minutes later, I dropped them off, completed the ride, and received my cut: $5.82. I still remember the number, because I didn’t think it was right. $5.82 is all I received after nearly two hours.

I waited in the airport queue about 10 more times because I didn’t learn my lesson the first time. Each time, I completed the ride with a sour taste in my mouth. The only time the airport seems to be worth it is late at night when there are very few drivers and there is possibly a surge.

Unless you like taking hour-long naps between rides that may pay very little, don’t wait in the airport queue. 

You need to take breaks often, for your health and for your sanity.

As a driver, I’m my own boss. I can set my own schedule and stop working whenever I want.

With that much control, it’s easy to forget to take breaks while I’m on the job — but they’re extremely important for both your physical and mental health.

Sometimes the rides come back-to-back so fast that I lose track of time. I’ll look down at the clock and realize, wow, I’ve been cooped up in this car for five hours.

I used to try and push myself to keep driving. “Power through,” I would tell myself. “One more ride.”

Don’t do that. Take a break.

While driving isn’t very intensive, it can be a very mentally taxing and stressful job. Your eyes are constantly focused on the road, your arms and legs are constantly in some type of motion, and your brain is constantly trying to think of “what’s next?” 

You need to get out of your car. You need to drink lots of water. You need to use the restroom. You need to stretch your back and legs. And you need a few moments of clarity so you can remain a fresh, positive person for the next passenger.

This gig offers a lot of personal flexibility compared to other jobs out there. Take advantage of that.

Take a break, and do it often. 

The secret to a high rating — and more tips — is having a clean car, offering a good phone charger, and driving safe.

After hundreds of rides, I have maintained an almost-perfect five-star rating. I’m a 4.99 on both Uber and Lyft.

I honestly don’t do anything too special.

My car is clean. This is of the utmost importance. And being clean does not mean having to shampoo and vacuum your interior every single day. You want no visible dirt, no stains, and no hair or lint on the seats. A quick shake of the car mats before each shift can work wonders.

People like a good air freshener. The key word here being “good.” Those little pine-tree shaped ones swinging from the rearview mirror releasing an overbearing, nauseating smell do not count. Those should not even be considered air fresheners. Pay a couple dollars extra for a decent one. 

The amount of times I hear “Your car smells amazing!” is incredible. And I like the smell too. If you’re going to be stuck in your car for a long time, you may as well make it smell nice.

Another tip: People love phone chargers. I found a 5-foot phone-charging cable with all three major phone adapters for iPhones and Android phones. It was cheap, and it works great. People comment on almost every ride how amazing it is.

One more thing — I drive safely. Nobody likes an unsafe, speeding driver. Studies even show that speeding doesn’t really get you there any faster. This is not to say that I drive slow. A good rule of thumb is to drive like your grandmother is in your car holding a hot cup of coffee, but she’s in a hurry. Accelerate decently, brake safely and drive defensively.

Doing these things doesn’t take much effort. Everyone loves a clean car, a fully-charged phone, and a safe driver. 

You don’t have to lose money driving back home at the end of a shift — you can get paid for it.

People are always fascinated when they ask what the farthest I’ve driven was. And the next question is always, “How did you get back home?” Because, theoretically, you could take multiple rides with each ride taking you farther and farther away from home. Sure, a 60-mile trip one way might pay great, but what about the 60 miles back?

You could just drive the 60 miles back home, unpaid, which is what some drivers refer to as dead mileage.

Or, use “Destination Mode” on Uber or “Filtered Rides” on Lyft. 

I wonder how many “dead” miles I put on my vehicle before I really took advantage of these valuable features.

I’ll often set these up when I am getting ready to stop driving for the night, about an hour before I want to be done. If I’m 20 miles away, instead of taking the highway, I’ll take a main road. I will almost always get at least one or two rides, and those rides are always towards my path home, if not right near my end location.

It doesn’t have to be on homebound rides either. You can set them for anywhere. One day I had to go to an 8 a.m. training for my main job at a building 20 miles away. So I woke up a little earlier, set the destination mode, and I arrived 15 minutes early for the training, but I made $18 on the way there. I set it when I left, and I made $14 on the way back home. That is $32 extra I earned for just driving when I had to drive anyways.

Learn how to use these modes for your advantage to make sure you are always getting paid.

Uber Pool and Lyft Shared rides don’t pay you as much as you think, and are hardly worth it for the driver

Uber Pool and Lyft Shared rides sound great in theory. You pick people up along your route, drop people off, and pick more people up. Someone is almost always in your car, and therefore you’re always getting paid. The way these carpool rides are advertised toward drivers makes it sound like we’re getting paid a lot extra per passenger.

So imagine my surprise when I accepted my first Shared ride, picked up two different people, drove for 34 minutes and 24 seconds, completed the ride, and earned just $9.41. I checked the Earnings Breakdown page on the Lyft app, and found that the company was paid $7.26 for the ride. 

Huh?

I did a few more of these rides for both companies before I decided I’m not going to accept them anymore. While they’re great for the customer, shared rides often end up hurting the driver, while the companies end up keeping most of the extra profit.

On top of that, carpool rides can also be a headache for drivers. A lot of passengers are either misinformed about carpool rides, or choose not to follow the conduct rules of each company, causing extreme frustration for me as a driver and other passengers. 

Some passengers want to be picked where they are, instead of walking to the designated pickup location. Some try to bring large luggage or tons of grocery bags that take up other seats. Some want to be dropped off right in front of their dropoff location, even though the app is telling me to drop them off at an express location a couple hundred feet away. Some are very rude to other passengers while on a ride, and some even get very upset because they’re going to be late to their location because I am driving seemingly out of their way for other passengers.

One lady cursed at me because I, the driver, caused her to be late to pick up her car from the shop “because I picked up too many other people,” and she swore she was going to give me a bad review. Thankfully, she did not. 

I finally said to myself, this is not worth the extra headache dealing with all of these upset people for hardly any extra money. I now very rarely accept Shared or Pool rides.

At first I thought I would like driving for Lyft more, but it turns out I enjoy driving for Uber more.

When I first signed up to start driving, I thought I would prefer Lyft over Uber. Lyft markets itself as a platform that is better and fairer to its drivers. The company seems more fun than Uber, with its bright logo and trendy website. Uber seemed more corporate and formal. 

But, as I’ve written before, it turns out I like driving for Uber better. A lot better. 

This isn’t to say driving for Lyft is bad. It’s like me saying I like vanilla ice cream over chocolate. I like both, but vanilla is just superior, for me.

Uber is more popular in my area, which means more money for me. The Uber app works better for drivers — for example, it has a dark mode and doesn’t blind me at night. Uber doesn’t pressure me to accept rides I don’t want to accept, while I get several notifications and messages from Lyft if I decline rides. And, most importantly, Uber pays me more money when it’s very busy. Who doesn’t like more money?

I am very grateful for both platforms giving me the opportunity to drive for them and earn money. And I know there are plenty of other drivers who prefer Lyft. But for me, Uber is the better platform for drivers, and it’s not even close.

Driving around complete strangers and meeting new people is, surprisingly, very fun and rewarding.

A lot scares me in life, but nothing scared me quite like having small talk with a stranger. 

The thought was absolutely terrifying. I would have honestly preferred running from a demonic monster in a horror movie than discussing the rainy weather with a complete stranger. 

But that was months ago.

Now? I can talk to anyone about anything.

If you get in my car and you pop some headphones in, or your body language says that you clearly don’t want to talk, great! I will get you to your destination safely and not force a conversation. Some people love when their driver is silent the whole time. 

But if you want to get in and talk about zoo animals? The upcoming hurricane season? Places to eat? Football? Yes, I too wonder what causes a rhinoceros to have such a large horn. Yeah, I really hope we don’t get any major hurricanes this year. That restaurant is great! I know, the Saints should have gone to the Super Bowl!

Practice makes perfect, and I am now great at making small talk.

I love meeting new people. I love hearing their backgrounds, their stories, and their dreams. Some make me laugh, and some make me want to cry. Some become your best friend for 15 minutes. Some are so rude, you just can’t wait until they get out of your car, but those make the nice people seem all the better. 

I enjoy being a character in their story, even if I am there only briefly as they’re going to work, visiting a friend, or just enjoying a vacation. Often I am one of the first locals that someone from another state or another country meets after they leave the airport, and I like to give them a good impression of my city.

I also enjoy driving most drunk people home safely. I enjoy their often hilarious stories, and I like to think that I am doing a great service by driving, so they aren’t tempted to get behind the wheel while under the influence. 

I thought I would hate driving strangers. But as it turns out, I absolutely love it.