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Can you make money driving for Uber?

Updated on January 21, 2017
Hyundai Elantra
Hyundai Elantra

My Experience and Issues Driving For Uber (and Lyft)

UPDATE: This article supports my message - http://gizmodo.com/uber-to-pay-out-20-million-after-promising-drivers-exa-1791406592

The bottom line is - you probably won't make much money driving for Uber. I wouldn't advise driving for Uber unless it's a last resort.

Note: I'll mostly refer to Uber, but I also drove for Lyft. Pretty much anything I say will apply to both though.

I have a small business that isn't making a ton of money, so I thought it would be a great idea supplement my income with Uber while my business gets off the ground. I could work my own hours, supposedly make up to $50,000 a year...what could be bad about it?

Well, among driving during other 'normal' times, I was lucky enough to drive during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah which is the optimum sort of time to drive to make the most money. My parents lived close to there, so I stayed at their house for a couple weeks and planned to make bank. Again, what could go wrong? Lots of rich people needing rides everywhere sounded pretty good to me.

Whenever I drove, I tried to drive only during peak times when demand and prices were at their highest. I also drive a very fuel efficient car (42 mpg on average). If anyone could make money with Uber, it would be me. These are some reasons why that didn't happen:

  • It was winter and I drive a Hyundai Elantra. I love my car and it's amazing on gas, but not great up steep roads in the snow. Park City is high in the mountains with lots of steep roads. I put so much wear on my tires from burning rubber trying to get up these steeps roads in the snow. Half of the time I didn't even have someone in my car either, I just drove them 2 miles through heavy traffic and snow up steep roads, then drove back to pick someone else up. When you make $7 to drive someone in those conditions and use tons of gas and put lots of wear on your car, it simply isn't worth it.

That example was specific to my situation in Park City, the rest apply to drivers everywhere.

  • You don't get paid for cancelled rides or no shows. This happens pretty often. You can drive for several miles and/or minutes, then get a notification that your ride is cancelled. All you can do at that point is drive back to where you were, or stop where you are and hope someone else nearby needs a ride. I have done the stop and wait thing, but after sitting in my car for 30 minutes with no ride requests, I just went home probably $3 poorer.
  • You don't get paid for the travel time to pick them up, or after you drop them off. One time I was on call waiting to give someone a ride when I finally got a request. They were 15 minutes away, but I hoped they would need to be driven far and accepted the ride. My gps took me to a high school where 2 girls wanted a ride 3 blocks away to eat at a restaurant for lunch! I only made the minimum $3 on that trip! I didn't want to completely waste my time having driven up there, so after I dropped them off I waited in my car - for an hour. After no more requests came, I gave up and went home. I made $3 that day to drive for a total of 30 minutes then sit in my car for an hour. That was sadly not the only time that exact sort of situation happened.
  • You don't get any benefits. This wasn't a huge deal for me, but it could be to other people. The main point is there are NO additional benefits though at all. You make a little money to drive people around completely at your own expense. End of story.

IMPORTANT TIPS


If you are going to drive for Uber, take this advice:

  • Don't accept any rides that are more than 4 minutes away. Two bad things can, and often do, happen in this situation: You can drive for 10 miles just to have them cancel; or end up only driving them a couple blocks down the road to their friend's house, which isn't much better.
  • Don't drive in the snow if you don't have a good car for it. You will put lots of extra wear on your car. However, if you have a vehicle that handles well in the snow, it might actually be a good time to drive since demand and prices might be higher.
  • Don't 'go online' unless prices are surged. During times of higher demand, Uber and Lyft will increase the prices of their rides. This means you get paid more. From my experience, it wasn't worth it at all unless prices were at least doubled, and then I still didn't accept any rides more than 4 minutes away.
  • Keep close track of all your expenses! This includes ALL the miles you drive for the company, especially the miles to and from a ride. Uber doesn't keep track of those miles, and those miles can easily add up to more than the miles you spend with someone actually in your car.

How much money can you actually make driving for Uber and/or Lyft?

In some places, Lyft is more popular (which is good for you as a driver) and in other places Uber is more popular. In general though, you probably won't make much money with either. Here's why:

If you live in the suburbs, you will make lots of trips that take 30 minutes where you will only make $4. Not only is that terrible dollars per hour, but that's not even taking out your expenses yet. Driving 12 miles to pick someone up, then driving them to the bar 4 blocks away, then driving the 12 miles back home is only a '4 block drive' as far as Uber or Lyft are concerned since that's the only distance you'll get paid.

I have never driven in a big city like New York or Los Angeles so I can't say much about them. I have talked to people that do drive in those cities though, and things are quite different, but not a lot better. According to them, you never have to wait long to give a ride no matter where you are. That's good. The bad news is those places are often very expensive to live in, so you have to drive 12 hours every day just to make enough money to survive.

Supposedly there are people that make $50,000 a year or so driving, but I have to assume a few things. One, they probably live in New York where $50,000 isn't that much money. And two, they are probably working 60+ hours every week to do that.

Bottom line, from my experience, no matter how much money you make, your expenses will undo a large portion of it, so it's not worth it no matter what.


You have to be business savvy or you might get screwed

I hate to say this, but I think ride sharing apps might consciously take advantage of ignorant people. Again, I don't think it's really worth it to drive for them, but what about those times when they guarantee you $15-20 and hour whether you actually make that much money or not? Yes, they guarantee that money sometimes, I won't go into the details, but it's not without stipulations. This might sound like ok money, but you still have to account for the gas and wear on your car from driving for most of that hour. If they give you $17, but you spend $5 on gas and $5 on wear and tear, you have only actually made $7 and hour.

If you don't stop to think about all the expenses you have, Uber can sound pretty good. So do your research and keep track of ALL your expenses and miles driven to see if it's actually worth it for you! I think Uber counts on people not doing this.

Lyft vs Uber

Lyft and Uber aren't a whole lot different, but Lyft is definitely better as a driver. It's the little things they do, like give people less time to cancel a ride, and pay you sooner for the cancelled ride. You have to drive for about 3 minutes or 3 miles, then if a ride cancels, you will get a few dollars. For Uber it's about 5 minutes or 5 miles before they pay you on a cancellation.

If you're driving 20 miles a day for 5 cancelled rides, that's a lot of money you're spending for no return which will quickly eat into your average profits per ride.

Conclusion

Don't drive for a ride sharing app unless you have no other way to make money. After you minus gas and wear on your car, you will barely walk away with a profit.

The only situation where I can see Uber being worth it is if you need money asap, and you don't plan on making a long term career out of it.

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