Being an Uber driver isn’t the toughest job in the world, but as anyone who’s done it will tell you, it’s not as easy as it looks either. It’s really a combination of safe driving, customer service and knowing how to run a business. And since Uber doesn’t provide much on the job training, drivers are often left to figure things out on their own.
Fortunately, I’ve got three years of experience under my belt (which makes me super old in ‘rideshare years’) and I’m going to share everything I wish I knew before signing up to drive with Uber.
1. Uber driving might be the most flexible job in the world
Anyone who’s ever had to sit in a cubicle knows just how boring that can be. But the nice thing about driving for Uber is that your office window is constantly changing and you really can work as much or as little as you want. There’s no scheduling of shifts or having to call in sick, and it’s as easy as tapping a button in order to go online and start making money. Uber has even added an option recently called Instant Pay that allows drivers to cash out their earnings instantly. So not only is the job flexible, but now the pay is pretty flexible too.
That being said, you could imagine that it’s a lot more profitable to drive during certain times and in specific places. While driving for Uber may be the most flexible job in the world, you won’t always get to take advantage of it.
2. The pay isn’t as high as Uber advertises
In the past, Uber has advertised that drivers can make up to $90,000 a year or upwards of $40/hour. That is, however, pretty unrealistic for most drivers. The average pay is probably closer to $15-$20/hour, but it does vary by when and where you drive. If you target busy holidays like Halloween and New Year’s Eve, you could make significantly more than driving around on a random Tuesday afternoon.
The other thing that Uber fails to take into account are the expenses that their drivers incur. As an independent contractor for Uber, you are responsible for all of your expenses including depreciation and maintenance on your vehicle along with fuel costs and taxes. These all add up.
One important tip for Uber drivers is to drive an economical car like a Prius. Your costs should come in at way under the 2016 standard mileage rate deduction of 54 cents per mile and you’ll keep more money in your pocket.
3. If you’re only going to track one thing, track your mileage!
There’s a lot that is tax deductible as an Uber driver. But if you’re just getting started, the first thing you should worry about is tracking your mileage since it will be your number one expense. A full-time driver who works 40-50 hours a week will easily put 1,000 miles a week on their car, and that means a $540 deduction come tax time.
Fortunately, there are a whole host of mileage tracking apps that make it incredibly easy. You can always do it the old-fashioned way and record it yourself as an alternative.
4. Passengers will vomit in your car from time to time
I like to affectionately refer to Friday and Saturday nights as ‘The Party Hours’ since most Uber passengers during these times are out to drink and party! As an Uber driver, you don’t have to drive nights, but it tends to be when demand is at its highest and there’s lots of surge pricing, which means more money for you.
Surge pricing occurs when demand for rides outpaces the supply of drivers and Uber increases the cost of the ride. Passengers aren’t big fans of surge pricing, but drivers love it since they get paid extra for doing the same amount of work.
It’s not all happy drunks and karaoke sing-alongs though during the Party Hours. At times, you will get passengers who have had way too much to drink and it pays to be prepared. Some drivers carry trash bags or Ziploc bags, but I like to carry Emesis bags since they have a nice sturdy round hole that fits snugly around a passenger’s mouth. You won’t get a puker every time you drive, but it is bound to happen if you do it long enough.
5. You can get up to a $1,000 bonus when you first sign up
I’ve worked all sorts of different jobs in my life, but it wasn’t until I started driving for Uber that I got my first ever sign-up bonus. I always thought that sign-up bonuses were reserved for professional athletes, tech workers and in-demand executives, but apparently rideshare drivers can get them too!
Uber tends to hire lots of drivers around Halloween and New Year’s Eve and in the months leading up to the summer. That means this is typically when bonuses are at their highest.
In top markets like San Francisco, Los Angeles or New York, bonuses have reached up to $1,000 in the past (you just have to complete 100 rides). Uber doesn’t publish a list of sign-up bonuses by city, but you can e-mail them to find out the latest amounts for your city. Just make sure that you sign up using another driver’s code since that’s the only way to ensure a sign-up bonus.
6. Drivers must maintain a 4.6-star rating to stay active on the platform
There are a lot of great four-star restaurants on Yelp, but four stars on Uber is actually a failing grade. Passengers rate drivers on a scale of 1 to 5 after each and every ride, and a driver must maintain a 4.6-star rating to stay active on the platform. You’re given a little leeway at the start, but if you fall below 4.6 after a month or two, you’ll be deactivated as a driver.
7. Uber will provide you with an eligible vehicle if you don’t have one
Most Uber cities require a four-door 2001 or newer vehicle (full list of Uber car requirements here) but if you don’t have one, there are a few options for you. The most popular one is called the Uber Xchange Program, which gets you into an ultra-flexible rideshare lease for $120-$180/week. This program isn’t cheap but it also provides for unlimited mileage and after you’ve had the car for a month, you can return it with two weeks of notice and a $250 fee.
Note: You’ll also be responsible for purchasing rideshare insurance, which costs $75-$200/month.
All those costs add up pretty quickly, but you’re really paying a premium for the unlimited mileage and the flexibility. Since a full-time driver will put 1,000 miles a week or more on their vehicle, you won’t be able to lease or rent a car through traditional methods. So if you’re looking to test the waters or just want a short-term commitment, this option could make a lot of sense. If you’re looking for more of a long-term gig with Uber though, you’d likely be better off buying a vehicle on your own ‘ and preferably used!