Bill (not pictured) is one of millions of Uber and Lyft drivers in the US who, due in part to fluctuating customer demand and tips, can’t depend on a consistent paycheck.
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images
Bill, 70, earned $28,000 last year driving part-time for Uber.He prefers to drive during surges so he makes the most of his time.He’ll also cancel rides that take him to remote areas so he doesn’t lose money on the return trip.
“I spend a lot of time saying no,” said Bill, who asked to use a pseudonym and spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of professional repercussions. Throughout his years driving for Uber, he’s accepted less than 10% of his rides and canceled over 30% of them, according to a screenshot of his driver app viewed by Insider, to ensure he’s getting rides that are worth his time.
Last year, the 70-year-old earned over $28,000 across roughly 1,500 Uber trips. But he said surges — when high customer demand and lower driver supply increase prices for customers and drivers’ pay — have become less common in his area over the past year. As a result, he’s driving less and accepting fewer rides than he used to.
“I don’t work unless we have a surge,” he said.
Bill is one of the millions of Uber and Lyft drivers in the US who, due in part to fluctuating customer demand and tips, can’t depend on a consistent paycheck. As a result, many are calculating their earnings after accounting for vehicle expenses like gas to ensure driving is worth their time. While some have responded to unsatisfactory pay by working longer hours, others, like Bill, have driven less.
Bill, who lives in North Carolina, said he used to work roughly 40 online hours a week — which included time spent looking for rides and relocating to different areas to find passengers — and drove customers for about 30 hours. Today, he’s online for about 30 hours a week and has active rides for about 10 to 15 hours.
Bill said that the standard, non-surge pay rate calculated by Uber in his area is $0.61 per mile. He’s also paid a smaller per-mile rate based on how many minutes a drive is expected to take and can receive customer tips.
“The surges are much more infrequent, and I’m not going anywhere for $0.61 a mile,” he said.
Bill said 61 cents per mile is the standard distance rate used in his pay calculations.
A few strategies still work for him to make decent money
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Bill thinks an uptick in drivers is among the key reasons for the decline in surges in his area. During the pandemic, when some gig workers stopped driving due to health concerns, he said he earned up to $50 an hour before expenses during some stretches.
“We had almost no drivers, and the few of us out would sit and refuse to accept trips at $0.61 a mile,” he said. “Eventually they would raise the pay until we would accept.”
But there are more drivers now: Uber reported that its number of drivers hit a record-high five million in 2022. Now, Bill said he sometimes earns as little as $15 to $20 per hour.
However, there are still a few strategies that he uses to make decent money. First, he seeks out surges by hanging around the airport and bars during busy times.
“When a plane lands and people request Ubers the price jumps drastically,” he said. “A 20-minute ride goes from $10 to $20 to $40 and sometimes $50. The driver gets just short of 50% so a 35-minute ride can get you $30 to $60.”
He said the most common surge periods are between 10:00 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
A “surge” ride with a pay boost
Another key strategy of Bill’s is to avoid “one-way rides.”
Bill recalled one past trip, when he drove a customer nearly two hours from his city to a more remote area. While he was paid $27 for the trip, he had to drive back home “for free” because no customers requested a ride in that direction.
After accounting for $0.65 per mile in vehicle expenses — which he said amounted to roughly $60 — he said he lost money on the round-trip.
“Our area is tough as so many trips leave you in an area with no ride back,” he said.
To avoid one-way rides, Bill asks customers when he picks them up whether their destination is in the area. If they’re headed out of town, he often makes an excuse for why he can’t drive them.
While drivers in some areas of the US — major cities in particular — can see their destination before they accept a trip, this feature hasn’t been rolled out everywhere, Sergio Avedian, a senior contributor to the gig-driver-advocacy blog and YouTube channel The Rideshare Guy, told Insider.
However, Bill’s approach comes with some risks. Uber lists refusing or canceling a trip based on the driver’s destination as something that could cause a driver to lose access to their account. Bill said he’s heard of drivers being banned from airport pickups for canceling long rides, but that it hasn’t happened to him yet
Drivers with a cancellation rate above 10% also lose access to their gold, platinum, or diamond statuses — which offer various benefits, like savings at select gas stations, through a rewards system.
But for now, Bill plans to continue relying on his strategies and only driving when he thinks it is profitable. He said it helps that he’s not reliant on Uber income.
“I drive to get out and don’t need the money,” he said. “I love it.”
Are you a gig worker willing to share your story about pay, schedule, and tipping? If so, reach out to this reporter at email@example.com.