Behind the Wheel: Working for Uber and Lyft

Arthur Gonzalez-Martin, Staff Photographer

A few semesters ago, I saw a booth on campus offering free cell phone chargers and wristbands in exchange for learning about a new ride-sharing app. The presenters were also trying to get students to sign up to be Uber drivers, talking about the advantages of being your own boss and earning your own wages. This was my introduction to the on-demand, freelance micro-economy.

It wasn’t difficult to get started. Uber has its own inspection stations—the closest in Sebastopol. I needed to get my car registered to make sure it’s safe enough to drive. I needed copies of my driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance to give to the inspector and wait for the mechanic to inspect the car. That was all I needed to receive my Uber window stickers and start chauffeuring people.

I quickly found out that driving for Uber is a lot like working retail: you have to be good at dealing with the public. You’re trying to pick up people who can be vague on directions, which is more likely if they’re intoxicated. They also think you know where you’re taking them beforehand. It can be a pain if you’re picking up rides from a large building with multiple entrances and have to guess. People can get impatient if you’re there, but not in sight. Yes, they can track you through the app but they assume you see what they see.

Unpredictability can be a problem. You don’t know where your pickup wants to go, so you have to set aside a good chunk of time. Two of my longest trips so far have been a pair of New Yorkers going for “bubblies” in Napa before a wedding and a very grumpy film tech and his wife traveling from Windsor to San Francisco International Airport. Good money, but I could have done it without the fighting.

Uber has some things to make life easier: a gas credit card, free holiday and lunches for Uber delivery that doesn’t run in the area yet. And instant payments after you’re made more than 25 trips.

Is this job sustainable? For me, not really. I never was one to work on commission, and I seem to get a lot of slow days. I also tend to be more productive after 10 p.m. as people start heading home from a hard night of drinking and partying. Don’t expect much in tips—or at least in cash—as the highest tip I’ve gotten was $10 in Taco Bell.

I just signed up for Lyft as well. As you’re just a freelancer: there’s nothing stopping you from driving for both at the sametime. Lyft is possibly a better service around here, it’s at least a lot more popular, and easier for Lyft riders to tip you (the app has a digital tip jar and changes the rider if they take too long to start the trip).

If you too, would like to make made some quick bucks outside your normal job or still are, try driving for Lyft, Uber, or even both. Just know that it probably won’t replace your day job.