We’ve all seen the articles about the elite few who cash in big as Uber driver-partners.
One man makes $252,000 a year, largely by selling jewelry to his passengers as he drives, and other Uber drivers find driving with the company pays better than many entry-level jobs (although there’s no guarantee on your income since you’re an independent contractor).
But what’s it really like to drive with Uber, and how can you make the most money possible? Journalist Emily Guendelsberger delved deep into the workings of Uber as she became an undercover driver in Philadelphia, writing about her experiences in Philadelphia’s City Paper.
In Guendelsberger’s month on the job, she picked up a few tips and tricks that can help you make more money as an Uber driver-partner.
What Uber Explains During Training
Guendelsberger’s training for UberX (known as “the low-cost Uber”) consisted of a 13-minute training video that went over how to offer good service and receive five-star ratings from passengers. The tips included opening the rear door for people, providing cold bottled water, and having extra phone chargers on hand for passengers to use. The video also emphasized the importance of looking professional, and even showed the star of the video selecting expensive ties to wear while driving people around town.
However, Guendelsberger found that these tips weren’t actually the best ways to cash in on the app. Here are the strategies she recommends from her time on the job.
1. Keep Snacks and Water Handy
When you’re going to be on the road for hours, it’s important to make sure you have everything you need to be comfortable. Guendelsberger advises making sure you have snacks and water in your car — but not for passengers. She suggests keeping yourself well fed and hydrated while you’re working so you don’t have to waste time and money on takeout.
2. Know the Local Bathrooms
Scope out available restroom facilities in the areas where you usually drive. Guendelsberger emphasizes the need to find public bathrooms with free parking, which can be difficult to find in downtown areas. She found Whole Foods and suburban Starbucks to be some of her best bets in the Philly area, with free parking and unlocked restrooms.
Of course, every area will have different options, but make sure you know what’s around before you desperately need to use a restroom.
3. Ignore Uber’s Texts
Guendelsberger found that she made more money by ignoring Uber’s frequent text messages suggesting times and locations where demand for rides was likely to be high. Each message would encourage drivers to head to those areas, such as popular morning commute routes, busy bars on Saturday night, and the stadium when a Flyers game had just finished.
However, she found she actually made more money by ignoring these messages. When drivers flocked to an area recommended by one of these texts, Uber’s “surge pricing” — premium prices based on a lack of drivers in an area — would decrease, meaning those drivers would earn less for each ride.
4. Drive Up the Surge Fares
To take full advantage of surge fares, Guendelsberger recommends gaming the system a bit. She suggests logging out of the driver app before times you can anticipate surge fares, such as when the bars close. In Philly, she found 2 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. was a huge time for surge pricing as drinkers found their way home for the night.
She recommends logging out of the driver app around 1:50 a.m. or so, then waiting 15 minutes and logging back in to take advantage of surge fares. Logging out reduces the number of drivers in the area and drives up the fares. It also prevents you from getting a fare, at say, 1:55 a.m., and missing out on surge pricing.
5. Don’t Drive Around Endlessly
Driving around in circles in an attempt to get to an area where Uber will send you a “ping” to pick up a fare isn’t going to do much more than add wear and tear to your vehicle, Guendelsberger found.
She recommends sticking to a central area and avoiding the suburbs if possible. If you’re driving miles and miles to reach someone, there’s a good chance you’ll drive much further to meet them than you’ll wind up taking them, since you can’t tell where they want to go until you pick them up. This usually means drivers end up losing money on the fare. She also notes that if you’re driving a long way to pick someone up, they may get bored and cancel the ride or find another way to get to their destination.
6. Don’t Chase Surge Fares (But If You Do, Try This Hack)
Guendelsberger also found that racing to a surge fare area never really panned out for her, since other drivers would also head to that area and surge pricing would be over by the time she reached it.
But she has a tip for those looking to capitalize on this surge pricing: Log out of the driver app and log into the passenger app until you reach the surge area, then log out of the passenger app and back into the driver one. Uber calculates surge fares based on the ratio of people with the passenger app open to the driver app in an area at any given time. This hack sways the system a bit, letting the company think you’re a passenger looking for a ride instead of a driver ready to offer one.
7. Use the Passenger App
The passenger app helps you take advantage of some features not available on the driver app. For one, you can see where other drivers are, which helps you select areas without a lot of competition.
For example, Guendelsberger was once at a stadium after a game and had a hard time getting any “pings” for rides from the app. She logged into the passenger app and found herself surrounded by other Uber drivers. So, she simply drove to the other side of the stadium and quickly got a notification for a ride.
She also found the passenger app to have more up-to-date information on surge fares than the driver app, which seemed to have a few minute delay.
Your Turn: Have you driven with Uber? Did you try any of these tricks, or do you have others to share?
Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.