Uber said you could make up to $800 driving on New Year’s Eve, so why not give it a shot?
BY JAMES AVERY
I always thought it would be fun to drive a cab. I always talk up the person driving when I take a cab or Uber. How long have they been doing it? Do they own the car or does the company? What do they think they will make tonight?
About a month ago I decided I wanted to drive for Uber on New Years Eve. It seemed like an opportunity to earn a good chunk of money and experience what it was like.
The first step was to sign up with Uber. It was surprisingly easy. Photos of my driver’s license, insurance, information about my car, and a simple background check. I was ready to go in about two weeks (probably could have been faster if didn’t take my time). If you start the process and don’t finish they text the crap out of you to finish.
I also cleaned up my car real nice and made sure I had some bottles of water and an iPhone charger in the back.
Starting the night
I got a little antsy and went out way before I should have. At 7:00 there were literally 100 uber cars driving around without fares. I learned you can use the Passenger app to see where other cars are. I headed down from my house towards downtown, expecting to get a fare on the way but it didn’t happen. I parked in the Harris Teeter parking lot at Oberlin/Glenwood and there was another Uber car already parked in that lot. It wasn’t until almost 8:00pm that I got my first trip.
The first trip was a blast—I don’t want to go into details of the people I picked up (although I did share some fun comments and events on twitter).
Fishing for trips
One thing I learned is that Uber doesn’t help you decide where you should go to get fares. From what I can tell whoever is closest will get the call, but no indication of where the calls are coming in from. I tried a number of different spots but had the best luck over in the Oberlin/Cameron Village area. People going downtown either from their houses or after eating at a restaurant.
I would love to see more guidance from Uber on where you should go to get more consistent fares. I also wasted too much time driving around, I would have been better off parking in one place most of the night and waiting for the call to come.
From 7-12 was mostly people going to downtown from the surrounding areas. I only got six total trips in these five hours—largely due to not getting the first trip until 8pm and then things drying up at 11pm as people were settled in. The six trips earned a total of $40.18, before Uber’s 30 percent cut. After their cut it would be $32.14 for five hours of work. That is $6 an hour and doesn’t include gas, maintenance, etc. Uber was doing a guaranteed program from the night though so I believe a minimum of $10 will be paid per trip that was done between 8-10pm which brings the total up perhaps another $10, but still nothing to write home about.
Knowing what I know now I would work from 8-11pm and once I find a good spot just park there instead of moving around and trying other locations.
Once things hit 11pm it died. Everyone was where they wanted to be and stayed there until after midnight. I drove around but I should have gone and parked somewhere downtown where I would be ready for the 12:30 surge. What I did was drive around and then eventually get blocked out of downtown and ended up picking some people up over by Boylon, which worked out OK but it took me out to five points.
This one was one of the real problems of the night and a huge reason I made much less than I had hoped. After the couple from Boylon, I got a trip that involved picking up people from PNC Arena. I thought, OK I should accept it. It was a disaster time wise though. It was 12:30 which was when downtown Raleigh was picking up and going into surge pricing, but I ended up driving 15 minutes out to PNC, spending 25 minutes in traffic trying to find the people, and then taking them an entire 1.5 miles to their hotel. Then another 15 minutes back to downtown. Basically spent an hour of time for a $6.90 fare. I now have way more empathy for cab drivers when they don’t want to come pick you up way out of the way.
I got another request for PNC after I was halfway back to Raleigh and I rejected it, so at least I learned.
That’s when surge pricing started to really climb. I picked up a fare by Hillsborough and took them down past NC State, it was a $10 fare made $63 by surge pricing. It made up over a third of what I made in the night.
The fun pickup
I derailed my experiment a little bit to rescue a friend in need. My buddy Justin was down with some friends and I grabbed them and took them back to his house (with a diversion by McDonald’s). He gave me $40 which was probably pretty fair for the time and distance (and surge pricing). I might have been able to make a little more taking fares with the high surge pricing—but it was awesome to see Justin and meet his mates.
Ending the night
Surge pricing died off pretty quickly and the rest of the fares for the night were at the normal rate. Around 2:30 I decided to head back home and lucked out by getting two trips on the way back, one that took me all the way up to Brier Creek (close to where I live).
Right now my earnings from Uber for the night sit at $121. With some guarantee changes that might go up to ~$140. Add in the $40 from Justin and I didn’t even crack $200 for the night. Hardly the $800 that they were boasting was possible when emailing me and texting me all week.
In the end though my goal wasn’t to make money—it was to experience what it was like, and that was a huge success. I loved talking with every fare that I picked up, learning stuff about people, had funny drunk people in my car, had five people in a three-person back seat, etc.
What I didn’t expect but which was also fun was trying to crack the system. I think being an effective cabby or Uber driver means building a system you follow to ensure you are spending the least amount of time driving without someone in the back paying you to do it. That system includes figuring out where to start the night, where to park, and where to end the night.
I also learned new ways around a city that I thought I knew pretty well, another surprising benefit.
So would I do it again? Definitely, but if this is one of the busiest nights of the week I find it hard to see how it’s much of a living for many of the drivers out there.
Photo via EEPaul/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)