We had a reader write into us recently with some very incredibly insightful comments and questions about driving an SUV for Uber and Lyft in Los Angeles. He related his experiences, frustrations and emotions so well that we wanted to share some of it with you. We know anyone who has driven for more than a week, will totally relate to it!
And by the way, we do love to hear from our readers and we will respond, either privately or with an article. If you have any questions you’d like to ask about driving for Uber and Lyft or any topics you’d like to see us write about – please feel free to contact us and let us know! Or, leave a reply in the Comments section at the end of every article.
Our reader writes:
“Your welcome e-mail today said to contact you with suggestions for subjects that I’d like to see more on.
“I have a few things that would be SO helpful to me and to many other drivers who own luxury cars/high-end SUV’s and want to make ridesharing profitable. I’m starting to crack that nut, but have found that there is very little out there for those of us who own these types of cars. …
“So every month or so, as I get frustrated that my current rideshare strategies are not paying off, I search the Internet again. And this time I found YOU!”
He then goes on to tell us that he owns a 2011 Yukon Denali that he has taken meticulous care of. And he wants to know how he can make money off of it as an XL car without having to deal with drunk and unruly passengers coming from bars and concerts.
He says he would like to learn more about:
“Strategies for XL cars to make the most profit while avoiding the pitfalls of the disrespectful drunks; and How to opt out of taking a group on an XL call when you arrive and realize the group of passengers or crowd outside the venue is most likely to be a problematic group of passengers.”
We may write a whole article on that subject soon. It is indeed an interesting question. But for the purposes of helping our reader, let’s look at a brief answer here.
Where to drive without disrespectful drunks
The two-word answer we can give for him is: AIRPORTS and HOTELS
If you don’t want to deal with the drunken and disrespectful crowds, airports are about the only place where you can get a consistent high demand for XL vehicles – from people who are almost always sober!
Pro tip: every drive eventually comes across the drunk and disorderly crowd. Watch this quick video to learn what to do if this happens to you.
You rightly noted that a lot of XL trips will be taken by large groups of drunk people who are out partying.
So, think about it for a bit. XL provides more room for things and more seats for people. So anyone who is traveling with more than four people or more baggage and belongings than a typical air traveler, is going to be a good customer for XL.
You therefore have to figure out places where groups larger than four people typically travel together. Or, where people with a lot of things are going to be needing a car.
If you don’t want to mess with the bar scene (totally understandable), that pretty much leaves airports and hotels. Airports because people often times have more baggage and/or people than an X car can carry. And hotels for the same reason. People leaving hotels have baggage and a lot of them will have too much for an X car.
If you don’t want to carry around drunks or unruly crowds, you really will limit your opportunities to make money as an XL driver.
What I would suggest for you in this case, is to set your app to accept all SUV, Black/LUX and XL/Plus calls. And leave it with the XL option on as long as you’re driving during non-drinking hours or in areas that are free of bars!
You can pick up an XL trip anytime anywhere, but bars, airports and hotels will be the most consistent and reliable places to get these trips. So, when you cross bars off the list – you will limit your opportunities. Although we totally understand.
I personally won’t drive the bar scene on X or XL. Black only. Even on SUV the bar scene can get pretty unruly. Just wait until you get a famous rapper with his 5-person entourage in your SUV!
Accepting only Black calls seems to be the best solution for drivers like us who can’t stand the unruly drunks but who still want to drive the bar scene.
Black cars seem to attract the most civilized late-night crowds. Although they can get a little unruly as well, you won’t have more than four of them to deal with!
I’ve generally had pretty good luck with my Black car at the bar scene. Usually people who can afford that kind of car or who are on expense accounts that pay for it – while they will get drunk they seem to handle it a little more maturely than X and XL customers (I’m looking at you freshly-turned-21-partiers).
Another idea for you though might be to simply buy a cheap used XL vehicle or luxury SUV. That way it won’t be your pristine personal vehicle that you understandably want to keep clean. And you’d be able to drive it with Uber as well because you could get one that isn’t so old.
I would look into picking up a 2-3 year old model with as little mileage on it as possible. And try to find something that’s a little cheaper to run than the Denali. That thing will cost you a fortune in gas!
But if you drive a car that you got exclusively for this purpose – it’s not going to bother you quite so much when people mess it up. You’ll still have your nice car waiting at home in the garage for your personal use.
Uber Limits Black & SUV Drivers in LA
Our reader related to us that when he applied to drive his luxury car as an uberBLACK/SUV vehicle, that, “Uber had a message on my account saying I wasn’t eligible for Uber Black/SUV because Los Angeles already had a max of rideshare drivers with luxury SUV’s.”
Yes, that’s true. It’s pretty much impossible to become a Black Car or SUV driver with Uber in LA now. Uber unhelpfully suggests that if you just can’t wait to become a Black/SUV driver, you should go apply in Palm Springs! Yeah, for the 3 months of the year anybody is there!
That’s not exactly a helpful alternative to LA, but that’s what they suggest. They also recommend Orange County and Santa Barbara. That’s really about all you can do as far as Uber goes.
TIME: The Driver’s Big Dilemma
Our reader wrote something that resonated so well with me and I know a lot of other drivers have this exact same situation come up so I wanted to share with you what he wrote:
“As a newbie, I didn’t have the patience to wait for the LUX/SUV calls. I always have the intention of going out and waiting for the LUX calls, but as I watch the time tick by, doubt takes over. Am I in the right area for the best chance of lux calls? Should I be driving around, or stay parked in one place? Is tonight going to be a night with nobody looking for Lux SUV? Do enough people in Los Angeles even USE Lyft, but much less Lyft Lux, or does Uber corner that market?”
That, I think, perfectly expresses the thoughts that run through every driver’s mind almost every single time they drive! How do you know if you’re in the right place at the right time? And how long should you wait? Will the call you’ve been waiting for come in 10 seconds after you leave!? Those are the questions that plague and haunt us!
It can really get your head spinning trying to answer these questions.
A couple of quick things that will really help you answer these questions better when you’re out are:
- Experience – the more experience you have under your belt, the better you’ll be able to answer these questions. The more experience you have going to the wrong places and not getting any trips, the less likely you’ll do that again! You’ll learn from each and every experience, the good ones and the bad ones alike.
- Talking to Other Drivers: Talking to other drivers in your area is critical if you want to be as successful as you can be. It is really the best way to get a handle on what’s going on in the area where you drive. There is no one like other drivers in your city who can help you learn what you need to know. And a great place to meet other drivers is in the airport queue lots. They love to talk and won’t mind if you walk up and just start talking with them. Find drivers who have similar vehicles to yours and chat them up. You’ll walk away with some amazing new insights almost every time! And that will really help you answer the question as to whether Angelinos use Lyft LUX much. Other drivers can give you information on that that will help you.
- Become an obsessive observer of the passenger app. The passenger app is your friend and the more you watch it the better feel you’ll have for Los Angeles and where and when you need to be to get more trips.
A good guideline is this… do your research before you pick up in a certain area at a certain time. Watch the passenger app and find times and places where cars disappear quickly.
If you’re driving a Black car or SUV, then watch the Black/Lux cars and SUVs on the app. Zero in on expensive hotels, wealthy neighborhoods, hot night life areas, beaches, wherever you think wealthier individuals will be taking cars from.
Once you identify those areas, watch them on the passenger app for a week before you even decide where to drive. Or pick an area you think will do there and while you’re waiting there, keep your eyes on the passenger app.
Uber and Lyft may also have different demand patterns. So, watch both apps.
Uber probably gets more of the higher-end rides than Lyft does. Uber’s Black car, and SUV services are pretty well known now. Lyft’s are still up and coming. So Uber will most likely keep you busier with the higher end vehicles. Therefore keep your eyes on the Uber passenger app as well.
The problem for you only being on Lyft with your Lux SUV vehicle, is that when you watch the Lyft passenger app and see Lux/SUV cars disappear – you never know if they’re disappearing because the driver got a call from Uber or because he got a call from Lyft.
The Importance of Having the Right Car
Having the right car changes everything. If you’re not in a position to get a different car, then you have to go with the best strategies for whatever it is you have.
In your case, I think the fact that this car is ‘your baby’ limits you when it comes to driving for Uber and Lyft. You very understandably don’t want rude, tipsy riders to mess it up. But that’s going to limit you as far as earning with it goes because you’re going to avoid those kinds of trips which will in turn limit your earning opportunities. So, you either just have to accept that or figure out how you could get a different vehicle.
You should check with Uber to see if your car would qualify as an uberSELECT vehicle. I don’t think it will but it won’t hurt to check. Basically, you want something that you can drive for as many services above uberX as possible.
Also, watch the uberSELECT cars on the passenger app. See where they hang out and how quickly they disappear. It pays better than uberX but isn’t as expensive as uberBLACK… which means it might be a good alternative.
Because of the fact that uber SELECT is lower priced than uberBLACK it might keep you a lot busier. And if that’s the case, with the higher rates than X, you could probably do pretty well with it. I don’t think they allow SUVs for Select though. If they don’t, then that’s a problem because it means you won’t be able to do XL trips either.
Reorienting Our Thinking
In order to come up with the best strategies, we have to reorient our thinking a bit from what it would have been a few years ago when Uber and Lyft first started operations.
The way Uber and Lyft have created the current driving environment we find ourselves in, we have to come to terms with the fact that we’re not going to be able to make big money by driving for the luxury high-end services only. We’re going to have to mix in some XL and even X from time to time to make it all work. It would be nice if we could – like we did in the old days (3-4 years ago). But today it’s not possible.
The best way to think about it is this: If you have an SUV or a Black or Select vehicle, for all practical purposes, you’re going to have to think of yourself as an ‘uberX Driver with Perks’. Because you won’t get enough trips with the higher end services to make ends meet. You’ll have to mix in some lower-end XL and X to make it all work.
It’s a humbling way to think about it for sure and you’ll have to swallow some pride. But just think of yourself as an uberX driver with a vehicle that can sometimes get you trips where you can make 4 to 5 times more than X drivers can make. It’s like getting guaranteed surges, where you’re guaranteed at least two or three big surges a day.
Then go ahead and drive for X or XL or whatever the lowest level is that you can stomach! I know what you get paid will seem extremely low for these trips and it will be very frustrating. It is incredibly frustrating to do an SUV or Black car trip and make $100 then to do that same trip on uberX and only make $15. It’s really hard.
But I had to learn this the hard way. I had friends who were X drivers only. They would show me their invoices at the end of the day and they had made $300 – with X Only! Of course they had to work 16 hours to do it. But still, it was $300. I would sit in my Black car for hour after hour without getting any calls at all and I would make $200 for the day!
Here’s what I learned from that. There are times and places where I’m pretty sure a Black car call is going to come from. During those times, you want to set the app to only accept the higher end calls. But during all other times, you want to accept all calls.
In my case, I might have a day where I get up early, position myself in the wealthy suburbs where I know there’s an 85% chance I’ll get a long trip either into the city or to one of the airports. Any of these trips will net me at least $100. Some of them can net up to $150… for one trip that can take less than an hour. And these are routine trips, they happen every week at roughly the same times and places.
So, on a typical early morning, I’ll get a $110 trip. I will get them dropped off early enough to head back to another suburb, but one that’s closer than my original one since it’s getting later in the morning. And I’ll get a $50 trip from there into the city. Then, maybe I’ll get a couple of quick city trips and make another $40 or so.
By the time the morning rush is over, I’m up by about $200.
If I sit around now though and insist that I will only take Black car trips, I’m not going to get anymore trips for maybe another six hours. But there were times when I did sit around during those hours and I refused to take anything less than the best! In other words, I wouldn’t take X trips. And by the time afternoon rush hour rolled around, I’d be so tired and frustrated, I’d usually head home and throw in the towel for the day.
However, there is a better strategy! During those six or so hours between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. I started taking X calls. And just like the driver who wrote in, I hated every one of them! I would look at the pay at the end of each trip and I couldn’t believe it. I was getting $3 and $4 on some trips! On Black, the lowest possible I could get was $10. So, this was a real cut. And it felt like a real insult. And in fact, it was. But that is the state of rideshare today and we have to live with the reality as it’s handed to us. And we have to make the best of it and utilize the best set of strategies, for the set of conditions we have to work under.
On the days I would drive for X, here’s how my day would look:
- 5:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. – I would drive Black only and earn somewhere between $140 and $200 depending on the day
- 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. – I would set the app to accept ALL Calls. I would get 95% X calls and 10% black calls. I would make another $90 – $110 during this time. Every few days I’d get lucky and get a long Black call during this time earning anywhere from $50 to $110 on the trip. But this time of day was generally good for at least $100.
- 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. – This is another good Black car time as corporate executives head to their homes in the suburbs from work. So, a good chance to get a Black call and a good chance to get a long trip. So during this time, I would set the app to only accept black calls again. This was a reliable time for another $100 and sometimes for up to $200.
So, if everything went perfectly during these time slots on a particular day, I could make $500+ a day, with about 14 hours on the road.
If everything went wrong – which seemed to be the case 90% of the time, I would make as little as $300-$350 a day.
I say the case seemed to be that things went wrong about 90% of the time… but the key word here is “seemed”. When I looked back on it, it turns out it wasn’t quiet as bad as it seemed. I would have those good days on average 2 – 3 times a week. It’s just that when you’re in the middle of a bad day it consumes your mind and you feel like it’s happening all the time!
The Psychology of Driving
Probably the advice that might help you most isn’t about driving strategies at all. But it’s about the psychology of driving. The strategies are important of course and you should learn from others and develop your own. But even if you have perfect strategies, you could still psych yourself out and make unnecessary mistakes.
I laugh sometimes when I hear that Uber employees are told to drive several times a month so they can get an idea what drivers feel. I laugh because they’ll never truly get an idea what drivers feel unless Uber told them, whatever money they made from driving – that was going to be their full-time income for the month. No more salary from headquarters! Then and only then would they start to understand what drivers really feel!
When we’re out driving, especially if we have a lot of bills we’re behind on and we’re worried about getting everything paid – we will get understandably very stressed out. Every wasted minute will feel like an eternity. “Every minute I don’t make money I’m falling further and further behind on my bills.” That’s why drivers get so upset when they have to wait one or two minutes for their passengers to get to the car.
The problem with getting stressed out though is that it will cause you to do things that could just make matters worse.
Let’s suppose you’ve picked out an area and time that you believe should be good for a Black or SUV call. You get there at the right time, but after an hour you still haven’t gotten anything.
Your stress may start to kick in and start bugging you about the fact that your rent’s due in three days and you still need $1,000 more to cover it! Right about that time, you notice that an area 15 minutes away from you is starting to surge. You watch it for a couple of minutes and the surge keeps growing in size and intensity. You start thinking that surge is going to last a while and maybe you should head over there to take advantage of it. What will probably happen is that either the surge will be gone by the time you get there or it will still be in effect but you’ll find there just aren’t any calls coming in!
And while you’re experimenting with the surge area, you could have missed the big call that came from where you just left – just a few minutes after you left!
Make the Passenger App Your New Best Friend!
The most successful Black and SUV drivers I know, are obsessed with watching these apps. They have areas that they know do well for Black and SUV and they watch them like a hawk. Every waking moment almost! And that’s really what you have to do. You have to know the demand patterns in these areas like the back of your hand.
Let’s say you’ve staked out a high-end hotel as a potentially good place to start out in the early mornings. Well, watch it on the app for seven days in a row during that time. You want to look at two things. One, how many competing cars are there; and two, how quickly do they disappear.
When you’re driving for Black or SUV, you should also keep in mind that you will have a lot longer between trips than an X driver would. But that’s okay. Because an X driver might have to do 10-15 trips to make $100. You can make $100 with just one trip. So be patient and sit tight! Even if it takes three hours to get a $100 trip, you’ll be doing better than the vast majority of drivers. And you’ll be doing better while putting a lot fewer miles and a lot less wear and tear on your car!
If this hotel turns out to look good in the mornings, then also keep an eye on it during other times of the day. Maybe it starts hopping again at night too. You never know… so watch it. If it does hop at night though, it’s probably short trips – people going to restaurants and bars and things like that.
Become a Real Estate Expert
One of the things that helped me the most was I started looking at real estate values in Manhattan, where I drive. I never would have thought there would be much difference in value in different parts of Manhattan because everywhere in Manhattan is super expensive! But I discovered, to my surprise that some areas were super, super expensive!
And I didn’t know at the time I was looking at this just how much it would help me, but I found out over time.
Whenever I found myself in a lull, I would head to the 5 square block area that houses the absolute most valuable residential real estate in all of Manhattan. And inevitably, I would get a call from there within several minutes. It may not always be a long call – but at least it was a call. Beats sitting idle all day!
The cool thing about this super expensive area is that you would never know by looking at it from the outside. It looks just like the rest of Manhattan from the street. A bunch of old buildings densely packed together. So I knew most Black and SUV drivers don’t even know this is a hot area. New York isn’t like other cities where you can see the wealth from the street. It doesn’t have any mansions or houses. All residences are in apartment buildings and most apartment buildings look pretty much the same from the street.
So, having this little extra knowledge about something that wasn’t obvious on the surface, really gave me a huge advantage.
Drivers in LA know Beverly Hills is a wealthy area. But maybe there’s a part of Beverly Hills that’s even more wealthy than the rest. But in the case of LA, that might be too wealthy for rideshare! At some point you cross into an area where people have their own chauffeurs and private drivers who wouldn’t even think of calling a rideshare company! So, keep that in mind too.
In New York it works out great because even the super wealthy are reluctant to use their own cars. It’s just much more convenient to walk out to the street and get into a car that’s already running and ready to go.
Corporate Expense Accounts
Probably one of the best sources of consistent business for Uber’s and Lyft’s high-end luxury brands are from top-level corporate executives who are on expense accounts.
You can find these people in several places. They live in upscale, wealthier neighborhoods. But they generally don’t live in the most super expensive neighborhoods – because they do still work for a living and they still appreciate the value of money. They will take uberBLACK and uberSUV all day long – as long as their companies are paying for it. But they’d rarely ever think to spend their own money on such a luxury.
That means, you’re probably not going to get much business from them at night when they’re going out to dinner and entertainment. But you will get business from them in the early mornings as they head for work or the airport. So, keep that in mind.
You’ll also find these people staying at the higher-end hotels that are known for hosting business people. Any business person staying at an expensive high-end hotel is most likely on an expense account. And those are exactly the people who will take uberBLACK and SUV.
Stick with your strategy if you know it’s good. And just know you’ll have good days and bad days. But if you stick with your strategy every day, by the end of the month, you’ll do on average the same every month. That means of course you’ll have those bad days. But if you stick to it – if you don’t let the bad days discourage you – your monthly average income will be amazingly stable and consistent.
Remember, you won’t make anything if you sit at home worrying about it. If you get out there every day, you’ll be amazed at how everything will eventually come together. Each day you get more experience, so it’s important to get out there even when you don’t think it’ll be worth it.