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Driving For Uber: Pickups, Dropoffs, & What To Expect

Last updated: August 23, 2021
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vector graphic showing man in car driving for uber

You’ve either just started with Uber as a driver or been doing it for a bit and still feel a little like the new kid.

Either way, you’re looking for some ideas about how it works in the real world.

You read all the rules and stuff when you signed on, so you have a valid driver’s license, they’ve run their background check on you and found that you don’t have violent crimes or other felonies trailing behind you.

But what about the real world?

What’s it like to be an Uber driver in your car on actual streets?

That stuff is all missing from any of Uber’s how-to pages because it takes experience to learn these things.

That said, let’s take a look at what it’s like to be an Uber driver after you’ve applied, been accepted to the program, and gotten out on the road to ferry real live people here and there.

What is Uber?

image showing different uber services to display driving with uber

Uber is the flagship firm of the gig economy.

Uber Technologies, Inc. offers many Uber services, including ridesharing, food delivery, e-scooter rentals, package delivery, and freight transport.

It is most widely known for its ridesharing service (including UberX and Uber Black), which allows customers to call for a car and generally pay substantially less than they would for a taxi.

Uber started in San Francisco and has grown into a worldwide company.

How Has COVID-19 Impacted Driving for Uber?

Ridership has substantially fallen in the face of Covid-19.

Part of this had to do with a year-long lockdown, and part of it remains the risk — real or perceived — of being in a car with a stranger, windows rolled up, just a few feet apart.

Mid-lockdown, Uber ridership was down as much as 80 percent.

As restrictions eased, ridership started ticking up again, but no one knows how fully Uber or the entire ridesharing industry will continue to fare.

This is especially as new COVID variants rear their heads and create stutter steps in the reopening process.

How Does Uber Work for Drivers?

The big selling points for most drivers revolve around the flexibility of schedule and the no-strings-attached feeling the whole enterprise engenders.

As an Uber driver, you get the feeling that no one is going to be mad at you if you quit after six months.

There are a few key concepts to understand about driving for Uber.

The Overall Experience

vector graphic showing man driving for uber

Like anything else in the world, the Uber driving experience you have is your responsibility.

You can choose to have a great time or opt for having a miserable shift day after day.

Sure, there will be unforeseen things that complicate life and can make your day awful, but those sorts of things are present in any job.

If you’ve signed up to be an Uber driver to escape those sorts of days, you have made a misstep.

Someone will throw up in your car at some point, and that will ruin anyone’s day quickly.

But just like any job, if you focus on the good parts and deal with the negatives as well as you can, you can choose to have mostly good days.

Keep a clean car; be kind, courteous, and respectful to your fares; and roll with whatever punches you get dealt, and your life as an Uber driver can be nice.

Statistics show (more on this in a bit) that most Uber drivers do it for less than one year, so chances are this is just temporary, anyway.

The Uber Driver App

Even non-drivers mostly know about the Uber Driver app, which is kind of like your dispatcher.

It tracks where you are, where other drivers are, uses mythical algorithms to determine which driver to send where, and handles getting you paid.

Most rideshare services have a corresponding piece of software, but one competitor in particular gets roasted constantly for its glitchy performance and glaringly obvious omissions when it comes to some features.

The Uber Driver (which works on iOS and Android phones) app looks great, rarely freezes, and any information you might need to find in it is located logically and is therefore easy to find.

But the most important feature about the app in terms of doing the job you hired on to do — picking people up and driving them places — has got to be the map feature.

Uber’s map systems will show you where your fare is located, including what side of the street they’re waiting on, and provide all the navigation you will need.

If your passenger’s location is in, say, an alleyway very near a major intersection, the Uber app shows you that alleyway.

In this same situation, other systems often direct you to the two major cross streets, which can only be so helpful.

As an Uber driver, if your map doesn’t work, then for all intents and purposes, neither do you.

This isn’t just to extoll the virtues of the Uber Driver app, but to make you as a driver realize the importance of using it.

Sure, Siri can give you directions, but she doesn’t know who you’re supposed to pick up, and Mrs. Google has sent me on more than one fool’s errand in trying to get me from point A to point B.

I find she likes to make me drive past point K.

The map part of the Uber Driver app is your lifeline, so take advantage of it.

Pickups and Dropoffs

While some think driving for Uber means driving for hours and hours on end, they are only partially correct.

While you only make money when you have people in your car, which means you want to be driving someone somewhere as often as possible, there will be down times when you are just waiting for a fare.

When you get the notification, then it’s time for a pickup.

1. Passenger Pickup

Once you get a ride request, look at your map so you have some idea of where you’re going.

You can see pretty much exactly where your rider will be unless they submit the request and then move away, but that seems to be rare.

After all, they want a ride, and they called for one that they’re willing to pay money for.

How likely is it that now they’ve decided to hoof it?

When you’re about a minute away from your future passenger, the app will notify them.

There’s a nifty little feature riders can opt for called Spotlight, which will flash a specific color on their phone’s screen.

The Uber Driver app will tell you what color to look for, and your passenger will be holding their screen up in your direction.

Don’t you just love technology?

No matter how you and your Uber passenger plan to locate each other, there will be those times one or both of you have trouble.

Your Uber Driver app will allow you to call or text your fare, say, “I’m here,” and possibly describe where your car sits in as much detail as possible.

If your passenger hasn’t shown up in five minutes, you have the option to cancel the ride, in which case the would-be passenger gets charged an Uber cancellation fee, which goes to you.

When your Uber passenger gets in the car, ask them their name so you can confirm you’re picking up the right person and that they got into the right vehicle.

If not, you might fall victim to the “Say My Name” scam, which means you’ll be out of luck when it comes to payment.

The app already tells you where you’re going, but just to be sure things haven’t changed, double-check with your passenger, then ask if he has a preferred route.

2. Navigating to Destination

This is pretty simple.

Follow the map. It knows what it’s doing.

Sure, the passenger may have a specific way they want you to go, which is fine unless you feel like they’re leading you to an empty field for some chicanery.

Whatever you do, don’t drive like a crazy person, even if your passenger is in a hurry.

Aggressive Uber drivers do not generally receive high ratings, and the lower your ratings are, the less likely you are to snag some sweet fares.

In addition, the worse your ratings are, the more likely you are to be deactivated from driving for Uber, which is Uber for “get fired.”

Also, speeding won’t get you there any faster.

You know how you get stuck in a slow lane, change lanes, and then your previous one all of a sudden speeds up?

Yeah, speeding is often like that.

And there’s a bunch of math to show that speeding doesn’t save you time.

3. Customer Dropoff

During your drive, you may have a talkative passenger who goes on and on and becomes a lifelong friend, or you have a sullen, quiet one who just wants to be left alone.

Or literally anything between these two extremes.

Depending on who you are and who your passengers are, you may be happy or sad when the ride is over.

Upon arriving at the fare’s destination, your relationship is over.

Their app will take care of paying you.

Cash tips are discouraged, so they will have the option of tipping you through their app.

They can also rate you as a driver, and you can rate them as a passenger.

Don’t neglect this part of it.

If the fare was a class-A jerk, other drivers who may encounter him in the future will want that information.

After all, if the driver before you had rated this jackwagon accurately, would you have picked him up?

I didn’t think so. Use the app and all its features.

After the dropoff, you’re ready for another fare.

Don’t drive aimlessly, hoping to be magically in the right spot to get the next job.

You’re just hurting yourself when you do this (more on aimless meandering in a bit).

Wait patiently.

If you must drive, go someplace where calls are more likely to come from, like a hotel or bar.

Scheduling and Shifts

One of the great things about Uber driving, as you thought when you signed up for the gig, is the flexibility of the schedule.

And for once in this world of disappointment, what you heard jibes with reality, because scheduling when you work is up to you entirely.

vector graphic showing the best times driving for Uber works

Do Uber Drivers Pick When They Work?

Yes, they do. Uber drivers can drive as many or few shifts as they want.

Of course, you have to drive to make any money, so if driving is something you hate to do, you might want to reconsider this line of work.

Uber does have its ways to encourage you to work certain hours with Surge Pricing, the inventive being that if you drive during those busy times, you make more money.

However, if you only choose to drive Mondays from 9:00 am to noon, you’re welcome to do that.

You won’t make tons of money, and since most Uber drivers are in it for cash and not budding small-talk friendships, you’ll want to do more shifts than that.

How Often Do Uber Drivers Work?

While Uber drivers are allowed to work seven days a week if they so wish, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found in 2018 that Uber drivers averaged a 17-hour workweek.

This probably doesn’t translate into seven days a week of short shifts.

In actuality, driving for Uber is almost always a part-time gig, which the EPI findings bear out.

So while an Uber driver can drive quite often, most of them do not.

How Long Do Shifts Last When Driving for Uber?

Like choosing when to work, you, as an Uber driver, can decide how long you work.

The longer you spend in your car ferrying people to and from their parties and meetings and airports, the more money you will make.

However, there is a limit: Uber cuts your shift off at 12 hours, so your dreams of working two 18-hour shifts to approximate a week’s worth of earnings is a no-go.

Still, if you could put together three 12s in a week and maximized your jobs as best you could, well, that has potential.

Payments and Earnings

You can drive when you want to for as long as you want to (up to a point).

You do this for one reason, right? Money.

So we should spend a little time on that aspect of it because driving for Uber means ferrying tipsy millennials around the city on the weekend is only part of the reason any of us gets into this line of work.

vector image of a car driving and money coming out the back to demonstrate how much do uber drivers make

Is it Profitable to be an Uber Driver?

There’s no good way to answer that, really.

You’ve got expenses, you’ve got wear and tear on your car, and there’s no guarantee you’ll even make one red cent on a shift.

I mean, you will, but it’s theoretically possible not to get any fares on a shift.

Since the bulk of your money comes from a per-mile fee and not a per-minute one, if you get stuck in traffic, your ratio of amount of time spent driving to dollars earned can plummet.

Since more than 60 percent of Uber drivers work a full- or part-time job in addition to their Uber gig, it stands to reason that, on the one hand, they’re making money.

However, on the other, they’re not making Scrooge McDuck money, or they’d only be driving for Uber.

To make a profit, you must keep records, pay attention to trends, know the hotspots for pickups, keep all the area construction in your head so you know where to avoid, and stay clear of rush hour traffic.

That’s a lot of stuff.

How Much Do Uber Drivers Make?

I already mentioned this just above, but Uber drivers must make something, or people wouldn’t do it.

But exactly how much they make is tied to many factors, many we’ve already gone over some.

How often you work and how long you do impact your income.

But where you are in the country does, too.

According to lifewire.com, an Uber driver in Las Vegas can work a 20-hour week and reliably expect to make a little over $500.

That’s $25 per hour.

However, in a market with a lower per-minute rate, you could be driving for less than minimum wage.

Uber lists its pay scale like this:

  • The base fare covers pickup, dropoff, and distance traveled.
  • The trip supplement is extra money Uber adds to, according to their website, “help make every trip worthwhile;” not all fares appear to include this.
  • Promotions like Surge pricing or boosts.
  • Tips, of which the driver gets 100 percent.

Combined, this is your income.

A nice feature they’ve added recently is that the Uber Driver app will show you a guaranteed minimum amount of money for the fare when you get a ride request.

If you decide it’s not worth it, this allows you to decline the request, which then goes to another driver.

How Do Uber Drivers Get Paid?

Drivers have the option of a weekly direct deposit, or they can use Uber’s Instant Pay, which allows them to cash out their Uber earnings up to five times a day.

But there’s a catch.

If you cash out onto your debit card, Uber charges you $.50 per transaction.

If you don’t want to pay that fee, your other option is to open an Uber credit card.

Now, I don’t know why you’d need to cash out five times in a day, and I certainly didn’t start driving an Uber so I could open another credit card.

But these options exist.

What Types of Expenses Do Uber Drivers Incur?

For all that money we’ve been talking about, remember that Uber gets a cut of everything but your tip.

Uber’s portion of your fares constitutes an expense on your part.

And Uber doesn’t give you a per diem for food, or gas, or expenses.

Your auto insurance, car title, vehicle inspection if you live in a state that requires an annual one, gas, oil changes, take-out meals you eat in the car between fares– all of that stuff comes out of your pocket.

  • Flat tire?
  • Dead battery?
  • Need a tow?

All of that’s out of your pocket, too.

Is Driving for Uber a Hard Job?

If you’re an introvert who hates to be in a car, then yes, this job would suck for you.

Is it easier than laying asphalt on a city street in July?

Most definitely. But it pays less, too.

Some people flourish behind the wheel of an Uber.

There’s no paperwork save what recordkeeping you do (and you should be keeping records), you don’t have a boss asking for the TPS reports, and your car is your office.

Since your car had to be in good condition for you to become an Uber driver, it’s probably a nice place to spend time in, right?

But if you don’t like people in general, you’re going to have a rough go of a job where your sole purpose is to pile people you don’t know into your car and take them where they tell you.

If you know yourself well, you already decided this job suited you before you signed up.

Pros and Cons of Driving for Uber

Everyone likes a good pros and cons list, and driving for Uber has a lot of both, though what some consider a con might actually be a pro to others.

One man’s trash and all that.

But looking at some of the facts that don’t seem to vary much from location to location, we can list a few.

Pros of Driving for Uber

There are many pros of driving for Uber.

1. Flexible schedule

As mentioned often already, this is a big deal for most drivers and was one of the driving forces in their decision to drive.

2. Tips

Anyone who’s ever waited tables knows there’s always a chance you’ll get a huge tip.

Even without that, whatever tips you do receive are 100 percent yours.

3. No bossman

Drivers have managers, but those people are there to liaise between you and Uber, like if you get critiques or something similar.

All you have to worry about is your riders: maintain a rating above 4.5 stars, or Uber can drop you.

If you find your passengers intolerable, they’ll get out of your car soon.

You can say bad things once they’re out of earshot.

4. Tax stuff

Because Uber drivers are not considered employees but rather independent contractors, their expenses are tax-deductible.

This means your vehicle insurance coverage is a write-off, windshield wiper fluid is, too, and you can take the standard mileage deduction when you file your taxes.

Anything that gets you closer to getting a rebate must be a pro.

Signing bonuses. Some drivers might qualify for bonuses after a certain number of trips.

In this case, you might have the opportunity for a bonus by giving 150 rides in your first 30 days.

Cons of Driving for Uber

Unfortunately, there are also some cons that come with driving for Uber.

1. Wear and tear on your car

You’ll quickly pile up miles on your odometer, and it’s not like those will all be highway miles.

Plus, if you’ve ever had anyone ride in your car, you know they are the ones who spill things and stain stuff.

It’s never you because you love your car.

Still, even cosmetic damage is still damage.

Uber will help pay for cleaning up puke stains, but you’re still the one who has to do it.

2. Slow times

When you drive and when lots of people need rides don’t always coincide.

Sitting in your car and waiting for your phone to tell you where to go owns you zero dollars.

This leads to the next con, which is:

3. Driving whenever you want won’t necessarily make you money

If you plan to make money driving between 8:00 am and 3:00 pm while the kids are at school, you may very well be disappointed.

The bottom line is that you can drive whenever, but if you want to make money, you have to drive when people need rides.

Is Driving for Uber Worth It?

It can be, but you’ll have to adjust your expectations and perhaps your hours.

The promise of easy money for doing what you want, when you want, is a nice lure but remains somewhat inaccurate in this line of work.

As with any endeavor, you get out of it what you put into it.

I knew a pastor once who was fond of telling people that the secret to marriage was lowering your expectations and raising your standards.

That applies to Uber driving, as well.

You already know you won’t get rich doing this, and since nothing is free, understand that you can’t succeed here by driving once in a while.

The cash just won’t roll in that way.

Also, remember that much will depend on your market.

You’ll make more driving in Chicago or Los Angeles than in Topeka.

Tips for New Uber Drivers

Many drivers might have their own ideas of what to do, how to maximize this, or leverage that, but there are really only two things an Uber driver needs to do:

  1. Be patient
  2. Resist the temptation to chase Surge pricing

Once you’ve driven for a bit, you’ll have an idea of where the hot spots are and when are the best times to get ride requests with some consistency.

Pay attention to those times and places, and then be patient.

Don’t aimlessly drive around.

This won’t give you a better shot at the big fares.

All you’ll do is put more miles on your car.

Sure, it’s nice to get that extra money when it comes to Surge pricing, but consider it found money.

Without Surge pricing, you have some general idea of what you’ll make for a drive or throughout a shift.

This also goes back to being patient.

Like what if you turn down a fare because you’re waiting for Surge pricing to kick in, but then you don’t get but one or two requests?

You’ve left money on the table.

Treat Surge pricing as the windfall that it is.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s left to say? Probably a few things.

If you’ve driven for Uber some already, you have become familiar with many of these issues.

Still, there might be one or two things not covered above, so let’s look at what information you might still need.

Is It Better to Drive for Uber or Drive for Lyft?

People have their brand loyalty.

My significant other continues to lobby for me to switch to an Android phone, but I’m an iPhone guy, and she’ll never convince me.

Lyft drivers think Lyft is better, Uber drivers disagree.

Among those who drive for both, many seem to prefer Uber for its superior app and what many believe is higher pay, though this will depend on the market in which they drive.

Can I Drive For Uber With My H1B Work Visa or Student Visa in the United States?

No. While there are drivers out there who do, driving for Uber violates the terms of the H1B visa.

Violation can include arrest and indictment.

Ever been arrested? Avoid this at all costs.

How Can I Drive for Uber Without a Personal Vehicle?

Car rental is an option, as there are cars available in some markets in partnership with Uber.

However, this would be yet another expense you’d incur while driving.

You’d want to crunch a lot of numbers before deciding if this constituted a viable option.

What Forms of Payment Does Uber Accept?

Pretty much anything other than barter. All major credit cards, bank or debit cards, Google Pay, Apple Pay, Venmo, Uber Cash, and even (with some preparation) actual cash.

The Final Word

Driving for Uber has its ups and downs.

You won’t get rich at it, but you can definitely augment your income and do so rather reliably.

If you are searching for a viable side hustle that doesn’t end up a scam or a pyramid scheme, Uber very well may be your huckleberry.

At the very least, you should do some investigation on your own.

Apply now, as the approval process isn’t instantaneous.

If you get approved and decide not to drive, no harm.

If you get approved, take a couple of shifts and see what’s what.

Uber driving has made a lot of drivers very happy.

You might as well be one of those people, too.

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