Chances are you've used or at least heard about ride-sharing apps. Uber, currently the largest ride-share company, claims more than 160,000 drivers who provide more than one million rides a day in 250-plus cities worldwide. The company, along with similar ride-share services like Lyft and Sidecar, also make headlines as they battle in court against municipalities and taxi unions.
Ride-share driving appeals to people with a driver's license who want a flexible way to earn money. How much you can actually earn is a matter of debate. Even so, other factors make driving for Uber, Lyft, Sidecar and others an attractive side job or one that could be full time.
The earnings potential is the first question prospective drivers want answered. A study by the Benenson Strategy Group comparing UberX drivers and taxi drivers in six major American cities found that ride-share drivers earned more on an hourly basis than cab drivers; in some markets they even made double. The data comes from Uber drivers' earnings in October, 2014 and taxi drivers' earnings in May, 2013. The Huffington Post points out, however, that those numbers can be deceiving because they don't reflect the drivers' expenses. Cab drivers pay to lease their vehicles, for example, while ride-share drivers pay all vehicle-related costs.
A NerdWallet study comparing the earnings of drivers for Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar (which operates in 10 stateside locations) found that Uber drivers earn the most, although commenters question the methodology, which didn't factor in the companies' cut. Uber and Sidecar generally take 20 percent of the fare, while Lyft starts at 20 percent but reduces the percentage depending on the number of hours logged each week, reaching zero at 50-plus hours.
Rideshare companies often offer promotions to their stable of drivers and guarantee an hourly rate as long as the driver accepts almost all requests, completes at least one ride within the hour, and is signed into the app for 50 minutes of the hour. Lyft and Sidecar also let passengers tip drivers (Sidecar takes the usual cut, Lyft doesn't). Hourly guarantees range from $15 to $35, before the company's share and the driver's expenses.
Another reason potential earnings are so hard to pin down is that ride prices are constantly in flux. They differ by market, for starters, and even within the same city a sudden increase in demand might catapult fares into the "surge" range. At other times, drivers wait for customers or cruise from one area to the next hoping to be the nearest driver to an eager passenger, which means wear and tear on the car and burning fuel while not earning a dime. Harry Campbell, a part-time ride-share driver and creator of The Rideshare Guy blog and podcast, says Uber is often more financially rewarding because so many riders use the app. Many drivers stay busy by using multiple ride-share platforms.
Pay Isn't the Only Factor
Making money is just one reason to consider joining the ranks of ride-share drivers. For some, the flexibility that comes with the gig more than compensates for the financial uncertainty. You can take a month off without question or decide to hop on whenever nothing else is going on. The times when demand is greatest -- evenings and weekends -- coincide with times when you're probably not working your primary job, so driving on your downtime is an easy way to boost your income. And, adds Campbell, some drivers (e.g., musicians, photographers, and artists) have used the connections they make with passengers to promote their other ventures.
Company culture is another factor to weigh when deciding whether to ferry around passengers. Campbell says that most drivers he has spoken with use Uber when they're looking for the largest payout but prefer Lyft because it's more community oriented. Lyft passengers often sit up front with the driver, for example, and blogs comment on the sense of irreverence and fun that swirls around the company. By contrast, Uber stresses a type of professionalism that places passengers in the back seat and seems to regard ambition and displays of corporate combativeness as primary values.
Greg Palomino, a Lyft and Uber driver in San Antonio, Texas, says that for all the frustrations with both platforms, they are a boon to drivers. The apps have a few kinks and there's a bit of a learning curve as you settle into becoming a paid driver and find the areas where the most rides are requested, "but getting paid weekly and logging in/out whenever you want makes it simple and profitable," he concludes.
Not surprisingly, the apps associated with ride-share programs are reliable and driver-friendly, although occasionally irksome. The creator of the Rideshare Dashboard blog notes that the services go down at times, more often on Sidecar than on Lyft or Uber. He's also heard that the Lyft app sometimes flashes a ride request so quickly that the driver doesn't have time to accept it, which can lead to a lower acceptance rate and disqualification from bonuses or hourly guarantees. The main complaint he hears about Uber concerns passengers selecting a tip amount in the app that applies only to Uber Taxi (when Uber is used to call a metered cab); there's no option to tip within the regular Uber app and few passengers fork over cash.
Ride-share driving is a growing profession; Uber alone brought on an additional 72,000 drivers in the last two months of 2014. Blogs and podcasts, such as Rideshare Dashboard and the Ride Share Guy, have sprung up to support the community. SherpaShare is an app that lets drivers input data from multiple ride-share companies to track earnings, estimate expenses and taxes, find additional work, and learn more about where and when it's best to drive in a given city. You can also look for local Facebook groups and join the ride-share-focused forums, such as UberPeople.net, which includes a section for Lyft, to get the scoop on your specific market, local bonus opportunities, and changes that affect drivers.