Tips From an Uber Driver
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Now that I've been an Uber driver for a few months I thought I'd share some tips and tricks. While I have been told that I'm "The best Uber driver ever!" that's not an official title. In other words, your mileage will vary. These tips are in pretty much the order they happened to occur to me, with some of the more important ones moved to the top in case you get bored and stop reading early. Also, these are based on my experience in the Kansas City area so there are things that will be different in other areas.
My number one tip: if you haven't signed up for Uber yet, be sure to enter the code "29FV3UE" when you do. If you're a passenger that will get you up to $20 off of your first ride (which will probably make it free). If you're signing up as a driver, I'll get a referral bonus when you start driving. If you're a driver you can still enter my code even if you've started driving. It will work until you hit the magic number for your area (it's 20 fares in Kansas City)
First, a few tips for passengers:
The location pin is our friend, but it's the kind of friend that will get you drunk and sharpie your face. It's best to zoom the map in until you can see the buildings. Just double tap the screen to zoom in. That way you can set the pin exactly where you want the driver to go. If you get lost, tap the little compass emblem in the corner to go back to the default zoom. If you're inside a building the GPS isn't as accurate and the system can sometimes randomly choose a spot outside for us. Children's Mercy Hospital has an alley in the back that leads to a dumpster. If you set the pin from inside it likes to choose that dumpster rather than the main entrance. Haven't found a passenger at that dumpster yet.
If you land at an airport where Uber can't pick up, move the pin to one of the hotels near the airport to make sure we can pick up there. Don't leave the pin there and call the driver – legally we can't come get you. Just look for the free hotel shuttles at the airport. All of those hotels big thing is that they're near the airport and have a free shuttle. Just get a ride to one of them and then call your Uber from there.
If your driver is coming from more than a few minutes away you have time to see us coming and we kind of expect you to be ready when we get there. If you're in an area where it normally takes 5-10 minutes to get a car and we happen to be passing through we understand if it takes you a few minutes to come out when we show up less than a minute after you request.
The regular base UberX service just promises you a vehicle with four working doors. It could be a giant Cadillac Escalade or a tiny Toyata Yaris. If you've got four big guys, a bicycle, or a pile of luggage as big as you then you should probably bump up to the UberXL service that will get you a seven passenger vehicle – a van or an SUV. Note that you can't put seven passengers in an XL because the driver is kind of required to take up one of those seats.
I drive an XL vehicle and only force the trip to be an XL trip if there are more than four passengers (it's easy – I just contact Uber after the trip). I do recommend you call an XL in the future if I think it would work better for you and explain why. My basic cut line is three normal size guys with anything bigger than briefcases or almost any guy over 6'4".
If you're just going to pick something up and need to come right back, or if you need to make a little side trip and make a short stop, let your driver know. All of the drivers I know are more than happy to make the extra money (we get paid for both the distance and the time).
Sometimes it can be cheaper for you if we take an alternate route. I always explain when I do. In Kansas City it works out to five minutes being about the same cost as one mile. If I can go a mile out of the way in less than five minutes, that's cheaper.
Sometimes it's cheaper to take a more expensive level. UberXL is (in Kansas City) 1.5 times the cost of UberX. But if UberX is surging at 2 or above, check XL – often it's not surging and therefore cheaper. Since I do both XL and X I'd rather get you at a normal XL fare than not get you at a surged X because some smaller vehicle is closer.
Tips for drivers:
your mileage. My car has a second trip odometer which I zero when I
go to start driving and run until I'm done. If yours doesn't, just
write down your mileage at the start and end.
For IRS purposes all of those miles are deductions. The current rate is 57.5 cents / mile. I find that just taking that deduction makes about 90% of my income tax free. And since it's the IRS recommended way to do it, I'm not worried they will complain about it.
If I take a break to go do something for myself I end that 'session' and start another when I go back to driving. The miles I drive for myself aren't deductible.
You need a mount for your phone. I have one that clips to the vent. With a van the windshield ones are too far away. It's also a good idea to have a charger hooked up. Your screen and GPS are on all day and that's hard on the battery. Sure, it only charges while you're driving but that should be good enough.
Keep a notebook in the car. I've got a little 3x5 one with a pen. For each session I track the date, the number of trips I drove, the miles I drove, and the total gross fare. I also note the price I pay for gas but that's just for my own information.
I use the calculator app on my phone to keep a running total of my gross fares for the day. Helps me know how I'm doing toward my goals, and at the end of the day I already have it ready to write down.
Each week I enter my data into a spreadsheet. For each week I have the total trips I drove, the total miles I drove, the cost of gas that week, the estimate amount I spent on gas (just for my info, calculated by the mileage I get doing Uber driving and the cost of gas this week), my total gross fares, what I actually got paid, and how much of that was taxable.
Taxable income is calculated by taking the amount you're paid minus the mileage deduction. My spreadsheet has cells where I input my car's MPG doing Uber driving, the current IRS mileage deduction (.575 right now), and my tax bracket (found on the IRS web page, based on our annual income).
On my sheet I'm tracking my numbers for the quarter – total miles driven, total mileage deduction, total gross fares (just for my info), total income, total taxable income, the amount of tax I owe on that (taxable income times your tax bracket), and the amount of Self Employment tax I owe. To figure that just take your taxable income minus the tax you owe and multiply by .15. For example, if I'm in the .25 percent bracket (standard middle class) and I had $100 of taxable income I owe $25 in taxes. For my SE tax I take $100 - $25 = $75. $75 x .15 = $11.25 of Self Employment tax. That means I should put aside $36.25 for taxes for this time period. I'd probabl round that up to $40 just to be safe.
I have a little bank account that I use to hold my withholding. That way I have the money to send in my estimated withholding at the end of the quarter. Check the IRS website – you may or may not be required to do estimated withholding. At the end of the year if I have extra money in this bank account I'll take most of it as a refund to myself. That's why I don't worry about putting extra into that account.
Keep your car clean. I have hidden storage compartments and all of my stuff is in them, including supplies if I need to clean the interior of my car during the day. If you don't have hidden storage keep your 'stuff' in something that doesn't look like customer luggage – sometimes when you drop off at hotels the staff there will unload for the passenger and you don't want them grabbing your stuff. You could always put a 'Stays in car' label on it.
If Uber can pick up at the airport in your city, it's a good idea to go there on your first day. You don't even have to be ready to take fares yet. You just want to talk to the other drivers and get advice from them. In Kansas City go to Economy parking lot C, turn right and go to the end. You'll see some folks out of their cars hanging out. They're your new co-workers.
I have satellite radio and keep in on the classic rock station. I'm old enough that that's 'my' music and my passengers tend to either like it or think of it as the background music they always hear. I keep it at an unobtrusive level (unless they want me to turn it up). If they get or take a phone call I turn it down. If they want to hear something else (usually a sporting event) I switch to that if I can.
My van has a DVD system. I happen to have classic cartoons loaded and while it's rare, I have had a few fares where they had great fun watching Bugs Bunny during the trip. And since it's classic cartoons it's not just children that have had fun watching.
Pick an area of town you're comfortable with and make that your base area. I drive during the day while my wife is at work – she loves getting a ride to and from work every day. Find two or three 'lurking' spots in your area. These are just places where you can legally park that are near where you think people will need rides. If it's slow, go to one of them and park.
If the system pulls you out of your area you may want to go offline until you're back to it. You don't want to turn down too many offers (it will lower your rating). I start and end my day downtown so if I get down to the South end of town late in the day I'll drive back empty. If it's early I'll park wait 10 – 15 minutes to see if there's work here. Often I can ping around that part of town for a while and eventually get someone to pay me to drive back to the part I want to be in. That's better than driving empty.
I like to get about $1 in gross fare for every mile I drive. Usually I'm a little below that level but sometimes I get a set of those short fares and do much better. $100 in fares with 120 miles driven is typical but I've done $65 in 42 miles.
Do NOT park where it's illegal. In KC there are some drivers who want to make sure they get the next fare from a hotel who illegally park in front of it, right by the No Parking sign. There are normally a ton of legal spots a few hundred feet away. Don't be one of those people. It annoys other drivers, your fellow Uber drivers, and the police.
If you're driving when it's busy just look for anyplace you can legally park – you may or may not get there. During one festival in the summer I never made it more than 100 feet from when I dropped off before the next call.
If I'm not moving I'm not making money so I try not to spend any. I park and (in Summer) it's both front windows down, engine off. I have a little fan I can put on the dash (or even better, my steering wheel) to give me a breeze if needed. I have leather seats which can get sweaty in the heat so I bought an old fashioned beaded seat cushion. It gives me some air flow and keeps it comfy. For cold weather it's windows up and, if needed I'll go to Cabela's and get their jacket that's electrically heated (battery in the pocket). I got the wife one a few years ago and she loves it.
Be prepared to sit and wait. Kansas City is slowly ramping up but I can still sit and wait for more than an hour between calls. You can't do anything on your phone without risking knocking yourself offline so I have a small tablet I use to amuse myself.
Have a second device (in my case that tablet) that you can run the Uber Rider app on. That lets you check on the herd of other drivers. We're not competition, we're co-workers. Every driver I've met has been friendly and helpful. At first I looked for clusters of other drivers to find places to go. Now I look for them to find places to not go – by this time I have a fair idea of where people will be looking for rides and will look for ones that don't have enough drivers waiting.
The system normally looks for the nearest driver. The GPS in phones is only so accurate and when you're holding still it gets confused. Watch on the rider app and you'll see your car spinning in place and drifting around by a block or so. In other words, even if you're a block closer to the fare, the system may offer it to someone else first. That's ok – next time it may err in your favor.
At places like airports you go to a special spot (normally a parking lot) and it puts you in a first in, first out queue. Once again, it sometimes messes up. Again, it's the computer, it's nothing personal, nobody I've met worries because we all know that it will eventually be wrong in our favor. Also, when you're in a queue you get queued for every level of service you offer. In KC we have three levels, X, XL, and Select. Currently I do X and XL. My goal is to have an XL size vehicle that's on the Select list so I can do all three levels.
Speaking of levels, work every level you can. If it's not busy I think it's better to take a lower value X call than sit a wait for a highe value call. If it's busy I just have to wait 15 seconds to not take an X. When it's really busy the system seems to not bother me with X calls when it has XL calls waiting.
I would like to take every trip offered me but sometimes you have to pass them up. You have to assume that almost every ride will be a minum fare and set your limits on that. My van gets great mileage on long highway trips but not so great around town. I normally won't go more than 10 minutes for an X trip or 20 for an XL. I'll go farther for the XL because there are fewer XL drivers. Occasionally I will go further. I figure that if people can't get an Uber car, they'll stop looking so I'll take few just to help out the future business.
Some places I know what kind of fare to expect. Hotels in the early afternoon are often runs to the airport. There are some hotels in KC pretty far from downtown that business travelers get bumped out to when downtown is full. Those fares are usually either going to downtown (where I want to be) or to the airport. Either way it's worth the trip.
At first my wife worried about my picking people up in bad parts of town. Kansas City is so spread out we don't really have any 'bad' parts, at least during the day. I have found that the people in those less good parts that have a smartphone and credit card are never a problem. If they live there it's because it's cheap housing. Now if I were driving at night, the later it got the more selective I might get on where I pick up, just due to the other people living or hanging out in those areas. But in general I don't worry about it.
If your car is fuel efficient those lower income areas are / can be a gold mine. There a ton of people there who have to walk a mile (literally) to the grocery store. As they get used to having Uber cars available you'll get more and more fares. Yes, they'll be smaller fares but those can really add up. You can actually make more money on a fast set of small rides than on one long ride. My problem is the low mileage I get doing those short fares cuts into my income too much.
You want to average 50 trips a week. That's so you get the 200 trips a month to get the gas discount card they offer (currently the level has been lowered to 100 trips but my goal is still 200). The discount isn't much – on a $30 fillup I'll save maybe a $1. Hardly worth the effort. But, they take the money out of your pay before you get it. That makes it pre-tax money and reduces your taxable income. I've had weeks where they put over $600 in my bank account and by IRS standards I lost $60 for the week. So it's really worth it to get and use the gas card.
Be pleasant to the passengers and keep your vehicle as pleasant as possible. I don't eat in my car so there are no odors. In the summer I keep the AC on and in the winter I know they'll love the heated seats. Passengers who enjoy the ride give you good ratings.
Tips. I don't push for tips. When they want to give me one I always tell them "Never required, always appreciated." The only time I think they might want to tip is when I do something extra. If I load and unload a pile of luggage bigger than them, or wait more than a 10 minutes for them to make a stop, that might be considered a tipping situation. If I just pick you up, drive you, and drop you off then I consider that just doing my job. I mean, if they want to tip, great, but I'm not looking for it.
Some passengers want to hear about the city as you go – fun things to do, good places to eat, etc.. Others just want to be left alone. I do my best to give them what they want.
Study that weekly summary email Uber sends you. They show you the busiest hours of the week so you can decide if you want to work them. They show how you compare to the top drivers so you can see where you can improve. I've been told that any suggestions they give you are based on the comments you got from passengers so pay attention to them. If you don't know why you got a suggestion you can always email the local folks and see if they can give you more guidance.
I have only ever had one fare that I didn't rate as five stars and they still got a four. In general, if they show up in a reasonable time, don't mess up my vehicle and aren't really unpleasant people that's all it takes.
I keep a couple of towels in my car. They're partly in case I have to clean something up but mostly in case a passenger has a dog (or other pet) and it's a wet day. That way I can put something down and avoid any mess.
Some of your passengers will be vision impared. They're
the ones most likely to have a dog. I normally hop out and help them
into / out of the vehicle. Don't want someone falling down and
And don't worry about taking these fares – they have been some of my nicest customers.
It's important to know places you can make quick pit stops at. Here in Kansas City I like the Quick Trip gas stations. They have good gas at good prices and nice restrooms.
You know those rack of brochures for various attractions? I keep a few of those in my car for passengers who might want them. I have an Attractions guide, a Dining guide, and the pamphlet for the Liberty Memorial (they Nation's WWI memorial and one of my favorite KC attractions).
People often need to charge their phones. My outlet in the passenger area is really hard to get to so I have a couple of battery packs along with cables for Android and Apple devices. Many newer cars have USB outlets so all you'll need are the cables.
Pay attention to your passengers. Over time you'll see things they like or don't like, things they wish you had. Adjust to their needs and watch your driver rating go up.
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