Uber / Lyft: How Does It Work?

Uber Driver App

Uber Driver App

Uber and Lyft have been in the news in the past few years but not always in great ways. You’ve may have heard of unfortunate cases where a few reckless drivers have abused their passengers, sexually or otherwise.

Although this behavior is completely unacceptable and drivers who have been found guilty of these infractions have been immediately removed from the system, I can tell you that, relative to the overall number of drivers and rides given each year, these situations are rare. It doesn’t make them any less serious, but their occurrence is probably no more than among taxi drivers in general.

You may have also heard that Uber’s former CEO, Travis Kalanick, one of its original founders, was asked to leave after a series of scandals at company headquarters. Neither I nor other drivers enjoy this sort of thing: we all want to work for a company we feel good about.

You can read about the full history of the company on Wikipedia.  I can testify from the driver’s seat that Uber has been doing many good things to improve its relationships with and offerings to its drivers. The media is actually reporting that Uber is now boring compared to what it used to be. That’s not a bad thing.

I do not have any hidden motivations for saying these things. Despite what is going on at headquarters, Uber has always offered a fair deal to its drivers, IMHO. You may hear rumors that the drivers are paid less than minimum wage overall. That might be the case for drivers who work sporadically and who don’t strategize to maximize their revenue as much as I do

My experience has been that if you drive a lot, drive smart by strategizing to optimize your work time, and you if you take advantage of bonus programs that both Lyft and Uber offer each week, you can cash out nicely.   I don't have the final numbers on what I will make this year, but I'm on track to be one of the few people in the area who might gross near $100K/year.  No joke.  

But I want to be up front about this.  I've worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day on average for much of the past year.  I’m generally satisfied with what I’m making overall.  This is important because we all know that disheartening sense of feeling underpaid for long hours behind the wheel. 

What has also made this job worth working so much is the unexpected and interesting experiences I have with riders day to day.  I almost never have a bad day driving for Uber or Lyft.  I can feel crappy in the morning and not feel I want to go to work.  But simply driving and interacting with passengers, even if some say nothing at all, is an uplifting experience that puts me in a good mood.  It is the strangest thing.

One of the most intriguing things about working for Uber and Lyft is that you have no supervisor except yourself and your passengers.  You work whenever you want to.  When you feel like working you turn the app on, and you’re clocked in.  When you feel like taking a break, you turn the app off.  This could mean turning it off at the end of a ride just to catch your breath. Or turning it off to have lunch.  Or like I do, to go home for a midday nap.  You are the boss.

Instead of dealing with a supervisor, you are ranked by each rider on a scale of 1-5 for each ride you give.  The customer / rider is your supervisor.  But don't let that scare you.  One of the secrets I’ve come to learn in my five years of doing this is that the customer really is hoping that you will be nice/friendly to chat with.  Or a lot of times that you will not chat at all if they are busy doing some work on a laptop or are on the phone.  Many times people use their Uber/Lyft ride to chill out in their little back-seat oasis. You’ll know when you are not supposed to say anything.

The concept of working with no supervisor can be a bit unnerving for some.  It takes some getting used to.  But the motivation in all this is clear – easy money.  Or “easier” money. It is not easy to be a driver.  But being able to hop into the car and work any time of day without any supervisor, and getting paid every day if you want—that is certainly worth the effort of riding the learning curve.  If you've worked too many temp jobs in an office, you know what I mean here.  Doing Uber is better than doing menial temp work.

I adjusted without much difficult to this system perhaps because for years I sold stuff on eBay and Amazon.  You don’t deal with a supervisor or office manager there, either. You just have to just learn how to operate their system on your own with the help of tech support for questions.  Uber and Lyft have a similar system.  You can communicate with tech support all you want.

That said, what you develop is an ever present, unspoken feeling swirling about you that you must be your upmost professional self so you can strive to get a feedback rating of 5 every time.  Particularly when you first start out.  Rest assured, this never happens and you will not get 5's all the time.  The good news is that once you come to accept this, you’ll feel better.  And you can still have a very high score (4.8 – 4.9), and get a few sub 5’s now and then.  It doesn’t make you any less qualified or stellar in what you do.

Someone will always be out there to give you a 4 (or less) for something.  Over time the 4s and 5s you earn will add up to deflect the occasional 1, 2 or 3 you might get.  As of this writing, I have given over 5,000 rides and my score on Uber is 4.91 and 4.95 on Lyft.  To stay this high over time take diligence and hard work.  As to what might happen to get you kicked off Uber/Lyft, either as a rider or a driver, my sense is that the chances are rather low if you have good scores. I’ll get into this more later. 

There are a multitude of other aspects of how Uber and Lyft work from the rider and driver perspectives.  But this is the introductory overview.

Uber feedback snippet. Click to see all feedback.

Uber feedback snippet. Click to see all feedback.