Tips and Tricks From an Uber Driver

Don’t Talk Politics, Store a Towel in Your Trunk, and Let Them Sing Their Songs

It’s been almost 10 years since “Hear in LA” podcast host Tony Pierce started driving for Uber and Lyft. He’s seen the good, the bad, and the ugly—so he’s got plenty of survival tips to share with his colleagues. Courtesy of AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File.

This piece publishes as part of the Zócalo/The James Irvine Foundation public program and editorial series, “What Is a Good Job Now?” which investigates low-wage work across California. Register for the event “What Is a Good Job Now?” In Gig Work on Wednesday, March 13 in Oakland, CA—live in person and online.

Rideshare driving can be the right job for the right person, but you should also know the drawbacks.

On and off for nearly 10 years I have been a rideshare driver for both Uber and Lyft here in Hollywood. I’ve worked early mornings, late nights, and around concert venues. I’ve even driven passengers around Coachella a couple of times.

I have seen many changes from both companies in that time, along with new laws that have drastically changed what picking up passengers in one’s personal vehicle is all about.

For example, it wasn’t long ago that drivers had no idea where the trip was going until the passenger was in the car and we started the ride on our app. Not only that, but canceling rides and declining rides frequently could get you tossed off the platform.

Today, the driver has more control. You can see where the trip is headed before you even accept a ride, and you can decline as many as you want with no blowback.

This is not because the companies took drivers’ needs into consideration. It’s because, in their quest to prove to regulators that drivers are not their employees, they were forced to stop acting like employers. If we’re independent contractors, that means they can’t punish us for when or where we work.

Never think for a minute that the giants care all that much about drivers, our safety, or our financial well-being. As drivers’ earnings continue to decline while earnings for the companies go up—as noted in a recent Forbes article—neither of the rideshare giants have shown much concern for drivers. Keep in mind that both companies have aggressively and publicly been working on ways to use robot cars to replace humans.

Most drivers last 90 days or fewer. It has been like that for years, and neither company seems interested in improving that churn because every day new drivers sign up. But that shouldn’t deter you.

One of the top reasons drivers love the gig is because you have the freedom to work when you want, and the ability to drive where you want to go.

Let’s say you’re a driver and you want to go up to Santa Barbara this weekend. Conceivably you could only accept trips heading north and get paid for the journey. Obviously, it will take longer to get to Santa Barbara than if you were driving just yourself. But the rides will more than cover the gas you’ll use, and you might even have some good conversations. Usually, passengers are wonderful.

Most drivers last 90 days or fewer. It has been like that for years, and neither company seems interested in improving that churn because every day new drivers sign up.

Of the numerous tips I have for driver colleagues, the first is to be prepared. Have water and snacks for yourself. Have a phone charger that works on multiple devices—not just iPhones—for passengers. Have $20 in ones and fives in case someone wants to tip you in cash because you’re incredible and won them over.

Store a towel, barf bags, and a warm jacket in your clean trunk. Keep your gas tank at least half full, because you never know when someone might want to go far, quickly, in an offer you can’t refuse.

In over 8,000 trips I’ve driven, I’ve only had to stop for gas once. It wasn’t just embarrassing because it made me look unprofessional in front of the passenger. I learned that if you stop the car for more than a few minutes, Uber will call and text both you and your passenger to make sure neither of you are being assaulted. That’s well-intentioned, but annoying for everyone.

Avoid picking up people at bars or big parties. One of the worst things that can happen is that a drunk passenger gets sick. There are plenty of folks who need rides in your city and more than enough drivers. Choose wisely. If they come stumbling down the driveway needing assistance to stand upright, do not feel guilty jetting off before they get too close to the car.

Have a dash cam. Sometimes driving is wonderful and funny, but sometimes it’s scary and unsafe. Yes, these companies know where you and your passenger are, but in the heat of the moment you are nevertheless alone. Even if the dash cam only has a minute of video and audio, it will help if you need evidence that you did nothing wrong.

Meanwhile, you don’t really know the identity of that person in the back seat. Neither Uber nor Lyft require passengers to use their real names as their display names on the app, and “J” or “Baby” or “Junior” won’t be much help if you need to talk to the authorities after an altercation and they ask you the passenger’s name.

Watch informative YouTube channels like “The Rideshare Guy” and be sure to check out “Show Me The Money Club” videos where two experts discuss strategies and changes each week.

Take notes at the end of each day, and take a photo of your odometer/trip meter so at the end of the month you can write down how many miles you drove in a little journal for your taxes. You can write off a lot of things while driving (like your cellphone, music streaming subscriptions you play for the passengers, and water you might provide) but you definitely want proof, especially for mileage.

Another important tip is, ironically, to forget about tips. Passengers do not tip often, well, reliably, or in a predictable manner. Over the years, Uber has gone from encouraging passengers not to tip and pretending the tip was included to reluctantly adding a tip button to the screen.

It is so clear that if they are not getting a cut of something, they have zero desire to encourage it even if it means rewarding their best drivers. Uber and Lyft arrange billions of trips a year, but they have yet to show they care about the quality of those trips.

But you can still care. Have a clean car: Go to a car wash frequently and take a vacuum to the carpets, seats, and trunk. Have hand sanitizer for both you and your passengers.

Another thing to do is confirm with the passenger where the trip is going. You can do it casually as part of the conversation, but you need this info because it also confirms that the correct person is in your car. Yours might not be the only white Prius outside the Hollywood Bowl, and you don’t want the wrong person to put in their ear pods and fall asleep, only to leave you both very sad when you discover a half-hour later that you are far from where they wanted to be.

Final tip: I don’t talk about politics, sex, religion, tips, or drugs. Most trips are less than 30 minutes long. If they want to talk, let them do most of it. Talking about oneself is most people’s favorite thing to do. You’ll be shocked and delighted by what these strangers will tell you if you let them.

No matter where you are driving, you have a great opportunity to get paid to see parts of your city that you’ve never seen and to hear stories from the mouths of beautiful human beings who, collectively, have traveled the globe and have ended up with you. Let them sing their songs.

Which has been known to happen—literally—on some of the best rides I’ve had.


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