People of all ages, but especially millennials, are increasingly turning to side hustles for extra income to help pay off debt or just afford day-to-day expenses.
Uber, a ride-sharing service, is a popular side hustle option because getting hired is easy (according to its website, it takes less than four minutes to sign up), driving for Uber is flexible, and Uber claims you can “make great money.” But, is driving for Uber all it’s cracked up to be? The fact that only 4% of Uber drivers still drive with the company a year after getting started suggests it might not be.
Uber drivers have staged protests in recent months, including a protest by Tampa Uber drivers in March of 2017, due to low pay forcing drivers to work long hours. Pay tops the list of complaints in a comprehensive report from The Information, although drivers have other concerns as well.
Read on to find out about a few of those key issues drivers complain about to get more insight into whether Uber’s a ride-sharing company you might like to drive for.
1. Uber drivers have high expenses
Uber drivers need to have a car, which means either buying a vehicle or renting a car. Uber partnered with General Motors, Hertz, and Enterprise to offer various programs that let ride-sharers borrow vehicles, but this only serves to add costs.
Because you need to buy or rent a car, you have to deal with all the expenses that go along with it, which eats into your profits.
“One of the biggest downsides to driving for Uber is that you’re responsible for all of your expenses and believe it or not drivers will put a lot of miles on their car,” Harry Campbell of The Ride Share Guy explained. “A full-time driver will easily do 1,000 miles a week or more, and the cost of gas, depreciation, and maintenance will quickly cut into your earnings.”
Campbell, who quit his job in 2014 to blog about the rideshare industry and still drives part-time for Uber, stressed the importance of driving a fuel-efficient car, such as a Prius. “There’s a reason why so many Uber and Lyft drivers have hybrids,” he said.
Costs associated with fuel and car maintenance are an issue with any rideshare service, whether you use Uber or Lyft. One driver who drove 40 hours a week told Slate he spends around $350 weekly in gas, cleaning his car, insurance, parking costs, and maintenance expenses on his vehicle — while taking home around $850. If you don’t want deal with the negatives associated with putting miles on your car, you’ll need to explore another side hustle that doesn’t require you to drive.
You have a wide range of options: Pet-sitting, taking care of tasks such as cleaning or home repairs, or even professional cuddling, none of which require you to own a car or put a ton of miles on it.
2. Income varies wildly depending on when you drive
If income earned from Uber was still high after covering expenses, costs of driving wouldn’t be such a big downside — but unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
“I’ve personally always found Uber best suited for part-time income since the earnings can fluctuate wildly from city to city and especially based on the times you drive,” Campbell said. “I like to tell drivers to ‘Follow the Alcohol,’ since Friday and Saturday nights are typically when demand is highest, and drivers can make the most amount of money.”
While you might be able to make more money by driving drunk people around, this might not be your idea of a good side gig. A blogger writing about his experience driving for Uber at Student Economics said he might never drink again after his experience transporting intoxicated passengers. “Driving drunks around shows you just how obnoxious booze makes you and how awful the stench is,” he wrote.
Even if you try to time your driving strategically, Uber drivers simply might not make that much under any circumstances. A survey of 1,150 rideshare drivers conducted through Campbell’s site revealed drivers for Uber earn just $15.68 hourly ($15.45* an hour is the average according to Uber), before covering costs of fuel and factoring in maintenance and depreciation for their vehicles. The survey also revealed:
- 2.2% of drivers earned less than $5 hourly
- 14.8% earned $5 to $9.99
- 32.2% earned $10 to $14.99
- 25.8% earned $15 to $19.99
- 17.4% earned $20 to $29.99
- 2.5% earned $30 to $39.99
- 0.2% earned $40 or more
- 4.9% preferred not to say how much they earned
The survey revealed that the majority of Uber drivers — 27% of respondents — earn $500 to $1,000 per month. While these earnings can be decent side income, it might be harder earn this much money if you drive in a low-demand location.
Drivers also indicated low pay has forced them to work long hours to make ends meet, with drivers who protested low pay rates telling ABC Action News that it’s a struggle to make the job pay.
“If you had to look at it on any hourly basis, I was probably making $6.50 an hour,” Marla Jupiter told ABC. Another driver said he worked 70 hours a week, sometimes working six or seven days to pay the bills.
If you don’t live in a city and can’t drive at times when earnings are likely to be high, Uber might not be the best way to make money. Instead, you might want to explore alternatives such as putting your skills to work to teach dance or an instrument, working as a handyman, or working as a tutor — all of which topped a list of highest paying side hustles compiled by PayScale for Money.
3. Uber isn’t as driver-friendly as competitors
Uber rolled out a series of updates in summer of 2017 in response to complaints about its relations with drivers. These updates included adding a tipping feature to the app and adding a returned-item fee which compensates drivers $15 for returning lost items to passengers. A failure on the part of Uber to allow tipping was previously one of the biggest sources of complaints among drivers.
These changes might improve Uber’s standing going forward, but research from The Rideshare Guy still shows Lyft drivers tend to be much happier than those who drive for Uber, perhaps in no small part because they also reported they were higher-paid.
Just 9.7% of Uber drivers said they “strongly agree” they were satisfied with their experience driving for Uber, compared with 10.8% who “strongly disagree.”
By comparison, 32.2% of LYFT drivers “strongly agree” they were satisfied with their experience, compared with 6.8% who “strongly disagree.”
Many side-hustlers choose to drive for both Uber and Lyft. But, if you’re deciding between them, you may want to try Lyft first due to the higher ratings by drivers.
Deciding what side gig is right for you
Whether you’re trying to pay off debt such as credit cards or student loans, or just want a little extra money to supplement your income, driving for Uber could be the right choice for you if you go in knowing the downsides.
But, if you don’t want to deal with the drawbacks of driving for Uber, there are plenty of other side hustles you can consider. Check out our side hustle marketplace to find out about some side gig options and see if one is right for you.
* This opportunity is for an independent contractor and consecutive hours on the road may not exceed specified limits. Stated trip earnings of $618.01/week are based on 40 hours of driving per week using the net median national earnings of driver partners from May 2018. Median earnings in your specific location may be lower than the national figure. Actual earnings vary depending on number of rides accepted and taken, time of day, location and other factors.
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