11 min read

    11 min read

    New to driving for Uber or Lyft and want to make money? Then there are certain mistakes you want to avoid! Today, senior RSG contributor John Ince tackles the 10 biggest mistakes new rideshare drivers make and how you can avoid them. Get on the road without any of the newbie mistakes and start earning money without worries! Notice anything we missed? Leave your mistake – and how to fix it – in the comments.

    Click here to sign up and drive for Uber

    Uber Driver Mistakes

    Are you a new Uber Driver or Lyft driver? If so, you may be nervous to get out on the road, concerned that you won’t get any rides or people will rate you poorly, or you won’t make very much. If those are your concerns – don’t worry! We’ve all been there and, for the most part, passengers are decent and you won’t be kicked off the platform your first night.

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    That said, there are a few mistakes many new drivers make and don’t even realize it! Here’s a list of 10 mistakes newbie rideshare drivers make and how you can avoid them.

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    1) Unsafe driving habits for Uber Drivers

    Whenever you start driving, that woman’s voice on Waze says … drive safely.  She’s right. It’s good advice not only for safety, but also for avoiding tickets.

    Cops all have their hiding places and even when you think they’re not there, they often are.  In San Francisco, cops don’t even have to be there. Busses now have cameras up front, and if you’re dropping off a passenger in a bus stop or traveling in a bus lane, they’ll snap a picture of your license plate and send you a ticket in the mail.

    My second weekend as a rideshare driver, I saw that fateful flash of a red light camera at 2 am in downtown San Francisco. I fought the ticket and lost. The whole episode cost me three tips to the courthouse, endless hassle and $490. Not worth it. Respect the law. Drive safely.

    Related: 12 Must Have Apps for Rideshare Drivers

    1a) Driving without rideshare insurance!

    Speaking of unsafe driving habits, one of the least safe things you can do is drive without rideshare insurance. After all, you are not fully covered by Uber and Lyft during period 1 (when you’re waiting for a ride but haven’t received one yet). You’re most at risk during this period, as you won’t get collision coverage from Uber or Lyft and your personal insurer won’t likely cover you during this time either.

    You get rideshare insurance over at our Rideshare Insurance Marketplace here – we’ve made sure these insurance agents are up to date on rideshare insurance, and they’ll be able to get you what you need in your state!

    2) Failure to get a good cellphone mount

    I spent my first two weeks as a driver fumbling around with my cellphone when fortunately I got a passenger who was also an Uber driver.  She saw me fumbling and said.  “Get yourself a dashboard mount for your phone.  For 15 bucks it will be your best rideshare investment.”

    Not only is it handy, it’s also safer and frees up your drink holder (if that’s where you store your phone) up for your water.

    Related: Top Phone Mounts for Rideshare Drivers

    3) Focusing too much on your smartphone

    If you’re looking at your smartphone, you’re not paying sufficient attention to the road. If there is any doubt, pull over to the right curb and figure things out before you get back on the road.

    In areas of heavy pedestrian traffic, this is a must do. These days pedestrians are often texting while crossing the street. Their lives are at stake, but somehow they don’t perceive the risk.  If you’re looking at your cellphone too, your life and theirs could change in an instant and not in a good way.

    4) Ceding authority to the passenger too easily

    I can’t emphasize this enough. Under no circumstances should an Uber driver make an illegal or unsafe move just to please a passenger or get to a pickup faster. I’ve had numerous passengers saying, “oh just make a u-turn here” (across double yellow lines) or “Hey just run it” (chance a red light by running a yellow.) Don’t. Just politely ask the passenger if they’re willing to pay for the ticket. That usually shuts them up.

    This also includes stopping for passengers! Don’t do it if you can avoid it. Stopping and waiting for passengers to go shopping, run errands, etc. just wastes your money and time. If you aren’t accepting rides and moving, you’re not earning as much as you could.


    5) Too much nervous chatter

    Conversations with passengers are an art, not a science. When a new Uber driver first gets on the road, they’re likely to be nervous – which often translates into forced conversations.

    Passengers don’t like that. Don’t let your nervousness affect the passenger’s experience.  Just relax and let any conversation come naturally from the circumstances.  For more on this, read my post: The Guide to Being a Great Rideshare Conversationalist.

    6) When an Uber Driver Chases the Surge

    As Oscar Wilde said, “I can resist everything except temptation.”  Surge represents temptation for driver. You see this sea of red on the app, two miles from where you are and it seems to make so much sense to chase it. Sometimes it works. Most of the time it doesn’t.

    Why? Because other drivers are doing exactly what you’re doing. As soon as enough drivers get to the red, the surge disappears.  The process usually takes a few minutes.

    The only exception to this are for major events – concerts, sporting events etc.  In those cases you can expect surges to last for much longer – sometimes up to an hour.  It’s still a risk to chase those surges, because during that hour surge can vary – widely. The best strategy is to anticipate the surge. Veteran drivers know which spots and bars are likely to have a big demand at which times.

    In general surge seems to be diminishing as a strategy for Uber and Lyft. These days, I seldom see a surge near where I live, even on Friday and Saturday nights.

    Related: Sam Choi on Outworking and Outearning Other Rideshare Drivers

    7) Continuing to drive while fatigued

    One Saturday night a few years ago, I was dead tired and getting ready to pack it in around 12:30 when I got a ride to Concord – about an hour in the other direction from my home. Against my better judgement I took it. After dropoff, I stayed online – hoping for another ride back in my direction. So I accepted two more.

    On the second ride, I got three young guys in the car – they’re pretty wasted and are keeping me busy with good natured chatter. I pulled up to a stop sign. After about 45 seconds of waiting, it suddenly occurred to me the stop sign was not going to change to green, because… well, it’s a stop sign?

    Fortunately for me, the guys were so wasted they didn’t even notice. This is when I knew it was time for me to go home. If you’re dead tired, like I was, go home and don’t take any more ride requests. It’s just not worth a low rating, possible accident, or a ticket.

    8) Starting the ride too soon

    One of the biggest newbie mistakes is starting the ride too soon. Why is this important? Ratings are important in the beginning. One low rating can knock your average well below the cutoff. Once you start the ride, the passenger has power over you in the form of the rating.

    I learned this the hard way. I got a ping an unlucky 13 minutes away and when I arrived the guy came out to the car and said, “I will be right with you – just have to ‘corral’ my wife.”

    The guy seemed cool and I felt comfortable with him, so I started the ride. Big mistake. The guy went back into the house, I could see a party inside with lots of people getting very drunk. Then the guy gets into a fight with his wife. Get your own Uber, he shouted at her in not-so-nice-words, and he comes out to the car again. But on the way out, he apparently changed his mind yet again. He says to me, “I can’t leave my wife like this.”

    “I’ve already started the ride,” I told him. For another ten minutes, I debated whether to end the ride, lose the fare and get a low rating. He goes back into the house. He’s really pissed at me now too, because he knows he’s getting charged.

    The thing about waiting is you never know exactly when to give up on them and end the ride. While sitting outside, I see his wife come out in tears. A friend is hugging her trying to console her. It was another 20 minutes before they finally got it together and came out to the car together.

    I got a really low rating and wasted almost an hour. It all could have been avoided had I just waited to start the ride until they were both in the car and ready to go, or I could have canceled them as a no-show. Drive and learn.

    9) Relying on Waze, Google or Uber’s map navigation

    I’ve heard it said often on driver message boards “the way to tell a newbie driver from an experience one is how much they rely on the online navigator”.  Time spent getting to know the streets of your area is time well invested.

    When I was first driving, if I ever got lost, the night after I went offline, I would retrace my route and figure out where I got lost so it wouldn’t happen again. Also, if a passenger tells you they know a better way to get there, listen. Even if they’re wrong, you’ve shown them some respect – and that’s the basis of a good experience.

    Related: What Questions Are Uber and Lyft Drivers Asking?

    10) Music troubles

    Music is a problematic issue for an Uber driver, often needlessly so. Younger passengers especially tend to have it in their head that the radio or sound system in your car is their sound system.

    One Saturday night, I got a ping for a pickup near Redwood High School, in Marin County. No one was around so I called and got a mother who eventually located them. I suspected they were underage, but wasn’t sure and besides I’d wasted 15 minutes to pick them up.

    When they finally got in, one asked me to put the radio on. I did. He didn’t like the music and said, Change the station. I did. Next time he asked me to change the station, I calmly asked, “Do I get a say in this matter, since it’s my car?”  They got the message, but an awkward silence followed.

    As the guys got out of the car, they started banging on the outside. One opened up the hatch in the back for no reason and slammed it shut.

    All of this was probably sufficient grounds for their de-activation, but who wants all the hassle of having to write it up and go through Uber’s investigatory channels? Instead, I opted for simplicity and did something I’ve only done a few times.

    After the guys were out of view of my car I drove up the block and pulled off to the side, but I had not yet ended the ride. I called the kid’s mother and explained everything that happened. I then told her that she had several options. Option one is that both of us give each other a really bad rating – which I suggested neither of us really wanted.

    The second option was that I write it all up and the likely result would be that her account would be de-activated. Then I put a third option out there – a peace offering of sorts.  I said, “If you cancel the ride before I end it, neither of us will get rated.” In other words, why don’t we just put this behind us and move on?  I explained that the charge will be the same whether she cancels or not. She said, “Let me think about that.”

    I waiting another minute or so, presumably as she spoke to her son, and quickly my app reads, “Rider has canceled the ride.”   Problem solved, no dealing with Uber tech support and onto the next adventure.

    Wrapping Up

    Even veteran Uber driver sometimes make these newbie mistakes – we could be hungry, annoyed at a previous passenger, or just forget what we’ve already learned. However, as a new Uber or Lyft driver, learning from these mistakes early will set you up to get good ratings and good earnings right away. New drivers get all sorts of advice, but trust me on this on: you will want to know how to navigate your city and you will want a phone mount!

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    Readers, did we miss any mistakes newbie drivers make? Let us know in the comments! -John @ RSG

    Click here to sign up and drive for Uber

    John Ince

    John Ince

    John Ince is a former Fortune reporter and Wall Street banker. He has about 1,000 rides under his belt driving part time for Uber and Lyft.  He’s writing a book about his experiences entitled:  Travels With Vanessa:  A Rideshare Driver Tries To Make Sense of It all - For a sneak peak visit the link above.

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