One question we get a lot, especially lately, on The Rideshare Guy is ‘how can people make it as an Uber/Lyft driver?’ While the answer to that question depends on a lot of individual factors, there are a few key things you can focus on when trying to answer that question overall. Senior RSG contributor Jay Cradeur provides us a nuanced perspective on how drivers are making – or not making – it out there in one of the most expensive cities in the world: San Francisco.
Over the past three years, I have written about my earnings as a driver in San Francisco. In 2018, I drove for 6 consecutive weeks and earned nearly $14,000, $2,300 per week and $45 per hour. In 2016, I drove one week and made over $3,000. This year, with the pay cuts, decreases in surge and prime time earnings, and reduced bonuses, it is not as easy to make $2,000 per week in any market.
These days, I am a part-time driver working primarily in the Sacramento market. However, I did write an article this year about a young man named Jeremy who I coached and who was driving in San Francisco while saving $5,000 per month after expenses.
Then last month, a very different type of article popped up on my radar. This article was about a man who drove a Toyota Prius for Uber and Lyft and lived in his car. One of our readers posed a question to RSG.
How can some drivers in San Francisco be doing so well while others were doing so poorly? Let’s take a look at how all this could break down.
Why Do Some Drivers Sleep in Their Cars?
I, as have most of you, have seen articles and watched videos about the topic of drivers sleeping in their car. In most cases, the driver is coming in from a great distance, such as a commute from Stockton or Fresno.
Rather than incur the expense of an Airbnb (about $75 per night), these drivers opt to sleep in their cars on a Friday and Saturday night and thereby earn a tidy profit over a weekend.
What was different about this article is the driver’s home market is San Francisco. I read with great interest to learn how a driver could log 60 hours per week and not make enough money to afford something as basic as a place to sleep here in the Bay Area.
What Are Real Rideshare Driver Earnings In San Francisco?
During my heyday in San Francisco, I was able to work 50 hours and earn over $2,000. I was able to max out my surge / prime time. I had a weekly $500 bonus that was easy to get. In addition, I always have been able to get good tips. Times have changed, but not that much!
Jeremy, a new driver who I trained on the San Francisco market, was easily earning $25 per hour during summer 2019. If you are driving in San Francisco, full time, and not earning at least $25 per hour, then you are not maximizing your driving time.
Let’s go over a few of the basics. For example, hanging out at the airport staging lot is a huge waste of time. Another mistake many drivers make is not driving at 5 AM when there is very little traffic and demand for airport runs is high.
Another place drivers miss out on is hitting it early on Saturday and Sunday and using your destination filters to get long rides when traffic is low. Also, if you are going to get any surge or Personal Power Zones (PPZ), you will need to drive during the morning and afternoon rush.
Take a break in the middle of the day when demand is low. Finally, It is better to take off on Tuesday or Wednesday when traffic is high and the demand for Uber and Lyft is lower.
In the homeless article, the driver says he earns $1,200 per week or $20 per hour. If the driver incorporated all of my suggestions and bumped his hourly earnings up to $25 per hour, then he would have an extra $1,250 each month for rent. You can take a look at my spreadsheet example below and download it for yourself here.
Now if I were living in my Prius, I would consider driving a few more hours on the weekend when the per hour earnings are the highest in order to increase earnings and raise my per hour figure. For this next spreadsheet, I add 6 hours at the $25 and $30 per hour mark:
Let’s be conservative and say a driver can only earn $25 per hour. The difference between $20 for 60 hours and $25 for 66 hours is a whopping $1,875. That is certainly enough to put toward a room to rent in San Francisco or one of the nearby suburbs like Daly City or San Bruno.
I was living in San Bruno, 10 minutes from San Francisco, 10 minutes from SFO, and paying $1,500 for a master suite with plenty of on-street parking. Jeremy is paying $1,650 for one-bedroom in a two-bedroom apartment in San Francisco.
What Are The Real Expenses of Rideshare Driving?
Everybody has different expenses to pay. For most of my career, I leased a car and paid $149 per week for the Toyota Prius. This gave me unlimited miles and minor services. Jeremy drove a Fair for Uber rental car and paid very little because he was able to hit the weekly target at which his car was completely paid.
Our homeless driver is driving his own car and incurring many of the expenses associated with owning your own car for rideshare driving. This is from the article:
“Although he earns about $1,200 a week (averaging $20 an hour) after Uber’s cut, work expenses such as gas, oil changes, new tires and other maintenance, traffic tickets, car payments, car insurance, cell phone bill and self-employment taxes eat a big chunk of his income. Then there are unexpected car crises, such as when his engine and battery conked out, costing him $3,000, or when his car got rear-ended. Two weeks ago, he drove over a rough patch of road and ended up paying $1,140 to repair the front suspension. Personal expenses add up, too — food costs a lot more when you don’t have a place to cook.’
Let’s break out these expenses as I feel the author is overstating the situation by using words like “big chunk.”
No matter how you cut it, any driver in San Francisco who is driving for 60 hours a week, even making an unbelievably low $20 per hour, should still have $2,500 or so in surplus which could be used for rent. If a driver such as Jeremy follows all the recommended tactics and rents a car through the Fair for Uber car program, the savings each month, after paying for rent, get much higher:
We can see here that just a few changes can result in a massive shift in lifestyle. A few of those changes are:
- Become a student of your city and drive accordingly to increase per hour earnings
- Drive heavy on weekends, morning rush hour, afternoon rush hour.
- As much as possible, drive long trips at 80 MPH to maximize revenue
- Rent a car rather than drive your own (especially if driving full time)
- Analyze your numbers. Know where all your dollars are going
Sleeping In Your Car = Saving Money
Most drivers I have read about and talked to don’t sleep in their car because they have to. They do it to save some money on rent or a hotel or Airbnb. I never wanted to sleep in my car. I value eight hours of quality sleep over anything. If I sleep a good eight hours, I will be able to drive at my peak capability. I will drive smarter and earn more tips.
How expensive is a place to stay during the weekend? I looked at Airbnb.com for next weekend and found an excellent room right next to San Francisco, not far from the airport, for $70 a night or $141 total for two nights with taxes and fees.
The venue is a private room with a private bathroom on a residential street and plenty of parking.
Drivers who come from out of town, from places like Stockton or Fresno, chose to save the $141 for two nights and instead sleep in their car. It is a choice. It is not a “have to.” You can come to the city, crush it three days in a row, 12 hours a day, and earn a conservative $900. If you are making $900, you can afford to pay $141 and get a good night’s sleep on Friday night and Saturday night. In fact, you may even earn more with a good night’s sleep since you will be less prone to making mistakes.
It seems to me the tales of drivers sleeping in their cars is a convenient way to push the “driver as a victim of Uber and Lyft” narrative. Yes, driving now is not as lucrative as it was two years ago. Yes, some markets are not as prosperous as San Francisco. But if you are going to tell me that driving in San Francisco for Uber and Lyft requires you to sleep in your car, I must say you are doing quite a few things wrong and not in your best interest.
In this tale of two drivers, one driver seems to be stuck in a state of despair and victimhood, while another seems to be experiencing the joys and prosperity of driving in one of the best rideshare markets in the United States: San Francisco. I hope we all learned a thing or two in this article. I sure did. Be safe out there.
Drivers, what do you think of sensational stories like this that don’t give the full picture of driving? Do you think most drivers are sleeping in their cars?
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-Jay @ RSG