Harry here. Whenever people ask me how much you can make as an Uber driver, I don’t always have the best answer since the truth is it can really vary. It depends a lot on what city you’re in, when and where you drive and even how good of a driver you are.
I’ve seen lots of people complain about how little they’re making, but the truth is they’re probably not doing everything they can to maximize their income. Today, I wanted to share a guest post from long-time reader and new RSG contributor Bill Tesuaro. Bill is a rideshare veteran out of San Diego and has consistently earned $28/hr AND has the numbers to back it up. Let us know what you think of Bill’s strategy in the comments below.
I’ve been hitting the pavement as a weekend warrior, logging between 20-24 hours per week, for the past 15 months driving for both Lyft and Uber. I ended 2015 grossing an average of $28 an hour, then rates in San Diego were drastically reduced 82% per mile & 50% per minute while eliminating the base fare completely at the beginning of January 2016.
Sounds disastrous, right? Actually, seven months later, I’m still running at a gross average per hour of $28. How is that possible? Am I a better driver than most? Nope, but I’d like to think, qualitatively speaking, I’m driving smarter!
Today we’re going to dive into the detail behind steadily generating $28 per hour gross, steering clear of that “drive more to earn more” mentality. Here are links to my personal 2015 and 2016 earnings data as a point of reference.
As you’ll notice in the 2015 summary tab, I was still driving 4 to 5 hours per night Monday through Wednesday until the end of July. It had been helping to keep my tax liability down by logging between 70 to 90 miles per shift, but killing my profitability since I was spending about 20 deadhead miles to/from home. Then in August I signed up for Lyft, began exclusively driving Thursday to Saturday nights (with the occasional weekend daylight shift) and increased my efficiency even more.
Maintaining Profits After Rate Cuts
When 2016 rolled around, I was now armed with 9 months of data (from 2015) and I devised a plan to follow a weekly shift in 2016 instead of chasing $$$ goals, letting the math work in my favor! Earnings are cyclical throughout the year, with major low points after NYE until around April, but summer experiences huge peaks set around holidays like Memorial Day, Labor Day weekend & 4th of July.
So far in 2016, my average earnings have consistently been at $160 per day and $430 per week. Here is what has helped me big time from 2015 to 2016:
- 30% reduction in average weekly mileage logged: down from 640 miles per week in 2015 to 450 miles per week in 2016
- 38% reduction in average weekly hours worked: down from 24 hours per week in 2015 to 15 hours per week in 2016
- 28% reduction in average weekly trips taken: down from 53 trips per week in 2015 to 38 trips per week in 2016
At first glance, these numbers might seem contradictory since I was working less. But let’s delve into how, when, and where you’ll drive to maintain profitability, not only in San Diego, but anywhere in the US.
Related article: Essential gear for rideshare drivers
Track Profitability Cycles
Last year around Memorial Day, after banking a holiday weekend it occurred to me that with a large enough data-set I could benchmark myself week after week and track efficiency. This was the first step to driving smarter in San Diego because I started plotting predictable profit cycles. Creating all of this showed me:
- Never chase surges zones or drive aimlessly searching for fare requests, look for somewhere with quick highway access and wait
- You can’t force rides, but you can hedge against low demand by utilizing both Lyft and Uber platforms
Harry says it all the time, but if you haven’t signed up for Lyft and Uber, you are doing yourself a disservice. Uber dominated my requests by 2:1 overall in San Diego in 2015 and is leaning toward 3:1 in 2016. But due to Lyft’s in-app tipping feature (of which drivers keep 100%) and higher rates, I’ve experienced a 23% earnings increase in Lyft fares over Uber.
Track Your Expenses, Too
Tracking all your driver data is imperative to maximizing allowable deductions and further measuring overall profitability. Taxes are just a line item on anyone’s profit & loss statement, but knowing what’s a deductible expense lowers your tax burden, creating more profit. Mileage will account for a majority of your total deductions, so track both commuting (from the last fare back to your house if app is off) and business (from your house to first fare and last fare). The next three aren’t as obvious but:
- car loan interest (if you finance the car)
- taxes/licenses (CA DMV registration)
- utilities (phone plans)
Please click here if you’d like to snag a free blank template copy to start logging your stats as the IRS accepts “electronic equivalents” for record-keeping purposes in case of audit.
When to Drive
Now that we’ve covered the “how-to”, what about when and where to actually drive? If you’re thinking of driving full-time, then drive as it best suits your personality since it’ll be your primary source of income. Rideshare is a hybrid retail / customer service gig because you’re providing a highly demanded commodity service at bargain basement prices. Can you see yourself deal with people (conversations / questions / luggage) 5 days a week plus weekends for 8 to 10 hours a day, in addition to the miles logged?
If you’re thinking about moonlighting a little to generate another income stream, working weekday & weekend nights primarily Friday to Saturday between 7 or 8 PM to about 2:30 AM is best. Thursday beckons for the weekend and creates an earnings momentum to get you started, plus lots of business trip flyers head home. While Monday through Wednesday works well for fall/winter NFL months, those days consistently underperformed in every category I tracked. I’d suggest ONLY working these days if you have a dollar goal to be met every week as they’re less profitable. To conclude, be prepared to work about 20-24 hours per weekend.
Where to Drive
Where should you be driving to max healthy fare requests per hour? I’ve developed a profitability pipeline that centers around 3 major geographical areas within North County and San Diego proper (please note, these will generate best results if worked after 6 PM on any given weekday or weekend).
The top earnings grab will occur along the beaches of the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) between Encinitas south to Del Mar. It’s an easy traverse along the coastline with minimal stoplights and packed nightlife density. All are “at-the-curb” pickups for quick stop & go, stacked bar restaurants every few blocks filled with locals garnering reliable repeat business, then sneak up Birmingham Drive for access to the 5 (and that 7-11 with cheap gas). There are train stops located in both Encinitas & Solana Beach, which is good for sporting events as Chargers / Padres games exit points.
Via de la Valle runs perpendicular, becoming a main bisecting thoroughfare to Escondido by Del Dios Highway if needed, and Jimmy Durante Blvd encircling Jimmy O’s bar / L’Auberge hotel, back again to Belly Up Tavern along South Cedros Avenue.
My next favorite settling spot is downtown San Diego, including the airport along North Harbor Drive. If driving from the north heading south down the 5, exit along the airport off ramp making certain to turn right onto Laurel Street before heading downtown to check the timer queue (it’ll pop-up as you get closer to terminal #1). If longer than 10 – 15 minutes, bail on waiting and U-turn at Harbor Island back towards downtown.
Exit onto Market Street heading east/west across avenues but do not head north up 5th (near the convention center & Petco Park stadium) as you’ll get caught in traffic. Use 1st and 6th as natural borders to navigate city center, and make passengers walk towards you! There’s a parking lot outside OMNIA nightclub off Island Ave that can be used as a great staging area for pickups, with quick exiting available towards 1st reaching the 5 north & south. Remember: bike cops, red curbs, fire hydrants, blocking traffic will all result in citations (Uber/Lyft will not reimburse you) so don’t hesitate to cancel trip request if located between 4th / 5th Ave below West Broadway. 11th Ave also sneaks you straight up to the 163 north with minimal traffic leading to my final destination.
University Avenue / El Cajon Blvd between the 5 and 805 boasts party central including the neighborhoods of Mission Hills, University Heights, Hillcrest, and North Park. Running perpendicular to the 8 split down the middle by Texas Street (which conveniently connects east towards SDSU). Patrons prefer Lyft over Uber, tip well beyond the norm, and favor 30th Street (by way of Upas Street to Pershing Drive) through the park to downtown. As a side note, University Avenue can be driven east all the way to La Mesa if needed.
Notable mention (as many of you probably are confusingly shaking your heads) is Pacific Beach (PB) / La Jolla – but why? They act as a desolate peninsula surrounded by Mission Bay to the south and a prohibitive La Jolla Parkway artery on the north end. You’re probably thinking, what about Garnett / Grand Ave exit along the 5 off Mission Bay Drive? They drive directly into the densely populated heart of PB connecting Ingraham Street to Point Loma / Ocean Beach and Mission Blvd with La Jolla. I avoid both because they produce the highest number of minimum fare requests I’ve encountered across San Diego. Even after Uber/Lyft raised the net earnings on minimum fares from $2.40 to $3.20 (thanks for a whole 33% increase!) to quell dissent, I’m still not wasting my time.
If you’re pretty close to achieving a weekly power driver promo based on number of rides given then dive into PB and enjoy the shenanigans of potential pukers, unwarranted crying fits from both sexes, and almost hitting everyone running wildly across the streets. La Jolla begets a calmer crowd, but is too far from highways to justify originating pickups. It does help that UCSD borders it along Torrey Pines Road, but students will probably be heading either to PB or downtown regardless, and Genesee Ave connects directly to La Jolla Village Drive east toward the Westfield mall in UTC.
As you may have extrapolated from this article, experience trumps knowledge, and it’s best to learn as you go. San Diego is a relaxed city as reflected by its inhabitant’s demeanor, so find what’s comfortable for you individually and stick with it. Being a rideshare driver is immediate trial by fire, and if your rating dips below 4.5 stars after 100 rides then this probably isn’t for you.
Be courteous, open doors for people if possible, really listen when you can sense a need, tell anecdotal jokes, practice patience & tolerance, and exude good vibes that will translate to better moods inside your vehicle. Anyone can get behind the wheel, as the barrier to entry is almost nonexistent, but don’t forget you’re running a business and treat your time as such. Strive to drive smarter, not harder!
Readers, what do you think of this strategy and do you have a similar strategy in your city?
-Bill @ RSG
Read next: Essential gear for rideshare drivers
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Latest posts by Bill Tesauro (see all)
- How Much Can a Full-Time Rideshare Driver Make in Las Vegas? - September 5, 2016
- An Airport Guide For Uber and Lyft Drivers - August 12, 2016
- How to Make $28/Hour as an Uber Driver in San Diego - July 27, 2016