There’s no denying the facts: UberX and Lyft markets are getting saturated with drivers, rates have been cut and it’s not quite as lucrative as it once was. Don’t get me wrong, I think there is still a ton of opportunity for drivers but you have to drive smarter than ever these days. Since I’m a part time driver, I can still make very good money cherry-picking the best hours (think Friday/Saturday nights, holidays, etc) but there are a lot of people who might not have that luxury. That’s one of the reasons why I’m happy to have The Black Car Guy back today to talk about the nuts and bolts about how he got signed up to drive for Uber Black/SUV. A lot of you had questions after his first article so we wanted to shed some light on that process.
Hi, it’s the Black Car Guy again. In my first article for The Ridehare Guy, I talked about the great month I had in October, earning just about $10k after commissions, after only 6 months as a Black Car driver for Uber. As might be expected, a lot of you wanted to know more about how a driver would go about getting into this line of work and making this amount of money.
This week, I’ll dig a little deeper into the details of what’s required to drive Uber Black/SUV and what the steps are for anyone wanting to take their game to the next level.
Related Article: From Low Paid Cab Driver to $10,000 A Month Uber Driver
Experience Goes A Long Way
By the time I picked up my Black Car, I had already been a driver with all three of the big rideshare companies for anywhere from 4 months to 2 years, depending on the platform.
What this meant for me was that I was highly experienced in my market. Nobody knows every little alley in a major metropolis by heart, but if you want to be considered a pro then you don’t use maps to find, say, the top 20 landmarks and hotels in a city – you have to know them by heart. You don’t guess at which major streets are one way, or which way they run, and you drive with confidence and precision.
You also have to have some pretty decent customer service skills. You have to know how to turn on the charm, handle people who are drunk and pick up and drop off your passengers safely. A little tip: Always, always, always watch out for bikes when your passengers exit, and warn them to look out too. You could save yourself and your passenger a big lawsuit that way.
Along the way, you also have to learn how to avoid parking and moving violations, and to use your technology efficiently without letting it distract you from the road.
How The Rate Cuts Hampered My Driving Style
A word about the rate cuts on UberX and Lyft – which were my primary motivation for making the switch. They started out in earnest at the beginning of 2014, January I think it was. They always followed a predictable pattern. The companies would cut rates, but drivers wouldn’t feel it at first, because the companies would also cut their own commissions – for a time that would be left unspecified.
When they started doing this in early 2014, I could see the writing on the wall. I knew that the price slashing would be permanent but that the commissions were coming back. I knew it was only a matter of time before the $1000 – $1500 a week I was making would soon be $500 – $700, and I didn’t want to see that happen to me.
I had already gotten livery insurance, my state limo license and the airport permit back in the late summer of ’13, because I didn’t want to play cat and mouse at the airport, and I was doing a lot of business down there. So I knew it was time to step up my game and go Black.
I liked driving and I wanted to make that proverbial 2 grand a week all the black car drivers were always talking about. What I didn’t know was if the rate cuts would follow into Black / SUV. I didn’t think they would.
A Quick History Lesson
Here’s why. From the outset, Lyft was a company that Uber had to fight back against. They developed UberX to do just that. Remember, Uber paved the way for rideshare apps by starting off as a Black Car only company in San Francisco.
Using only licensed, insured and permitted cars, they began to revolutionize dispatch. Lyft and Sidecar saw an opportunity to bring what Uber was doing to the masses. By calling it “rideshare” and spinning it so that it was a “community service”, with “voluntary donations” they could take what Uber had started and use non professional drivers to grow another side of the business – the cheap alternative.
Sure there would be legal challenges. But this was San Francisco, it was 2012 and the economy was in a huge uptick. Thousands of new jobs in tech were being created and all those techies needed a way to get to work and to the bars and home after.
Mayor Ed Lee was beholden to the tech industry, having basically been put into office by one of the leading technology investors of our time. From day one, his word to the SF Police Department was “Hands off the rideshare companies!”. The time was right, the place was right. Lyft and Sidecar took a deep breath, gathered together a few million in venture capital and made their move.
Uber Wants A Piece
Uber Black was taking off but they still wanted a piece of the action that Lyft and Sidecar were getting. From the get go, Lyft and Sidecar undercut Uber, and people loved them. It was yet another trick they could do on their phone, the drivers were friendly, the cars were clean and it was much cheaper than Uber Black. The whole industry was fueled by the revulsion people felt for taxicabs, for reasons too numerous to go into right now.
Sidecar actually started before Lyft but a series of missteps had them stubbing their toe right from the start. They couldn’t get the app right and their marketing was very weak.
Lyft, on the other hand, had pretty slick technology and the pink mustache, even though it was goofy – or perhaps simply because of it’s goofiness – was a marketing stroke of genius. Once Lyft started and it began to grow, it became clear who the real contender to Uber would be.
Uber Strikes Back With UberX
Suddenly pink mustaches were everywhere, and Lyft was clearly gunning for Uber’s market share of these new app slinging, cab hating early adopters. Uber’s Black business began to suffer from it. But rather than watch a big chunk of his business evaporate, Travis launched UberX, to stop the bleeding, fight back and protect his Black Car business.
Related Article: Do You Make More Money Driving For Lyft or Uber?
Lyft, in striking first and going head to head with Uber, sewed the seeds of a nasty rivalry that sometimes seems comically fierce. Ever since Lyft’s first shot across the bow, Kalanick and Co. have fought back against Lyft with a venom that would be worthy of the Hatfields and the McCoys. First to market, Uber had the infrastructure and the chops to quickly grow UberX into a force to be reckoned with.
Black & SUV Are Uber’s Babies
Black/SUV is Uber’s flagship product, and they work hard to keep the standards high, both through higher ratings requirements for drivers and through higher standards for their vehicles. Requiring them to be newer, for example.
There are only so many clients that fit the demographic for this product. These clients are highly discerning and are expecting premium service, and they should get it, considering the prices they are paying. Jamming down prices will not help these clients to be well taken care of. Drivers have made that clear. The market for Black has already been flooded with cars for a while. After all it’s the oldest and most established product Uber sells.
Adding too many more cars and lowering prices in Black would only antagonize the providers of Uber Black Car Service and that service would then suffer. One can almost always get a Black car within 5 minutes in major metro areas around the country.
I don’t believe now and I didn’t believe then that Uber wants to cave prices for Black/SUV. UberX is the cheap, mass market alternative that is there to compete with their arch nemesis, Lyft, and keep them at bay. It would only stand to reason that they would hold up prices for their premium brand. At least that was my thinking then. And it remains my thinking today.
Back To Me
Back to my situation though. Once I convinced myself that Uber would not collapse Black prices, I needed a car. But first I needed to know that I could get into the Black/SUV club.
I contacted my rep at Uber, and he told me that Black was closed, but that SUV was open. He also said that SUV took Black calls. So if I picked up an SUV on Uber’s Acceptable Vehicles List, I’d be able to service both sets of requests. Good enough.
Related Article: What’s The Best Way To Get Customer Service From Uber?
I did a lot of online shopping, and made my decision. Marched down to the dealer, and drove away with my vehicle. Good thing for me I always protected my credit, no matter how tough times had been. And they have been ultra tough at times. But with 1% financing on a commercial loan and a 30% deposit, a lot of which I had made driving UberX at the airport, I was ready to ramble.
Is The Black/SUV Market Still Open To New Drivers?
Recently, Uber has announced in my market that SUV is now closed. But if the past is any indication, they’ll be opening it up periodically as the need arises so partners can add cars. Other markets in other states and cities will likely be different. Check with your local rep.
The way I got my state limo license was fairly straightforward – I asked a black car driver how to do it and here’s what he told me:
- Get the car. Find out which programs are open now and get a hold of Uber’s acceptable vehicle list to see which one you want to buy. Then buy it. If you need a loan, you’ll likely need to get your car at an established dealer since they are the only ones who can get commercial loans for you. You need a commercial loan in order to get livery insurance. That’s important, really important. Don’t forget that step.
- The newer the car the better, in my opinion, since Uber will phase out vehicles on Black by age quicker than they will on X. Plus, you don’t want to buy someone else’s problems.
- As soon as you have your car, get Livery insurance for your car. In many cases, including mine, the insurance agent who sells you the insurance can do the filing for the state Livery license. This isn’t a drivers license, it’s more of a business license to operate a vehicle for hire in your jurisdiction.
- Once you have your Livery license, apply for your airport permit. You may have to take a class at the airport, and put together a large application packet.
- Depending on the airport, you’ll need to be patient because there may be a waiting period of a few weeks to a few months.
- Then when you have all three; the livery insurance, the livery license and the airport permit, you can apply with Uber Black/SUV, if they are still accepting new cars in your market and assuming you bought an acceptable car. You’re probably already on UberX so you’ve already been background checked and your driving record is ok.
Very straightforward, but there are a few sub-steps that can take a little time. For example, the livery license in my state requires drug testing, fingerprinting, a couple of trips to the DMV to get commercial plates and then turn them back in for livery plates, things like that.
The whole process takes a few months. It’s time consuming and there is a fair amount of red tape and bureaucrats to deal with. Sometimes you get good civil servants, more often you get folks who are responsible for the saying, “Good enough for government work”.
Save Up Some Money
You also need money. Livery insurance is expensive. So is the license, as is the airport permit deposit. The government has their hand out at every turn, so you kind of have to have a greater vision that all of this investment is going to pay off. Me, once I knew what I wanted, I charged ahead. I am glad I did it, of course, but at times you kind of wonder what the hell you are getting yourself into.
Final Approval From Uber
Anyway, these are the basics. Once I had everything, Uber was only too happy to activate me. I try my best to be a top driver, and make good money, and I do feel that it was all worth it in the end. I like what I do, and I do it well with pride. I own my own business, I make a good living, and I call my own shots. As long as I take care of the customers, things go smoothly.
My Private Client Business
In addition, I have developed a private client business that is taking off as well, and of course, 100% of that revenue is mine. So there’s that side to look forward to as well. Uber doesn’t really book charters, wine tours, etc. so that is the business I go after. I built a website, took out Google and Yahoo listings, tell friends, and let it be known on social media what the deal is with my company.
And there are plenty of people out there who want to book their airport rides with a known individual, not hail on an app, especially for early morning pickups in outlying suburbs. So there’s plenty of other opportunity for you once you have your nice ride. Also, don’t forget, if things are really slow, you can turn on Lyft or Sidecar and make some extra pocket change.
I don’t solicit my Uber clients for private business. To my mind, that’s a huge conflict of interest that can only have a negative impact. There are plenty of ways to get the word out without trying to bite the hand that feeds me. Food for thought.
In future articles, I will go into the tactics and strategies I use to ring the register and help these investments to pay off. For now, I hope you can use these nuts and bolts to put together a plan of action going forward if being a Black Car driver is something you’d like to take on.
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The Black Car Guy