In this guest post, we bring on long-time RSG commenter Sergio Avedian to tell us about how he schedules his day driving in Los Angeles. If you caught my podcast episode with Sergio here, you’ll learn he only drives during surge and still brings in $30/hr. Learn more about his strategies below.
If you’re interested in learning more from Sergio, head over to our Rideshare Coaching page.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost probably did not intend for that sentence to be a tutorial for a rideshare driver, but at some point we all get to that divergence in the road.
Everyone metaphorically takes a look at both paths, then consciously or unconsciously decides. The decisions we make on a daily basis is crucial to having success as a rideshare driver in Los Angeles. I made the decision of becoming a surge only/mostly driver pretty early on.
I figured Uber and Lyft will be in a race to the bottom to exponentially grow their top line, which they have done over the past few years at the expense of their so-called “partners”. A good analogy would be selling a $5 burger for $1, and they’re still at it after losing billions of dollars each year since their inception.
Unfortunately, as we all found out, rate cuts came fast and furious. Recently, the per mile in Los Angeles were slashed by 25% to 60 cents a mile (a penny or two above the allowed IRS deduction) resulting in overall gross earnings decline of 15-20% for drivers. Where’s the proverbial bottom? No one knows, but catching a falling knife is always dangerous.
But there’s some good news. The difference between gross earnings of $15 per app-on hour vs. $30 comes down to a handful of strategic decisions which I make every day I decide to drive. Driving for Uber or Lyft is not rocket science, however planning your day before accepting the first ride and executing that plan is crucial to your success.
I will share some of the strategies I deploy on a typical day. Find a mentor, learn from them. I have had several veterans teach me the tricks of the trade, I am very grateful. “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Interested in rideshare coaching? RSG now offers rideshare coaching with top drivers like Sergio and Jay.
The Lessons I Learned
Driving for Uber or Lyft is not a 9-5 job, you must drive when and where there is demand.
If you’re buying the flexibility story Uber and Lyft are selling, then I have a bridge to sell you on Mars as well. Alex Rosenblat’s quote in her fantastic book Uberland comes to mind, “the autonomy to choose which fourteen of the twenty-four hours in a day to work does not create the sense of freedom implied by the flexibility rhetoric of Uber”.
You must take advantage of the morning rush hour surge by selecting rides that are profitable. If you’re a full time driver, splitting shifts is highly recommended. You must drive for both platforms and preferably own two phones. Do not pay any attention to Uber and Lyft utilization stories. It is my car, my fuel, I will decide how to utilize those assets. It is clearly proven to be a wrong assumption by Uber and Lyft that the busier you are the more you will make.
Treat driving for Uber & Lyft like it’s your small business. Run a tight ship, don’t be a modern day digital slave. Yes, algorithms are very powerful but I still believe in the ingenuity and adaptability of the human brain.
Beginning The Day
Since I don’t live in the core of Los Angeles and I hate dead miles, I have to get to where the morning rush hour surge will be before 7 AM. That area is basically from West Hollywood in the north, Santa Monica in the west, Inglewood in the south and Downtown in the east. If I can position myself in that zone, I feel like I can execute my driving plan flawlessly and still achieve $30 per app-on hour even with 60 cents a mile and 21 cents a minute rates.
Starting my day with a 30 mile ride to LAX on Lyft is my preference. There is a steady pipeline of business travelers going from the San Fernando Valley to LAX. They like the service I provide, my clean spacious car and my driving style. Starting the day with a $30-40 ride and ending up in the core of Los Angeles is priceless. This is where scheduled rides on Lyft can help out big time.
To Stay or Not to Stay (At the Airport)
As a new driver, dropping off at LAX or picking up could be a daunting task, but if you know what you’re doing, rides going in and out of LAX could make or break your week. Since I know what the surge patterns in the city are, I rarely take a rematch at LAX unless of course it is surging.
Uber and Lyft’s airport queue system is set up for higher class cars jumping in front of the X and Lyft category. If you don’t have any tricks up your sleeve, you will be stuck with a base ride in rush hour traffic. Every driver I talk to has complained about being in queue when LAX is surging, but by the time they get a ping, the surge has disappeared. There are various reasons for that, maybe I’ll explain it all on my next guest post.
After dropping off at LAX, I take a break and grab a coffee since the surge in the areas mentioned above does not heat up until 6:30-7 AM.
Related article: 31 ways to make more money driving for Uber and Lyft
Knowing Surge Patterns
Unlike most drivers believe, surge is not a mythical creature. It repeats itself day in and day out. It is predictable and it is like a tornado, definitely don’t chase it but let it come to you. It also comes in waves, and if you happen to miss one, just take a break, don’t lose your position, there will be another one showing up shortly. Patience is a virtue, you must exercise patience if you want to do mostly surge rides. Accept only the rides you want to do, not what Uber or Lyft throws your way.
I always have believed in quality instead of quantity. I’d rather do 30 rides for $500 than 60 rides chasing lousy quests. My acceptance rate has always hovered around 25%. Be picky! You must also allow for the surge to build.
Destination Filters (Burn Them All)
Most drivers use their destination filters to go home at the end of the shift. I use them to position myself in the city to take advantage of the morning and afternoon rush hour surge.
If I am doing a split shift, which is rare these days, I will literally burn half of them during the morning shift and the rest in the afternoon. I will burn them all, why go home with any? You’ll have eight more the next day (2 on Uber and 6 on Lyft).
Results (April 2018 & April 2019)
I used to be a full time driver with amazing results, peaking at over $50 per app-on hour on a weekly basis. After all the vicious cuts, I drive a very selective part-time schedule. It is shameful that Uber and Lyft created billions of dollars of wealth for the VC and their executives on the backs of their drivers while they still contemplate how to squeeze more blood out of the rock.
Unfortunately, I see more cuts in the near future, maybe not on miles and minutes but lowering quests as well as consecutive streaks. Surge in some pockets is the only saving grace but as Lyft has proven with PPZ (Personal Power Zones), stupid is as stupid does.
Pictures are worth a thousand words. My earnings from April 2018 (on the left) and my earnings from April 2019 (on the right). This is the best I can do at 60 cents a mile and 21 cents a minute, still respectable.
Sergio has been driving Uber and Lyft for about three years. He has over 4500 rides on both platforms, mostly on Uber. Sergio has a degree in finance, and worked on Wall St. for over eighteen years. In his free time, he still trades stocks and derivatives for himself and a few friends. He is also a PGA certified golf instructor, teaching golf is his passion. Sergio is married with two wonderful kids who take the rest of his afternoons/weekends between their soccer practices and golf tournaments.
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Readers, do you have any questions for Sergio on how he drives surge-only or about how he sets up his day for rideshare driving? Ask below in the comments.