The Woes of a Full Time TNC Driver

Today, I’m sharing a guest post from reader Chris Bonham, an Uber and Lyft driver out of Colorado.  Chris can often be seen around the blog or on the RSG Facebook page leaving very insightful and detailed comments.  I’ve always been a part-time driver and because of that, I’m constantly trying to talk to full-time drivers and get their take on things.

It has been said again and again that rideshare driving is best utilized as a part time gig to go in conjunction with a regular full-time job. On that, I agree. It does work great for many, many drivers out there across the country. But, on the back side of that, there are plenty of drivers out there who are forced to rely on rideshare driving as their sole source of income. The biggest question is why do they do this?

For many of us, it boils down to one simple fact: jobs these days are hard to come by. Yes, there have been some gains made in the job market. I don’t think anyone would debate that. That job growth though has been primarily in retail and in fast food – both of which are notorious for paying as close to minimum wage as possible, and tend to offer little in the way for benefits and a good working environment.

As a whole though, jobs continue to disappear in virtually every part of the country. In Michigan and much of the Midwest, it’s the automotive industry. In California and much of the Pacific Northwest, it’s both the military and the high-tech industry, or what some would call “Silicon Valley”. On the East Coast, again, same thing – military, tech, finance and manufacturing. Same goes for the south. Anywhere you look, it is bad out there for most people seeking employment. Thus, as a result of these difficult times, more and more people out there are turning to freelance work or independent contract work.

Obviously, one of the key reasons many out there take up independent contracting work for companies such as Uber and Lyft is because they need the money. Many who do engage in something, especially rideshare driving, are fortunate enough to have such a job, where to them, the income gained from driving for Uber or Lyft serves as a smaller, secondary source of income.

And as The Rideshare Guy has said over and over, rideshare driving works best as a second job. But what of those living in smaller cities who are either underemployed or have no other real options available to them for employment? Particularly people who reside in areas such as Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh or any other numerous locales throughout the United States? What real options do they have other than to try and pursue independent contractor positions with the hope that it will be enough to pay the bills on time?

It’s very obvious that we as drivers have seen a lot unfold these past 12 or so months. We witnessed the price wars rage between the big two players in the rideshare industry, and how they repeatedly gouged prices as part of a campaign to undercut one another and emerge as the victor in that battle.

As a result, for many involved with rideshare driving, these tactics have placed a lot of them in who may be in a precarious financial situation into an even deeper hole, so to speak. With fares in some areas of the country being as low as almost 90 cents a mile, the absolute minimum a driver may make off of the most short rides can be as low as $4 (or $2.40 after Uber’s cut). Compare that to the cost of gas per gallon in most US cities right now, the cost of auto repairs the continued increases to the cost of living nationwide, and you begin to see a problem.

And it’s not exactly like anyone is trying to obtain employment status from Uber or Lyft, despite the recent court cases seen in California, or even recent state rulings that awarded unemployment to one former Uber driver in Florida, or even making another an employee as we saw in California recently.

Almost everyone is in agreement that one of the greatest benefits to being an independent contractor, and especially a rideshare driver, is the freedom one gets with the ability to pick and choose your own hours, something of which you do not really get with a traditional W-2 job. The biggest problem is that for many engaged in rideshare driving out across the country is that a lot of us live in difficult job markets where the bulk of the opportunities we have consist more and more of part-time retail or fast food jobs that barely pay minimum wage compared to the rising cost of rent nationwide, or even the cost of groceries.

That is partially why so many drivers were angered over the price cuts enacted by both Lyft and Uber last year, and still remain angered even today – the cost of living compared to what most TNC drivers make these days is sky high. Up until last summer, it really was possible to do okay with rideshare driving, especially if you were a person engaging in it full time. These days? Not so much.

At the end of this, the final question is what can we drivers do, especially for those who live in smaller markets where usage of both companies’ services is very limited in scope, and rates continue to remain at a level where it is financially harmful to drive for either company. There are a few options I can suggest.

The first is this: if you happen to have a side business venture of your own that you are working on growing, whether it involves financial services, crafts or something else along those lines, take advantage of the time you spend driving, provided you are able to do so with your specific clientele, and market your business to them! Hand out flyers, business cards, or whatever you feel works best for you.

The second suggestion may seem obvious, but it may very well work depending on what city you live in and the local climate, at least with regards to levels of wealth: try driving in wealthier areas. It may be a little slower, but as a rule, wealthy individuals tend to have nothing but unlimited time and money on their hands, and they would be willing to pay a decent amount to be chauffeured around for several hours between different errands by a Lyft or Uber driver. Again, this may not work in all areas, but it is worth a try.

Third: if there’s a larger market for Lyft, Uber or Sidecar near the smaller market you live in, try switching it up and driving in that area for a while. I did so for the Denver area a few times, and it was very profitable, at least until the market became so oversaturated with other drivers that the drive up there alone wasn’t worth it to me. Either way, if it is something you are capable of doing, then by all means do it.

Fourth and final suggestion: if none of the other ideas listed above work to help increase your level of income, especially if you are a rideshare driver, and none of the above are possible where you live, it boils down to what I will call the last resort: drivers putting pressure on Lyft and Uber to raise up rates. I feel that if enough people speak up, then perhaps both companies would stop and listen to us as drivers. It is a tactic that has worked before in the past, and there is nothing stopping us from doing the same.

Bio: Christopher is a TNC driver from Colorado Springs, Colorado. He started in July of 2014, and has been cruising the roads ever since. In his free time, he is found cosplaying, in museums or perfecting his cooking. He also is a haunted house enthusiast, having worked in the haunted house industry every Halloween season for nearly five years.

Drivers, what do you think about what it’s like these days to be a full time driver?