Uber Driver’s Guide to San Francisco

It’s probably no secret that traffic in San Francisco gets crazy, so Uber drivers in San Fran must plan accordingly. While Uber drivers’ income in San Francisco is nowhere near what they were pre-pandemic, you can still make good money if you plan your shifts right.

Here’s everything I do and use to make my Uber earnings as high as possible in San Francisco.

Driving for Uber in San Francisco

San Francisco is a cosmopolitan city with 46 hills, making it one of the most beautiful U.S. cities and one of the toughest to navigate.

San Francisco is an ideal place for rideshare drivers because it has the largest number of vehicles per capita (pre-pandemic) with limited parking opportunities, making rideshare necessary.

Tourism is a significant industry in San Francisco, ranking 12th in the country. However, it has suffered somewhat since the pandemic, falling from 2nd to 12th place in the number of convention visitors and losing many high-tech workers to less expensive areas of the country because they could work remotely. This has caused the downtown area to suffer tremendously.

However, post-pandemic, we’ve seen a slow but steady increase in traffic, reaching similar levels of gridlock traffic that we saw before the pandemic during rush hour.

Because of the increasing traffic, it’s important to understand the top strategies for Uber drivers in San Francisco to make the most of your time driving for Uber.

To become a driver in San Francisco, you must meet basic driver requirements, including:

  • Be at least the minimum driving age in your city
  • Have at least one year of driving experience (three years if under 25 years old).
  • Provide proof of your driver’s license and vehicle insurance.

In addition, your vehicle must meet the following:

  • Be no older than 16 years old
  • Have four doors
  • Have no cosmetic damage
  • Have no commercial branding

San Francisco Uber Driver Tips & Strategies

Here are my tried-and-true strategies for driving for Uber in San Francisco.

1. Watch GPS Directions

GPS directions in San Francisco usually account for the shortest route, but don’t consider the wear and tear on your car.

Get to know the best routes to avoid stress on your vehicle since it’s your ‘office’ and how you make money. You won’t make decent hourly pay if your expenses are too high.

2. Value Your Time Over Distance

Since San Francisco is only 49 square miles, you probably won’t drive very long distances when driving for Uber.

However, if you take the wrong route, you could be stuck in gridlock traffic and reduce your per-hour rate. Focus on the shortest times versus distance to maximize your earnings.

3. Choose Your Locations Carefully

Because you’ll spend a lot of time in traffic, choose your trip requests wisely.

For example, don’t accept a trip that you know won’t result in a trip back, leaving you with an empty car for the time it takes to get back to the ‘busy area,’ especially during rush hour.

4. Be Prepared for Competition

The impending recession and current high inflation rates have coerced many more people to pick up driving for Uber in San Francisco. So what used to be areas I could essentially ‘dominate’ have now become cutthroat.

Learn to position yourself closest to the busy areas and keep your ratings high to have the best chance at securing rides.

5. Get To Know San Francisco Neighborhoods

Only experienced San Franciscans know all the neighborhoods in San Francisco.

There are some hidden gems that inexperienced drivers don’t know about, especially areas with tall residential buildings that are great opportunities for experienced drivers like me.

6. Only Leave San Francisco Sporadically

Because it takes so much time to get to and from San Francisco on the freeway, it usually doesn’t make sense to do so as an Uber driver.

Unless you have a high-paying trip and know it’s during a time when the freeway is empty (which is rare), it’s likely not worth it.

7. Get Diamond Status

Rides to and from the San Francisco airport are the crux of most Uber drivers’ income, especially in San Francisco. If you are a Diamond driver, you get priority requests in the Uber queue after dropping off your riders.

However, consider limiting the hours you go to the airport. Currently, I only go before 5:30 AM and after 10:30 PM; otherwise, there are too many drivers in the lot, and rideshare drivers just get turned away.

uber driver in san Francisco diamond status

San Francisco Uber Driver Hotspots

Knowing the Uber driver hotspots in San Francisco is key to maximizing your earnings.

  • Fisherman’s Wharf
  • North Beach – San Francisco’s Little Italy
  • Chinatown – Stockton Tunnel, Union Square
  • Theater District – Large number of hotels
  • Market Street – San Franciscos’ Main Street, Ghiradelli Shopping Center, cable cars start and stop here.
  • Moscone Convention Center – Yerba Buena Gardens, Modern Art Museum, Oracle Baseball Park

Van Ness separates the downtown area from the western neighborhoods. It also links the freeways coming from the south via Hwy 101 or the Bay Bridge from the east.

This is where you’ll find the Civic Center, City Hall, the War Memorial Building, Opera House, and the SF Symphony Building.

  • Castro District – Historical, cultural area great for tourism or people-watching
  • Twin Peaks – The highest point in the city
  • Marina District – Fort Mason, Crissy Field, Golden Gate Bridge
  • Chestnut Street – One of the Busiest Walking Shopping Areas in SF
  • Japan Town – Shopping, restaurants, and Saint Mary’s Cathedral
  • Golden Gate Park – Ocean Beach, San Francisco Zoo, Presidio Blvd
  • Golden Gate National Recreation Area – Baker Beach
  • Presidio Trust – an Area with a lot of history, including where the Spanish Army settled
  • SFO – Limit your times to very early in the morning or late at night

Best Times To Drive for Uber in San Francisco

No matter where you drive, knowing the best times to drive for Uber in San Francisco will make you the most money and make the best use of your time.

It’s best to split your shifts between early morning and nighttime, taking a break at lunchtime, as there aren’t as many rides during the day.

To make the most money driving for Uber, consider these shifts.

  • Early Morning Airport Shifts: Taking the 3 AM reservations for departing passengers is a great way to get premium pay. After dropping them off, you can pick up arrivals. Continue the loop until the Uber parking lot fills up and your wait times increase beyond what’s profitable. If you provide airport riders with great customer service, they will most likely tip the best. Load and unload their luggage and provide little extras to make them feel special.
  • Morning Rush Hour Shifts: Consider the morning commute from the outer neighborhoods toward downtown. Surge pricing usually happens around 8 AM, so ensure you’re active by then.
  • Afternoon Rush Hour Shifts (With Caution): Afternoon rush hour shifts are the opposite of the morning shifts, taking most passengers from downtown to the outer neighborhoods. The downside is when there is surge pricing. It means the traffic going downtown is in complete gridlock and may not be worth your time.
  • Weekends: Weekends can be busier for Uber drivers, but the freeways can be just as busy as during weekday rush hour, so be careful. You’ll have the best luck with less traffic on foggy days versus sunny days when everyone is out.
  • Late Night Weekends: If you have a high tolerance for drunk passengers, you can make good money driving late at night when the bars and dance venues close. Only consider this if you have leather seats and concave-shaped rubber mats. Also, keep ziplock bags in front of passengers and have disinfecting tools on hand.

How Much Do Uber Drivers Make in San Francisco?

Average Uber earnings have slowed in recent years, post-pandemic, thanks to high inflation rates and a surge of drivers. What used to be considered the ‘Golden Era,’ with drivers coming all the way from LA to drive in San Francisco, has dried up considerably.

Because the cost of living in San Francisco has increased so much, an experienced driver like myself is lucky to make $35 an hour, but that’s only if I take the 3 AM airport rides and get continual rides to and from the airport until around 6 AM.

However, I will say if you’re unbothered by drunk people, you can make considerably more if you take the late-night ‘drunk passengers’ shift.

uber driver pay in san francisco
Uber Driver Pay in San Francisco

Alternatives To Driving for Uber in San Francisco

Like most major cities, there are other gig alternatives in San Francisco, including:

Is Driving for Uber in San Francisco Worth It?

Like any other gig app, driving for Uber in San Francisco has ups and downs. If you’re an early bird or night owl, you may have a better chance of maximizing your earnings. If not, choose your routes wisely and watch out for traffic.