We Interviewed 40 Uber and Lyft Drivers – You Might Be Shocked By What They Said

Here at The Rideshare Guy, we enjoy hearing from drivers about what driving is like in their city, their tips and strategies for working smarter, not harder, and the things they struggle with. However, there’s nothing like speaking with drivers face to face to really get a good perspective on the driving experience. RSG contributor Sergio Avedian went out to speak with drivers in the wild and shares some of the shocking things he learned.

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For the longest time, I have wanted to go out and interview UberX and Lyft drivers off the streets. While Harry has interviewed thousands of drivers via anonymous surveys and compiled his findings in the 2018 Uber and Lyft Survey Results, I wanted to speak to drivers face to face and see what they had to say about Uber and Lyft.

Now obviously this study of drivers was by no means scientific and some of the findings even conflict with our survey results but I think it was enlightening to hear from real drivers. So recently, I visited the Lyft and Uber holding lots of the Los Angeles Airport (LAX). There, I interviewed drivers (primarily UberX drivers) and what I found was surprising! A summary of their responses, and my takeaways, are below.

How Long Have You Been a Rideshare Driver?

Out of the sample group of 40 drivers, this is the breakdown:

  • 3 drivers with 3 years or more experience (2 Uber, 1 Lyft)
  • 25 drivers with less than one year of driving experience (10 Uber and 15 Lyft)

The rest of the drivers had anywhere between one and two years of driving history with Uber/Lyft.

The answers I heard from the veterans (2-3 years of driving) were drastically different than the newbies. There was also a vast difference in acceptance and cancellation rates, and gross earnings per app on hour among these groups.

As with any gig, there’s a steep learning curve as a rideshare driver. The veteran drivers had a better grasp of the rideshare industry in general but they also had different strategies to deploy when one stopped working due to changes in the Uber and Lyft’s algorithm. They definitely knew the zones to be in to take advantage of the surge. Most were surge mostly/only drivers but the main difference was the level of patience they displayed during a full shift. They just had a more thoughtful daily driving plan and they tried to implement it.

Do You Drive for Both Platforms? If Not, Why Not?

This was a surprise to me, with 16 out of 20 Lyft drivers in the LAX holding lot driving only for Lyft while 14 out of 20 Uber drivers in the primary holding lot driving for both platforms.

When I asked the Lyft only drivers why they chose to do so, they said that Lyft was a better and more trustworthy company to drive for. They had heard better things about Lyft in the media before signing up. When I informed them that if they signed up with both outfits they may increase their weekly income, most Lyft-only drivers were hesitant.

Most Uber drivers drove basically for Uber about 90% of the time but they kept their Lyft app on and used it mostly for the six destination filters (RIP, it’s now two) it offers. They said that since Lyft eliminated Prime Time (PT) and replaced it with Personal Power Zones (PPZ), their ride counts shrank drastically on the Lyft platform.

Do You Know About The Rideshare Guy or Follow Other Forums for Drivers?

Sorry, Harry, only 4 out of the 40 drivers had heard about RSG, but I made sure to put a good word in for the blog as I handed them my cards. A handful of drivers were members of various Facebook and Reddit groups, however they were not interested in visiting these sites other than while waiting for rides in the LAX queue or during downtimes.

This is not a surprise, there’s a lot of information out there but most drivers seem content to do things on their own or may not be aware that there are resources like The RSG out there. In the end, many of them find reading additional information on Uber/Lyft not worth it since Uber/Lyft control what they earn anyway.

Are You a Full-Time or Part-Time Driver? How Many Rides a Week Do You Do?

Only 6 out of 40 drivers (15%) I interviewed were full time drivers, 4 for Uber and 2 for Lyft. They said they are on the road for 40-50 hours on average a week or more. Full time drivers managed to do 90-120 rides a week, and those numbers may have something to do with their car rentals by Hertz or Uber’s rental car program, Fair. The rest of the group, part timers (85%) averaged anywhere between 20-30 app on hours a week.

Most of the part time drivers ended up giving 40-50 rides a week. One of the full time drivers was what I consider a veteran (more than three years), the other five were new drivers of less than six months. A majority of the part time drivers had full time jobs, they were supplementing their income by mostly driving on the weekends.

There were multiple teachers in this group, understandable since schools are out, a couple of real estate agents, a handful of college kids, a few retirees, a hair stylist ready to pass her out business cards and a couple of former cabbies.

Do You Have a Strategy When You Drive? If So, What is it?

To my disappointment, about 85%-90% of the 40 drivers I interviewed, regardless of FT or PT status or driving experience, declared they were happy to turn their app on and start driving. Only a couple of veteran Uber drivers had a plan to start their day, such as deploying their destination filters for early LAX runs hoping for a rematch, which still isn’t the best strategy, but at least they had a plan.

The rest of the drivers for Uber or Lyft were just out there to drive and make some extra cash. I specifically asked all of them if they knew how to position themselves for the early morning rush hour surge rides, all but one said that if they don’t have a passenger in the car they are not making money and they did not pay any attention if the ride had a surge multiplier or not.

Things got more bleak when I asked the drivers regarding the usage of DF (Destination Filters). Eight of the drivers (newbies) didn’t even know what it was or how to deploy them, most had heard of it but didn’t think to use them until they were ready to go home. One Uber driver who knew about RSG and had listened to my podcast episode with Harry on surge-only driving said that he started using some of the strategies discussed on the podcast regarding DF and positioning himself correctly, which resulted in increasing his earnings by $5 an hour.

Overall, the strategy for 85-90% of drivers I interviewed is start their engines, gas the car up and go! Only a handful of drivers knew about Lyft scheduled rides and how to use them to their advantage.

What is Your Acceptance Rate (AR) and Cancellation Rate (CR)?

After the disastrous answers I heard to the previous question, I knew what was about to come my way. Only 3 out of the 40 drivers paid attention to their AR or CR. The two who did were the veteran Uber drivers and one was shockingly a new Lyft driver (he mentioned he had a rideshare driver coach). None of the three saw any value in Uber Pro nor in Lyft’s test of showing direction and duration of the trip at the time of accepting the ride.

The rest of the group were all sporting nearly 100% acceptance rates and less than 2% cancellation rates. When I showed them my personal numbers in the low teens for both platforms, they were not only shocked but started questioning my motive for not accepting rides. There are plenty of reasons not to worry as much about your acceptance and cancellation rates, but basically you should focus on earning more, not accepting every ride and being patient.

Do You Treat Rideshare Driving as a Business? Do You Know How Much You’re Making After Expenses?

All but 8 drivers even knew what I was talking about. 3 of the new drivers and 5 of the veterans said that they kept detailed profit and loss statements for their weekly driving. However, even in that group, most were calculating their cost by multiplying the total miles driven by the government allowed deduction of 58 cents. I guess that is better than not knowing what the difference is between gross or net earnings.

Lack of knowledge and not treating rideshare as their own small business is the drivers’ downfall. I think most drivers are out there with a daily dollar goal in mind and when they reach it, they shut it down and deadmile home.

More than half of each group was kind enough to show me their weekly earnings. Uber veterans by far were the most successful drivers of the bunch, as they averaged $22-24 per app on hour.

Overall, Uber drivers in general were making more than Lyft drivers even with 60 cents a mile and 21 cents a minute rates in Los Angeles. It was nothing to write home about, but the Uber bunch were averaging $17-19 per hour compared to Lyft drivers $15-17. After considering expenses, do the math!

What do you think about Lyft Personal Power Zones (PPZ)? Are you making more or less with it?

Obviously, there were some drivers who did not even know what PPZ was. Granted, it is a relatively new program, but I was surprised by the lack of knowledge of Lyft’s Personal Power Zones. To me, it seemed like many of the drivers I spoke with drove for Uber/Lyft as a hobby.

However, there was not one driver out of 20 Lyft drivers, once I explained Lyft’s PPZ, that had anything positive to say about the new program. The motions ranged from disgust to rage, especially with the veteran Lyft drivers. The veterans knew about Lyft charging the passengers PT (Prime TIme) and paying the drivers a small fraction of it in the form of a small bonus.

I know why Lyft started this program – it is their path to profitability and, after these interviews, I think they will be successful at it. A vast majority of drivers just don’t care enough. If they see a couple of bucks extra as a bonus on their ride receipt, they are happy about it, while Lyft still charges the passengers Prime Time rates.

Would you want to be an employee of Uber or Lyft? What do you know about AB5?

There was not one person out of 40 who wanted to be an employee of Uber or Lyft. 12 of 40 had heard of California Bill AB5, but when asked about the details of the bill, they were mostly unaware that they may be losing some of the flexibility they currently enjoy.

After explaining what the bill entailed and compared their current independent contractor earnings to what they may receive as employees, they mostly had a positive outlook regarding AB5. However, the push back I heard about losing the freedom of when and where to drive was loud and clear.

I think Uber and Lyft were successful in their campaign of convincing the drivers with messages through their app. I think rideshare drivers care more about the so-called flexibility the gig companies provide than below minimum wage earnings.

If you were to change a few things about Uber and Lyft, what would they be?

The top issue was low earnings. A lot drivers asked for fuel price adjustment as they saw that to be their largest expense. About half the drivers complained about the rating system; they thought it was unfair that Uber wouldn’t allow the driver to change the rating for the passenger after the initial rating.

A lot of dual platform drivers thought Lyft’s rating system was a lot better than Uber. The drivers who knew about the destination filters complained about it not being functional during rush hour for Uber. Most drivers thought DF on Lyft was useless, but I disagree!

Since the interviews took place at the LAX holding lots, a lot of complaints were directed toward long wait times. When I asked them why they would wait sometimes over an hour to pick someone up at the terminals with an unknown destination, they were of the opinion that LAX rides were more lucrative than driving in the city.

Summary of My Findings

Most of the new drivers who were on the job less than six months were happy for the opportunity to make some extra cash. I now totally understand why Uber and Lyft don’t care about driver turnover rates, as per a CNBC article only 4% remain on the job after a year. They like drivers not to have a point of reference when it comes to their earnings and all the negative changes they had to endure. They just want happy go lucky drivers with acceptance rates of 90+% with short memories.

The more experienced the driver, the more stories they had. All of the veterans had a deep dislike for both Uber and Lyft, and they didn’t have anything decent to say about them. When asked why they are still driving, they mentioned they needed to put food on their families’ table.

If I were to put a number as a percentage of happy drivers out of my small sample of 40, I would say 55-60%. All the newbies! They are still in the Honeymoon period!

What do you think about the questions asked and the overall answers? Do you agree that most drivers aren’t really aware of their costs, Uber/Lyft legislation and similar topics?

-Sergio @ RSG