Why Rideshare Driving Is Like Being The Captain Of Your Own Ship

Harry here.  Most of us didn’t grow up thinking we’d be rideshare drivers one day but that shouldn’t be an excuse for not doing a great job.  Today, RSG contributor Christian Perea shares some pro-tips on how to be an assertive driver and take control of every situation you might face on the road.

My first two months of driving were a bit confusing. I remember watching a couple of training videos and then hitting the road. I had no idea what was expected of me. This resulted in a lot of bad ratings as I followed all of the rules I read or heard from other drivers to the letter, while killing my ratings because I wasn’t flexible or creative in finding solutions. And worst of all, I still wasn’t confident in what I was doing.

a pirate ship on the water
Be The Captain Of Your Own Ship

That all changed after a few months though. I remember there was a sort of “switch-over” in my head where I realized that I was going to run my own ship and do it how I saw fit. No more bad pickup locations. I was going to take control. After that, my ratings skyrocketed. I ditched the water and Starbursts and ‘eagerness to please’ attitude for a “welcome to my car, how you doin’ and where ya headin’?” attitude.

Think Like A Captain

I soon learned that passengers are suspicious of drivers who seem overly friendly and squirrelly on the road. They prefer a driver who is confident and competent in what they are doing. Most passengers don’t want to have to think about it. They are paying for the convenience of being shuttled from A to B and to make the hassle of transport disappear.

The thing is, there is really no way to train drivers for every type of situation that may come up on the road. It doesn’t help that on demand companies are timid in providing direct training because it would further satisfy an argument that we are really employees (See Part 5 and 6).

Knowing how to read the GPS for pickups or when to decline a ride is important information. Lack of knowledge leads to tickets and accidents. This results in high turnover and increased risk to new drivers.

Eventually, savvy drivers all realize that we’re basically pirates driving through the high streets trying to find as much booty as possible without getting in trouble with ‘The Law.’ Essentially, we’re the captain of our own ship. A pirate ship.

Competence and Confidence

Drivers often find themselves making decisions on the fly and in real-time. There isn’t a chance to shoot off a quick email to the company you are driving for asking for help. Therefore, being able to make a confident decision in real time is very important. A lot of this develops with experience on the road, and the right decision is based off of what the laws are in your city and what will protect your business.

At the end of the day, you are in charge of your car and how you operate. This means that you can operate how you wish within the confines of ratings, cancellations, and acceptance rates. Being a competent captain, however, also requires knowing when to be assertive and to make decisions and take risks based on your view of the situation.

Know When The Treasure Isn’t Worth It

I hear a lot of stories about picking up rowdy passengers who are disrespectful towards cars and drivers even though the driver knows in advance that the ride is going to be bad. Many describe the incident by saying “I knew when I called them that they were going to be trouble.” 

Pro Tip: If you get a bad attitude over the phone, then you will get a bad attitude when they are in your car. Cancel.

Passengers are not entitled to your property once they call you for a ride. They have no right to damage it or force you to do anything you are uncomfortable with. Simply put, you have a right to refuse to drive them. That “funny feeling” is your past experience telling you not do it!

Example:  Some passengers have open containers when they first approach the car. Most will get rid of them if you simply ask them to. Often, it’s not even the guy who ordered the ride, but one of his friends. Other times they will offer a “tip” to break the law (don’t accept it).

So what should you do? Many of these situations have turned out to be my best rides and customers (obviously the ones who got rid of the open containers). Others not so much. So how should you handle it? There is no right answer but being a dick about it probably isn’t going to help. Here are some suggestions:

  • If you’re funny, crack a joke and say something like “You can only bring that in my car if you’ve got one for me.”  And then casually ask them if they mind throwing out the alcohol.  That is one way of defusing a situation without being an A-hole.
  • If you’re not that funny, just let them know you’re more than happy to wait until they finish their drink.  That way, you avoid telling them outright ‘you can’t do that’ and put the onus on them.  Most passengers aren’t going to want to wait around so they’ll throw the drink out.
  • If you don’t want to say anything, exit the vehicle and open the door for your passengers.  Most passengers won’t try to sneak a beer into the car if you’re standing right there in front of them.  This also establishes you as the captain of your ship.

Related Article: Drunk, Drugged, and Disorderly: How to Handle the Late Night Crowd.

Conduct Trade in Many Ports

Making the most money as a 1099 worker means having multiple streams of income. This ranges beyond Uber or Lyft and factors into pursuing things that you want to do outside of driving or working in the on-demand economy. It could also be a good chance to use the flexibility of your time to pursue other ambitions or to test jobs that you otherwise would not be able to try if you had a regular 9-5 full-time job.

This may involve pivoting from transport apps to delivery apps in order to maximize demand. It could also mean diversifying your risk between app-based work and contract work. You may be able to get good work as an artist occasionally but need to supplement it with driving or delivering at times. You could also use your transport services to generate leads for other or future business. The key point here is not having all your eggs in one basket. Taking control means keeping your eyes open for new opportunity.

Count Every Coin. Monitor Every Expense.

I only accept payment via gold coin.

Every good operation tracks what they spend and what they earn. Most drivers unfortunately tend to keep track of these things in their head or via a notebook. This is a terrible idea because it becomes subject to confirmation bias: you are inherently going to justify whatever numbers you get. Running a business involves facing hard realities. Like whether you should run a brand new SUV filled with Voss water and mints for 90 cents a mile (you shouldn’t).

The best operators will find a way to automate all of their spending and income analysis into something that will give accurate analytics everyday and allow them to make the best decisions before anybody else. Having an edge on gathering insights involves having robust and accurate means to collect them.

This is when having something like Quickbooks Self-Employed really pays off (this is a product that Harry uses himself to manage his business). It might save you from losing money on slow days or help you figure out the best days and times to drive. It costs about as much as your Starbucks habit and actually pays you back.

We need to know exactly how much money we are making on the road. Especially as rates fall and driver saturation increases. Good bookkeeping provides a paper trail for things like expenses and prevents you from paying too much or too little in taxes.

I’m willing to bet that many drivers would find out they qualify for a lot of financial products or government assistance if they simply tracked their expenses and did their taxes.  Too many drivers only look at the income-side of things without considering their expenses.

Avoiding a Shipwreck


Knowing the Laws: You won’t get much training in local laws, but you are still required to know them. You can pretend to not know them or play stupid but eventually you will get a ticket, and you will be responsible for it. I found out about most of my local laws through Lyft meet-ups, talking to limo/taxi drivers, researching online, and talking to cops.

Avoiding Damage: Driving in the rain/snow is profitable but it can also lead to higher accidents. I usually wait 20 minutes after it starts raining so everybody can crash their cars and I can adapt to the new traffic situation. It also allows for the roads to saturate and the oils to drain away. Same sort of thing goes with any inclement weather.

Get the Police Involved: If someone damages your car, you can file a police report for the damage. Same thing goes if someone refuses to leave your car, or threatens you. If you are the victim of property damage or feel unsafe, you should immediately contact the police. It pays to know where the local PD stations are or where you can find a cop. If you know the app won’t cover your damages, its important to establish whatever documentation you will need in taking your passenger to court.

Dashcams: We recently reviewed three of the top dash cams for rideshare drivers and this might be the cheapest ‘insurance’ policy you can get.  If you’re in the right, it can provide crucial evidence.

Cancel vs. Rating a Bad Passenger: If you refuse to complete a ride, you can choose to end the ride and rate the passenger poorly or cancel it altogether to prevent them from rating you poorly. The choice here depends on what your rating versus acceptance rate is and what you value more. Further, if you are a long way into a ride that you have to end early it may be worth taking a hit on your rating in order to get paid (and to also rate the passenger badly).

At the end of the day

You are the captain of your own ship. This means you’re personally responsible for virtually every aspect of driving. That involves knowing the local laws, taking matters into your own hands, not pledging loyalty to any one company that isn’t profitable to you, and counting your coins.

It means that we use due-diligence in operating our little business when it comes to damages and protecting ourselves from liability. If you succeed in capturing the mindset of a Captain, you may find yourself more comfortable running a bigger ship down the road or in another profession.

Drivers, what do you think about running your own ship?  Do you employ a lot of these tactics or are you just along for the ride?

-Christian @ RSG