During my first enlistment in the Army (long before Uber was even a concept), I earned extra money driving soldiers around. (Yes. I can trace the root of my frugal nature back to then.)
In the early 70s soldiers needing rides weren’t hard to spot. If they were going home on leave they would be at the bus/taxi stop with luggage. If they needed a ride into town, they would be at the bus/taxi stop without luggage. If you saw a solder walking along the road, more than likely he was going a short distance or couldn’t afford to pay for a ride.
My method was simple. I’d pull up to the bus/taxi stop and ask if any one needed a ride. If someone did, I’d tell him how much it would cost for me to take him. If the price was agreeable, I’d collect the money, and we’d be on our way. Of course, it was nice if I could pick two or more guys going to different places in the same direction. This meant more money to me—both in revenue and fuel efficiency. Having more than one rider at a time was where the real money could be made.
Most of the people I knew thought this is an easy way to make money. Well… It was. But. If you weren’t careful, there were problems that could ruin you: More than once, I picked up drunks. Sometimes they’d start feeling really ill. It was always a race to get pulled over in time to avoid a mess in back seat. I’m very thankful I never had to deal with that. If I had not been successful, it would cost time and money to get the car cleaned up. I would have been out of business for a few days.
Then, there was the time I trusted a guy who had no cash on him. He promised to pay me when I got him home. After I delivered him to his place, he went inside and didn’t come back out. I had to accept the loss; neither my command nor the law would have been sympathetic to a loud or violent dispute. I’m thankful I didn’t really have to depend on that money. That’s when I made it a policy to get paid before I let anyone in the car. (And FYI, depending on circumstances, occasionally, I did give someone a free ride.)
Once (and, thankfully, only once) I got robbed. The attacker could have taken the car or worse, but didn’t. He took only money and cigarettes.
When I was hauling people around, I was always careful to obey traffic laws: No speeding or reckless driving for me… And, I’m sorry to say, it wasn’t because I so valued my passenger’s life. My car was hired out, and even in the 70s that—legally—required commercial insurance and appropriate licensing. (I had neither.) One time, I was almost in an accident. It would not have been my fault, but my insurance company would not have covered it. If there had been personal injury or property damage, you can only image the headache it would have turned into.
I made some decent extra money running people around, and for the most part it was a good side hustle. (I didn’t call it that back then). However, there are times when working without attending to legalities can be costly. Being (much) older and (hopefully) wiser, I now (always) recommend knowing the laws that govern any “business” venture—and adhering to them. (That principle really does fit in a frugal mindset.)
When I was supplementing my income as a maverick taxi driver, I thought I had a good thing going—and I was doing it my way. (That was sort of a mindset we inherited from the hippies.) I sure didn’t lack for opportunity to make money, but if something had gone wrong the whole onus would have been mine also.
Recently, I’ve been talking to a buddy I served with back in those early army years. My friend is fully retired. He’s financially comfortable. He’s bored. He wouldn’t mind making some extra money. He wouldn’t mind some work. He’s certain he doesn’t want to punch a clock everyday. Anyway, we’ve been reminiscing about the “good old days.” His hustle was much the same as mine. (A lot of guys with cars had the same idea. There was plenty of competition; thankfully, there were plenty of customers.)
When we started talking about those times, we saw them through a sort of golden haze. After recounting a few harrowing situations, we admitted we’d made efforts and exposed ourselves to risks we would not be willing to take today. We had to solicit our own customers, negotiate the rate, and take all the risk. (It may not sound like that much, but we always had to be pleasant and at the same time assertive, be financially savvy, alert, and cautious.
There are a couple of other factors that makes endeavors like ours a thing of the past. The first is one everybody complains about: It’s become easy to keep track of us. Cars and phones have systems that can be traced. Banking and spending habits are analyzed. There are cameras everywhere. (I’m not ranting against these things; technology has made this possible, and it is what it is.) The second is that we’re not as trusting as we were back then. Outside of conventional settings people are hesitant to commit to one another at any level.
After we’d hashed through all of this for awhile, we talked about what would work. Uber immediately came to mind. Of course, we both knew of Uber, but neither of us knew much about it. I decided to do some research.
Here’s a concise description of Uber:
Uber Technologies Inc. is an American technology company headquartered in San Francisco, California, United States, operating in 570 cities worldwide. It develops, markets, and operates the Uber car transportation and food delivery mobile apps. Uber drivers use their own cars, although drivers can rent a car to drive with Uber.
The above is a rendition of the opening paragraph to an article I found on Uber in Wikipedia.org. The article talks about the history, services, etc. From this and other articles, as well as talking to some Uber drivers and people who have used the service, I learned that as a business Uber is built around a smartphone app that connects registered people who need a ride with registered people willing to provide that ride.
Becoming an Uber driver
To become an Uber driver you need to go to www.uber.com , answer a few questions, and when accepted, download an app. The questions will have to do with your ability to do things like change tires, the ease with which you can navigate your driving area. Verification of your license, insurance, car registration, driving history, what kind of car you have, and an account to receive payment funds will have to be submitted. Also, you have to agree to a background check. I’m told that it takes about two weeks to find out how everything checks. If it’s satisfactory, you’ll be able to download the app and start driving.
The phone app
The driver app is downloaded to your phone. The app is an essential part of your business. It’s means by which you are paid—electronic transfer of funds. It gives you the names, pickup locations, and destinations of your potential passengers. (You are free to decline.) It has a GPS function for directions. However, if you know the area well, you’re encouraged to use shortcuts to speed delivery. (Remember, when you sign up, you’re quizzed on your familiarity with your locale.) Also, because you drive for Uber, depending on the carrier you use, you may be eligible for a discount on your phone bill.
If you drive for Uber, your customers are matched with you by app. Primarily, the fare is first offered to the driver in closest vicinity to the rider. However, drivers can decline to take a fare, and riders can request a driver they’ve previously used. There is also a rating matrix done by drivers and riders on each other that has some effect on matches. I think the fact that there is no need for a driver to solicit business—which can be time consuming and expensive (think fuel costs)—is a great benefit.
Everyone who rides with Uber must also down load an app to their phone or device. It’s via this app that arrangements for a ride are made. To get the app from Uber some personal information is required. (Most of this is kept on file with the company; drivers do not see it.) Also, a credit card—to be used to pay for the service—must be on file. Based on vicinity to the pickup location, Uber notifies a driver when and where to connect with the rider. (And by the way, it’s possible for a driver to be matched to people using uberPOOL, a fare sharing program.) For the drivers’ safety (and to minimize mix-ups), there are no anonymous pickups; riders’ last names are always supplied. If any phone communication between the driver and rider is required, it’s done solely through Uber servers via a number supplied by the company; the personal telephone numbers of drivers and riders are not made available.
Fare prices are based on mileage and determined by the shortest route per the GPS function of the driver’s app. The charge per mile is not always consistent in a locale; heavy use (real or anticipated) of Uber services tends to effect a downward movement in price. Uber claims an increase in the number of fares more than compensates for this.
A driver is paid when the passenger is picked up. Payment is done through the apps—an electronic charge against the payment method the rider has on file for funds deposited into the account the driver has on file. If it is a uberPOOL ride the app figures the fare split. Of course Uber takes its cut. This amount can vary by location and other factors, but a good rule of thumb is that the driver receives about 75% of what the rider pays. The percentage Uber receives covers their services to the driver, among them the driver’s app and commercial insurance.
Commercial car insurance:
If your hire your car out and are in an accident, it’s highly unlikely that either your insurance company or the insurance company of the other party will cover any personal injury or property damage claims.
Commercial insurance is required.
When you are logged into your app, Uber provides each driver $1 million dollars worth of commercial insurance for any incident on every trip. (If you’re “on the clock for Uber,” you’re covered.)
Some of the questions in the sign up process will be about your general health. Drivers need to be physically and mentally up to the job of driving and helping their riders with luggage—and promote a positive experience. It’s reasonable to expect drivers to maintain or improve their health.
Uber does not a provide company health insurance for drivers. However, the services of Stride Health are available through Uber. Stride Health is a company that helps you find health insurance that meets your needs. It’s not a requirement to use this service.
Not loans or handouts.
Uber wants drivers to succeed. Keeping good records and accurately filling out tax forms is an important factor in success. You’ll have to contact the company for cost information, but if you need assistance doing your taxes or with day-to-day bookkeeping, Uber can provide help with your business needs.
Fuel and maintenance
Uber claims to give a discount of up to 15 cents per gallon at the pump as well as deals on tires and oil changes. (That could be a real bonus.)
When I look into work opportunities, especially self-employment/contractor type jobs, I like to get the take of someone already in the field: How are associates treated, are they happy to be with their work, is the company safety conscious, are there fail-safes in place to keep operations legal, etc. Why or why not?
A few weeks ago, after I began checking into Uber, I was in Indianapolis visiting family. In the course of conversation, I mentioned I was planning to post an article on Uber. To make a long story short, someone knew an Uber driver, and put me in touch with her. To recap what that Uber driver shared with me: Joyce quite her day job to drive for Uber. She was making more money. She enjoyed the freedom of working for herself, and she could work the hours she wanted to.
Joyce told me the secret to her success was 1) She found the busy places to “hang out”. During the week the busy place was the airport. On the weekends it was downtown near the clubs. Since the app uses vicinity to match a driver with a rider, she increased her opportunties for fares. When a driver is logged into the app, they can always be located. 2.) She always treated her business like a business. When she worked, she would take along her lunch and drinks for the day, (She’s frugal.) She didn’t idle her car, and she kept good records. She liked being an Uber driver.
Another Uber driver, Dale, drives in Champaign, Il. He tells me he is able to make extra-money driving for Uber—even though the market isn’t large. He works around the university, taking a few students and professors to their classes on the other side of the campus. (He’s often requested.) This is a part-time job for Dale. He doesn’t need to make a lot of money, so he’s happy with the business he has. Dale’s secrets to success are much the same as Joyce’s.
If I were looking for a side hustle, I would consider signing up to drive for Uber. It seems to me the company really wants drivers to stick around and prosper. As with any endeavor, do your homework, know what you are getting in to, understand the hazards, and the laws. I think you’ll find that Uber has in place protocols to protect their drivers and to help them prosper. I think it’s quite possible to earn money driving for Uber.