Editor’s note: We promised a driver anonymity for a true and accurate description of what it’s like to drive for Uber and Lyft in Philadelphia; this is the result.
As I drove around a particularly windy area of Montgomery Avenue during 2016’s first hour, I pondered if this ride was really worth the $58 I’d make on it. A gaggle of very drunk Temple freshmen were piled upon each other in my Uber and screaming along to Adele’s “Hello,” completely butchering the already-annoying tune at so piercing a tenor that focusing on driving was nearly impossible. But I made certain to stay alert — a few minutes prior, after an aggressive driver cut me off on Girard Avenue, several of the passengers dutifully reminded me that their lives were in my hands. After three separate Lower Merion stops mercifully ended the trip, I floored it back to Center City chasing surges. A series of similar rides kept me busy until 4 a.m.
And so it goes for your average Uber driver making the late-night rounds. The level of revelry on New Year’s Eve stands above the typical Saturday, sure, but it’s not a weekend of Ubering unless you were at multiple points terrified your vehicle would soon enjoy the aroma of vomit.
But if you’re here, I can assume you already knew that. Maybe you’ve even been that drunk person who spilled a beer in an Uber…maybe you’re even one of those drunk girls I mentioned above (if you are, I thank you because you’re one of my go-to stories about the perils of driving drunk folks around)!
I drive for both Uber and Lyft, yes. I refer to the act of rideshare driving as “Ubering,” because Uber is so much more popular and it’s easier to say than, “OK, I’m going to go rideshare driving now.” Lyft is preferable on weekdays because of the tip incentives, but on weekends when I’m chasing surges, Uber is the way to go because Lyft’s surges only affect very small areas for small periods of time.
What most of the more than 1,000 riders I’ve had in my Ubers and Lyfts seem inquisitive about is what the day-to-day life of a full-time rideshare driver like me is like. As luck would have it, Billy Penn sought a literate driver to spill the beans about the job, something that usually terrifies rideshare drivers (this is a bad joke about vomit). Though many rideshare drivers seem pessimistic, I’ve got a generally positive view of my job.
Whereas profitability from Ubering in some cities, like Detroit, is a highly dubious proposition, I’ve never had a complaint about payment. At $1.10 a mile and $0.18 a minute following a $1.25 base fare, I make about $15/hour on weekdays and $20/hour on weekends, ballooning to $30/hour during the busiest moments of weekend nights. But all of these rates have a huge amount of variance, as does the typical night of driving. For instance, I pulled a solid $20 per hour during the weekdays of Restaurant Week, but was lucky to collect $12 an hour when all of Philadelphia’s colleges were on Winter Break. I once collected a $107 fare from State College to Altoona; I’ve also conducted trips that literally go two city blocks.
None of these estimates are counting gas payments, but they also disregard tips, which are a major part of rideshare driving despite Uber’s insistence against them. But on about 1 of 15 rides, I receive a cash tip since it is not an option on the app. It’s usually a few bucks, but I’ve gotten a few $20 tips and once got $35. I get tips on about a third of my Lyfts, though the highest I’ve gotten is $10 and they’re usually $2 or $3. All told, I’ve made several hundred dollars in tips.
Don’t be fooled by Uber’s Facebook advertisements of $25/hour since drivers don’t make that most of the time. But all told, I’m happy with the pay, especially considering that I can work whenever I want to. Many jobs advertise work freedom, but with ridesharing, you really can work as much or as little as you want to.
It’s the folks you meet that make the job truly worthwhile. Driving Uber and Lyft, I have met a famous ballerina and opera singer, Elton John imitator, Michael Nutter aide, the band Cold War Kids, Temple’s wide receivers coach, and countless more interesting people from every conceivable walk of life. I know odds and ends about a variety of obscure jobs from the conversations my passengers provide. For me, a rising law student, the free law school advice my lawyer riders provide is invaluable, as are the soft connections I’ve made. That you’ll never know who you’ll meet every day is probably one of the best parts about the job.
I also appreciate the intangibles ridesharing provides. My conversation skills have never been better. I know the quickest route to about any area of Philadelphia without a map. I think I even saw that creepy Philly Jesus guy wandering around Spruce Hill once. In short, the job is more fun than you’d think endless driving is.
I give five-star ratings to my riders about 90 percent of the time, because I understand many of the annoyances they cause are mostly innocent. But I need some catharsis.
– Be outside and ready to go when your car is approaching, especially if you’re in an area where pulling over is impossible. And if you request a car from the 1200 block of Sansom and aren’t even outside of the building when it gets there, for the love of god, don’t berate the driver for pulling over on a driveway to wait for you.
– When you request an Uber, please just take the extra second to ensure your address is properly entered. If you’re in a shopping center or hard-to-reach area, shoot the driver a text after the request to let them know exactly where you are. And if your inability to be precise leads to a phone call, don’t simply repeat that you’re at the same location interminably. Believe it or not, that doesn’t really help.
– Don’t complain when the driver hits a pothole. Do you think the driver hit the pothole on purpose? Do you think the driver is happy that he might have a flat tire?
– If you choose to backseat navigate, that’s fine, but don’t complain when I follow your route and it adds five minutes to the trip. And don’t wait until I’m halfway through an intersection to tell me to turn. More often than not, Waze is right and you are wrong.
The good outweighs the bad, but I think you need a certain personality type for that to hold true.
That you never know who is getting in your car is a double-edged sword. For example, you have your weirdos. Once, a portly fellow who reeked of cigarettes entered my car alone, commandeered the aux cord, bumped Civil War-era beats, and started reciting lyrics off a sheet of paper about the Battle of Gettysburg. During this Glenside trip, a deer ran in front of my car and I came to a near-screeching halt to avoid a collision. The patriotic rapper didn’t miss a beat. I mean this guy didn’t even look up despite coming a foot from a massive accident. It was extraordinarily strange and strange simultaneously.
Then, you have the belligerents, videos of whom have gone viral. Once, I took an extremely intoxicated Temple student and her less drunk friend four blocks up Broad Street, from Cecil B. Moore to Diamond. She wanted me to wait for her while she got food that she insisted she’d already ordered, then take her a few more blocks to her apartment. Her friend was not so sure she’d already ordered it. That, coupled with the fact that if I waited and drove the extra few blocks, I’d still get a minimum fare, led me to politely decline her offer. She didn’t like that very much. At the dropoff, she yelled a bevy of obscenities at me while her friend pulled her out of the car. I might have given her higher than a 1-star rating if she hadn’t farted immediately upon entering my vehicle, but alas.
Finally, there are those passengers who just want to vent some prior frustration upon you. I recently took a couple from Rittenhouse to Germantown, taking the optimal route of entering I-76 from the Walnut Street bridge since there was little traffic. One of the passengers rudely informed me that taking 22nd street to the Parkway to Kelly Drive was a much faster way to get there, although it is in fact 4 minutes longer. He then told me I was doing anything I could to get the meter up and I was screwing them over. I calmly explained that even despite my route being faster, if it weren’t, it would be a difference of $0.50. When we got to the destination, he leaned in, and in a threatening manner told me his way was faster. That was the only time I thought I’d have to put my pepper spray to use, but he fortunately got out the car and all was good.
Next time you’re bored in an Uber or Lyft, ask your driver for some stories, because we all have a handful of them like this. Just don’t be annoyed if they don’t tell the stories with much conviction, since we’ve all recited them countless times.