Timing and location key if you want to make a buck driving for Uber or Lyft

Jeff Perera has been paying the bills for years as a public speaker and educator, but every so often he hits a slow patch.

Like many others in Canada, he has turned to driving for Uber, a U.S.-based ride hailing service, to make up the difference.

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But making a buck off Uber or rival services like Lyft comes with challenges, including vehicle wear and tear, insurance, varying rates of pay and dealing with customers. Then there's the persistent stories about fares being too low for drivers to make a decent salary.

Perera, who has been driving his 2012 Honda Civic for Uber in Toronto since 2016, says timing and location are two key factors for drivers looking to turn a profit.

Timing is important, says Perera, because the companies set the rates, not the drivers.

He sees a lot of demand for rides around rush hour and at 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, when people are spilling out of bars and clubs.

Holidays are also a boon, he says, as demand for rides is usually high the weekends around Halloween and in the lead up to the December holidays when office parties and other family activities are occurring.

"There's a weekend where people are more than likely having their last Friday at work and that's a good time to go out," he said. "Obviously New Year's Eve is a big one too."

However, location is just as important as timing, says Perera, who uses the Uber app to identify busy areas with few drivers around.

"If I see there's like 20 cars here, it's pretty crowded and I am going to try to move and go somewhere else," he said.

He often does a bit of research on what is going on in the city to decide where to head, so he can time being near a concert, sports match or festival as it is ending to pick up customers.

Perera recommends putting together a budget of the expenses you expect to incur while driving for a ride-hailing service. That can include gas, oil changes, car washes and new tires.

But, he warns, "there's going to be some repairs down the road...that are more than just oil changes. It'll be new tires or brake pads. Things like that will pile up."

Put a little bit of money aside every month, he said, to cover these things, but also to account for the unexpected — accidents, customers that get sick in your car or general wear and tear.

Some drivers like Perera also stock their car with water bottles, mints, tissues, charging cables and snacks, which should be worked into your budget.

Perera decorates his car for most holidays and usually has a different theme in his car every month. He's hung a disco ball from the ceiling, scattered flower petals inside and strung lights across the interior — all added costs, but also an extra chance to get a tip.

Perera says the ride-hailing giants can offer incentives to their drivers that can help drivers get the most out of their time behind the wheel.

Often the incentives offer extra cash or new perks within the app for accepting a certain number of rides — the company's way of trying to keep drivers available.

Perera says drivers should use the Uber Pro system to their advantage to make money. It works by allowing drivers who keep their star rating at 4.85 or above, their cancellation rate at 5 per cent or below, and their acceptance rate at 85 per cent or above to earn points. The higher the points you earn, the more rewards you unlock.

Most drivers, he says, are given vague details about the ride requests, when they're offered, but through Pro he landed some helpful perks.

"The one level I'm at right now allows you to see where the rider is going, and how long that trip is going to be," he said.

"It's very helpful because now you'll know every time where they're going and you'll know the distance."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 8, 2019.

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