What it’s like to drive for Uber

A few months ago, I signed up to be an Uber driver. The way Uber works is that as an Uber driver, you are an independent contractor. You don’t work for Uber. You are your own boss. You work as much or as little as you wish.

Everything is handled through your smartphone. When you want to drive people around, you fire up the Uber Driver app and switch from offline to online. When someone requests a ride, Uber sends the request to the closest available driver. A driver has 15 seconds to accept a request. If the request is not accepted, Uber then sends the request to the next nearest available driver. Uber repeats this process until someone accepts the request.

Being closest doesn’t mean you’re close

Uber will send you to pick up a passenger 15 minutes away because you’re the closest driver. The next closest driver may be 16 minutes away. Uber does not pay you for the time or mileage it takes to get to the passenger.

Where will you be going? That’s a secret

When Uber sends a request to a driver, they keep the destination a secret. A driver doesn’t know where they are going until they pick the passenger up and begin the trip.

It means that you might drive 15 minutes to get to a passenger who only wants to go a half mile down the road. Since Uber takes 25 percent of what the passenger pays, you end up making a whopping $4.00 on those type of trips.

The last $4 trip I made, the passenger reported me to Uber for unsafe driving. The reason? I don’t know. Uber would not tell me. They only said the passenger reported me as being unsafe and they were refunding her payment. They extracted the $4 from my weekly earnings.

If I had to guess, she felt unsafe because a guy in a pickup truck was tailgating me and started honking when I made a legal U-turn in the nearby intersection. I wanted to turn around so that I could drop her off right in front of her house. I didn’t want her to have to cross the street.

That’s what I guess. Uber refused to tell me what I did that made the passenger feel so unsafe.

You will also get sent on trips you don’t have time to make.

One of the selling points of Uber to drivers is that you get to decide when you drive. In theory, if you have an hour or two with nothing to do, you can go out and make some money with Uber.

The last time I drove for Uber, I planned on only driving for a couple of hours. I ended up driving a lot longer. I got a request on the other side of town. Because the passenger failed to enter their correct location when requesting the trip, I had to drive around for 15 minutes to find them.

I did not get paid for this time.

When I finally located the passenger and began the trip, I found out they needed a ride to a motel near BWI airport in Baltimore. The airport is about 80 miles away from Hagerstown, the city in which I live.

What it's like to drive for Uber - Bent Corner

My knowledge of Baltimore is limited. I live in Hagerstown, not Baltimore. I know how to get down to the Inner Harbor area. It’s where the Ravens and Orioles play. I know how to go to the airport, Baltimore Washington International (BWI). I’ve driven to the airport many times, but only once with Uber.

It turns out, knowing how to drive to BWI and a motel sort of near BWI are two different things.

Once I got to Baltimore and headed towards BWI, it was dark out. I was relying on Google Maps to get me to the passenger’s motel. There are so many roads near the airport that it seemed Google Maps couldn’t quite figure out which road I was on at any given minute. First, it would show that I was on one road, then the screen would refresh and it would show that I was on a different road, giving me new directions. Google Maps was sending me in circles.

It made for a frustrating experience, both for my passenger and for me. Not being able to find the motel added at least 30 minutes to the trip.

Tips not expected or required?

Once I dropped the passenger off and helped him unload his bags from the trunk, he thanked me, shook my hand, and sent me on my way. He did not give me a tip. I wasn’t surprised by this. He told me earlier that one of the reasons he likes Uber over Lyft and taxis is he doesn’t have to tip an Uber driver.

As if tips are ever required. Almost always tipping is optional.

What it's like to drive for Uber - Bent Corner
How does Uber know what I expect?

Uber makes no-tipping part of their pitch to passengers. Most of the time, I’m perfectly fine with this. Most of the time, a tip isn’t necessary. With that said, when something unusual happens that makes the trip different, more complicated than most Uber trips, a tip can go a long way to smooth things over. For instance, not entering your correct location when you request the trip.

Can you imagine Red Lobster telling its patrons that tipping their server is neither expected or required? I can’t, yet that’s what Uber is doing.

I finally pulled out of the motel parking lot and began the long trip back to Hagerstown. It was a journey I wasn’t getting paid to make. When Uber sends you to a far away place, they don’t pay you for the trip back.

I haven’t driven for Uber since that trip down to Baltimore. It just doesn’t seem worth it.

I'm originally from southern California, but western Maryland is my home now. This is my blog. It's where I write about whatever I feel like writing about, when I feel like writing.

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