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I have been known to do some crazy things just to satisfy my own curiosity about what something might be like. I also like to try new things and as a result, it has brought me some interesting adventures along the way. The latest of those ideas has been signing up to be an UberX driver!
Let me explain
I’ve always been the entrepreneurial type. If there is a way to monetize something, I’m going to at least look into it.
As a teenager, I figured out how to control the babysitting cartel in my neighborhood. In college, I *may* have engaged in a little bit of almost-legal bootlegging using my military dependent ID to purchase alcohol in bulk and resell it at inflated town prices. Into my 20s I took advantage of any side sales or marketing job offered to me to make a bit of quick cash. In my 30s, I turned to the corporate side of things but always kept my fingers in one to two separate ventures along the way. And now, I’m back to the lure of extra cash – selling a little bit of Stella & Dot, blogging, and of course working in consulting by day.
Blogging has been my new hobby – and this post marks my 100th on Jetsetter’s Homestead. To keep up that volume over the last couple of months, I’ve been spending some my leisure time writing instead of hitting the wine bar with my girlfriends or watching television – and that got me thinking about monetization. I don’t want to fully go the traditional route when it comes to blogging, so I decided that with mobile technology being what it was, I could be making something out of the time I spend sitting on my iPad jotting notes… and so I signed up to be an UberX driver.
The appeal is this – I can work when I want, where I want. I can sit on the patio at Starbucks or on my own front porch within a couple of yards of my car and hop in and drive whenever the call comes in. In between, I can edit things for the blog, look for new content ideas, and answer emails. And it has an immediate pay off – important to me as my 1924 Craftsman bungalow is in dire need of some foundation repairs and I really don’t want to dig into my savings or my travel funds to pay for them!
And so it began
I filled out the short application online, agreed to a background check, and submitted copies of my license, registration, and personal insurance. Within a couple of days I was approved and Uber had a phone headed my way so I could start driving. (side note – they also had a local office where I could pick up a phone, but the one they sent via FedEx arrived sooner than I had the opportunity to go get one)
Fort Worth is a vibrant and rapidly growing city (one of the fastest growing in the US, in fact). Our universities are adding to their student enrollment and our population grows every month. Many of those coming here come from cities with a walking culture or readily accessible public transportation. The relative lack of both has made Uber an instant hit.
Drivers complete a short (less than 20 minute long) video training on line that covers how to use the app, service expectations, and what to do in the case of certain issues (a no-show passenger, someone who wants to smoke in your vehicle, an incident involving damage or other irregularities, etc.). The website also contains a long FAQ that covered many of my questions, including the issue of liability. It turns out that background check was for good cause – Uber covers both me AND my vehicle as well as the passengers I pick up should something happen. It applies any time I’m signed into the app and accepting fares, a nice reassurance!
So yesterday evening, I started my blogging/driving adventure.
Here’s how it went down
Around 5:00 I head to get my car washed… I’ve got to look good for the fares and my 2012 Volvo needed a bath and some vacuuming. At 5:15, I got the first ping on my Uber issued iPhone. The ping goes out to the closest driver based on what service the passenger selects – UberX, Uber Black, and Uber SUV are available in our market – and the corresponding driver has 15 seconds to accept the fare.
Fare 1 was right around the corner from the car wash so it was a no brainer to say yes. Of course, the second I did, I immediately had a moment of panic as I realized that when accepting a fare, you have NO idea where that passenger may be going. I had a commitment at 6:30 pm and if he was headed to the airport, I definitely would not make it back in time. Fortunately for me he just needed to get to dinner downtown. We had a nice chat about I dropped him at a private club and switched my availability back to “on” – I was feeling the high as I completed my first fare! (Lesson one – only drive when you have a time cushion in your schedule, just in case!)
Luckily Fare 2 was right around the corner at a downtown hotel a few minute later. This family of three just needed to go four blocks to a dinner reservation. (Dad said he was ready to walk, but mom and daughter didn’t want to do it in heels with 100 degree heat!) Easy peasy. Uber’s fare structure guarantees I make a minimum amount no matter how short the drive is so it was totally worth my time. I realized I needed to make my event so I switched off my phone and stopped driving. But easy money for 30 minutes of work.
I switched my phone back on around 8:30 pm after attending my event and grabbing a bite to eat. Fare 3 was three minutes from the parking lot where I grabbed dinner so I swung by their house in a neighborhood adjacent to my own and drove them down to a popular nightlife area. No fares popped up in the vicinity so I drove to a place to wait.
As it was, I was near a local organic ice cream joint I love so I switched off my phone and grabbed a cup and caught up on some blogging in their parking lot. As I finished my last bite, I switched it back on and Fare 4 was right around the corner and ready to go. They’d had a date night and left the car at home since UberX is so inexpensive for a ride.
I headed back to my own porch to work for a bit and Fare 5 in my neighborhood was ready for a ride about 20 minutes later so I closed my iPad, jumped in the car, and went. They needed to get to a popular nightlife area and it was a quick ride to get them there. (Lesson two – be ready to drop everything when the fare comes!)
I could see that surge pricing was kicking in (Uber’s way of compensating drivers by charging more for rides in areas where there are more riders than drivers at specific points in time) and I wanted to get to where the surge was starting. But I also didn’t want to leave in an empty car. So I sat for a bit and worked but no one was leaving that area at the moment. In retrospect, if I had gotten down to the local university, I could have probably made two trips during that time. (Lesson three – learn where surges are likely to occur and position accordingly!)
No worries for me though, as Fare 6 was finishing a late dinner nearby and that group of three gentlemen needed to go to a downtown hotel and I got them there quickly. Alas, there weren’t many folks leaving downtown at that point – it was slightly past the end of the dinner hour and not late enough for bar goers to be headed home yet. Plus with the surge that had just occurred all the cars were now downtown cruising for a fare. (Lesson four – supply/demand can ebb and flow dramatically, especially after a surge!)
As I had been going since 7 am, I decided to call it quits even though the night was still young – it was 11 pm and the rides would no doubt be picking up as the night wore on. (Lesson five – the hours may not be the most desirable, but the most money can be made when most people are asleep!)
I pulled into my driveway and was just reaching to turn the app off when Fare 7 popped up. It was on my street a mere two blocks away so I said “why not?!” and accepted it. It was a great opportunity to meet a neighbor and I figured that perhaps I’d get a return fare. I did, a couple minutes later, in the same location I had just left. I pulled up and parked and waited for Fare 8 to show up as Uber recommends giving patrons five minutes before calling to find them. After the recommended time had passed, I called the patron to find out where she was and she hung up on me. I then sent a text – no response. After another five minutes, I cancelled the ride, something Uber allows drivers to do for a list of specific reasons (fare no-show being one!) UberX drivers are still compensated for the ride in the case of a no-show so my time was not wasted in any way!
At this point it was 11:30 pm and I was sleepy so I drove home, app still on – just in case. I made it to the driveway and switched it off and headed to bed. If I’d felt like it, I could have headed back out as the bars stay open until 2 am so there were no doubt plenty of rides to be had later. (Lesson six – rest up!)
This morning I was curious what the traffic might be like so after I wrapped my 9 am bikini wax and parked at my usual Starbucks, I switched on the app again out of curiosity. It buzzed almost immediate – it turns out there was a mid-morning surge! I picked up Fare 9 at the apartments directly across the street and took her to her job working on the gubernatorial campaign near downtown. I logged right back to active after that fare, just in case the surge came again. (Lesson seven – be in the right place at the right time, even if by accident.)
It didn’t, but Fare 10 was a couple blocks away at the same hotel where I dropped Fare 6 last night. He had decided not to drive and spent the night at the hotel and now needed a ride to his home. As a result, I netted the largest fare of the 10. He lived a bit further out than any of my previous 9 but also right around the corner from somewhere I needed to run an errand anyway so it was also gas and time I would have spent driving there later in the day. (Lesson eight – keep an errand list handy and use out of the way drives as a chance to maximize that time.)
At the end of the day
At the end of all of this, I put 25 miles on my car (some of it mileage I would have anyhow as I combined it with errands or places I needed to be) and netted $69.38.
The time was ultimately time I would have spent sitting around watching television, surfing the internet, or doing other light tasks. I was still able to do the latter in between fares which meant that the net of about four hours of my leisure time was over $17 an hour.
I also met really interesting people. It might be because people here are just super friendly, but I ended up having conversations with all of the people I drove and half of them climbed in the front seat instead of the back (as I figured they all would). They were all people I’d be happy to see again – as a paid fare or even in a social situation. Heck, a couple of the solo guys I drove were really cute too!
While I don’t see being an UberX driver being something I take up as a major (full-time) activity, I do see it being something I do for a 5 to 10 hours each week and could put more time into for a quick cash infusion. It’s easy to tie in the time with my blogging and as well with my volunteer time that is web-based. Also with a significant university and young professional population in my own neighborhood, its a value-proposition to do this during times I’d be sitting on my front porch anyway (minus my usual adult beverage) and provides an interesting way to stay engaged in the larger community. And the upside is always knowing where the latest hot spots are for dining and nightlife by hearing firsthand reviews!
The prospect of being a safe ride to others also factors high for me. Over half the passengers I had were using Uber to avoid driving under the influence. Most of these were very short rides too – two miles or less – and several said that before Uber, they would have been likely to still drive since it was a short distance. Uber has made it more reasonable to take a safe ride instead, something my friends and I also do when going out.
And, at the end of the day – I hope that the extra money, which cashless Uber direct deposits each Thursday into my “house fund” bank account (which is also where any blogging income goes) will help me pay for my house repairs sooner without knocking a dent into my discretionary travel budget./.
Join the conversation
If you are interesting in driving for UberX, I’d love to chat with you. The company is offering new driver referral bonuses in some cities and I could get you $100 for signing up. Email me if you are interested in being referred. (disclosure – the company gives me something too if you start driving!)
Have you tried Uber yet? If you haven’t, my promo code – 2jtm6 – is good for up to $30 off your first ride! (another disclosure – I get a free ride too if you sign up) I’m not just an UberX driver – I’m also a loyal Uber rider! Even when I have strange rides!
You can also follow me on Twitter @jetsettershome to chat travel, road warrior life, and balancing travel and life any time!