By spring of 2014, Stefan Davis had been working full time as a comedian for more than three years, a job he loved. He performed across the country, traipsing everywhere from Seattle to Tampa, Albuquerque to Philadelphia.
He was on the road most weekends, sometimes spending weeks away from home. The grind was paying off with better gigs, pay raises and recognition among other comics.
But the money wasn’t quite cutting it. At 31, Davis was still only earning “enough to survive.”
He needed a way to put more money in the bank, and knew he had the time to do it.
“I pretty much had Monday through Wednesday absolutely free every week,” Davis explains, “and I didn’t spend that time wisely. Mostly watching Netflix and [surfing] the Internet.”
What he didn’t have was a stable schedule, which would allow him to get a traditional job. He traveled often for comedy gigs, and needed the flexibility to take weeks off at a time to be on the road.
That’s when Davis discovered Uber. His fellow comedians around the country were earning extra cash driving for the rapidly growing rideshare company between gigs.
With Uber, you “wouldn’t have to worry about getting fired or reprimanded or letting co-workers down” to prioritize a career in comedy, Davis realized.
His friends said the best part was they didn’t hate the work. They were actually enjoying it.
So when Uber launched a new market in Madison, Wisconsin, Davis seized the opportunity — ready to move beyond barely making ends meet.
If you’re considering driving with Uber to earn a few extra bucks, here’s a guide to getting started and advice from drivers who have figured out how to make it work.
How Much Money Can You Earn Driving With Uber?
Let’s start with the big question.
Davis drove for about a year and a half in Madison during 2014-15. In a 40-hour week, he’d earn enough to match what he made doing comedy on the weekends. That’s the pay that came from Uber, after the company’s 20% -35% service fee.
Davis leased an iPhone from Uber for another $10 per week. The optional Uber phone allows a driver to connect to limited services, like the Uber Partner app, Apple Music, Maps and the phone’s camera. Uber covers the service and data charges.
If you choose to use your own device (iPhones and Android devices running on at least iOS 7 or Android 4.0), you’re responsible for data charges.
The median net earnings in Madison at the time was $15.41, according to Uber, which would mean grossing about $600 for a 40-hour week. The driver covers the cost of gas and vehicle wear and tear.
Because Uber rider rates vary with demand, you have a lot of control over how hard you’ll work and how much you make.
Davis says he chose not to work the frenzied “bar shift” (after 9 p.m. until Wisconsin bars close around 2 a.m.), when demand and rates were high.
Driving day shifts meant he had to work more hours and choose other busy times, like rush hour, to make what bar-shift drivers would make Thursday through Saturday.
Ready to get started? Here’s a link to apply as an Uber Driver Partner.
The Challenges of Starting a Side Hustle
Working for yourself isn’t always easy, but the transition was pretty smooth for Davis.
“I was already doing it with comedy,” he says. He was already his own boss, setting his schedule, motivating himself and managing his income as a contractor.
This could be a natural side gig to pick up if you’re already used to contract work as a performer, writer or artist. For a road comic, the work is a no-brainer — owning and maintaining a car that can withstand some extra miles comes with the territory.
Uber Driver Requirements
You can drive with Uber’s basic rideshare service, UberX using your personal vehicle without a commercial license. Your car must:
- be a four-door
- seat at least four passengers (excluding the driver)
- be registered in-state
- be covered by in-state insurance (Uber provides additional insurance with coverage that varies depending on whether you have a rider in your vehicle.)
Vehicle year requirements vary by city and state. In many states, the requirement is a 2000 or newer, but some cities require the vehicle be made in the past 10 years.
If your car seats six passengers or more, you could also drive with UberXL, the basic service for larger groups.
Additional services include Uber PLUS (a.k.a. Uber SELECT), Uber SUV, Uber BLACK and Uber LUX. These options come with more strict vehicle requirements and are only available in select markets.
Once you sign up, your car has to pass Uber’s vehicle inspection. In many cities, you’ll have to have the car inspected, but Davis just had to submit a photo of his car in Madison.
The inspection basically ensures your car is safe and clean. Uber looks for “windows intact, [good] tread on tires, all lights and signals working and a clean interior,” Davis explains.
As a driver, you must also:
- be at least 21 years old
- have at least three years driving experience
- have an in-state driver’s license
- have a clean driving record
- pass a criminal background check
Ready to get started? Here’s a link to apply as an Uber Driver Partner.
Figure Out Your Driving Strategy
Once you’re signed up and watch a few orientation videos to learn how to use the Uber Partner app, your success is really up to you.
“You’re pretty much on your own to figure out how you’ll use the market,” Davis says.
Uber reps are available for questions or issues that arise. Davis says they were always pretty easy to get in touch with and responsive to problems. But it’s up to you to decide how you’ll run your side business.
“In Madison, I didn’t have to learn how to use the area [right away] because there were so few drivers [when I started],” explains Davis. “Once it got popular, you find the places to hang around where it’s busy. I learned to hang out in the cell phone lot at the airport.”
Different cities have different rules for Uber at airports. For example, some restrict how long a driver can wait at the airport — others allow dropoffs, but not pickups.
Figure out your city’s rules before determining your driving strategy.
Davis recommends driving around the city while online the first few days. Pay special attention to which areas give you the most requests for rides.
Once you get a feel for the areas you want to drive, the best strategy is to park and wait. Don’t drive around looking for ride requests, Davis warns. “You’ll just waste gas and lose money doing that.”
How to Be a Good Driver
The Internet has plenty of Uber driving tips: Offer water bottles, candy and other treats to riders.
How does this benefit the driver?
“These can help keep a driver’s rating up,” Davis explains, referring to the 1- to 5-star ratings drivers receive at the end of a trip (and vice versa).
Refreshments aren’t necessary, he says. “Just being a courteous, safe and efficient driver was more than enough to keep my rating up.” He averaged 4.8 of 5 stars for most of his Uber tenure.
Water bottles may not be vital to your Uber success, but keeping your rating up is important.
This is one of the only ways Uber evaluates drivers — the company doesn’t want to work with partners who consistently make bad impressions on riders.
Depending on the market, your account can be deactivated if your driver rating drops below 4.5 — so be sure to offer your best customer service!
What It’s Like to Drive With Uber
Speaking of customer service, Davis says Uber driving certainly tried his skills.
“It definitely punishes introverts, because the rider gets to decide whether to have a conversation or not,” he explains. “I always enjoyed people just being on their phone and not talking.”
He worked in the service industry for years. And he knew how to schmooze with the audience after a comedy show. But driving was different.
“There isn’t any other job where you’re in that proximity to the customer for that amount of time,” he says. “As a cashier, you make small talk for five minutes, but in an Uber you might be in the car with one person for forty-five minutes.”
It’s an opportunity to stretch those social skills!
“I got things wrong all the time with people,” Davis jokes about himself. “I was a bumbling idiot constantly …
“I picked a couple up at the Emergency Room once. The woman had a broken leg, with a cast on and crutches. Naturally I assumed she was the one visiting the ER.
“Turns out, it was the guy. He got rear-ended and had whiplash. She had broken her leg four weeks prior. It wasn’t until halfway through the ride that I realized she wasn’t the one who had gotten in the car wreck.
“So I was being really nice and helpful with her, and this poor guy who almost broke his neck was just standing there alone.”
He says the gig does let you meet interesting people, and learn things about your city you otherwise wouldn’t know.
Being personable might even land you some unique opportunities…
“I once got a request to pick up riders at a tour bus downtown,” Davis says.
The beginning to his favorite Uber story wasn’t anything new. Bands and other performers from out of town frequently use Uber to leave venues and hang downtown after their shows.
“As always, I asked what band they were with, and they said ‘Against Me’ — it was the drummer and guitar player,” Davis explains. “That’s one of my favorite bands!
So we got to talking about music, other bands, whatever. Someone asked if I was coming to the show the next night, and I said I just didn’t have the money for it.
“So they said, ‘We’ll get you in free’ — and I got a ticket and a plus one to go to the show!”
How to Deal With Bad Riders
If you’re not an introvert, you still might have reservations about letting strangers in your car.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, people are awesome,” Davis says. “Half are quiet and don’t want you to talk to them.
“The other half are really talkative and personable. You have great conversations with people you wouldn’t otherwise.”
For the few difficult riders, Davis explains his approach.
“You’re not beholden to riders … If someone is being disrespectful, you reserve the right to cancel the trip and ask them to leave,” he says. “I would just email Uber immediately to explain what happened and ask for a refund for the rider.”
Uber is quick to provide refunds in tricky situations. Davis didn’t have to worry about short-changing a rider when he made decisions to protect himself or his car.
Uber also covers reasonable cleaning costs if your car sees the worst of the late-night bar crowd.
As for animals? You’re only legally required to transport registered service animals, but you may pick up riders taking a pet to and from the vet or airport.
Many Uber Partners worry about a mess or damage to their vehicles, but Davis (who doesn’t have one of his own) recommends accepting pets.
“It’s not that big a deal to be in the car with a dog for 15 minutes,” he says. “People don’t bring bad dogs into other people’s cars. They’re usually small and well-behaved.”
“A lint roller is cheap, if you even need that,” he says.
“It’s your car,” Davis explains, “and it’s your business. There are perks to being a contractor! You work for yourself. You can opt out.
“That’s what has always been attractive to me about contract work (in comedy, as well). You can opt out of anything you don’t want to do.”
Should You Become an Uber Partner?
This work isn’t for everyone, but can be a good opportunity. A few things to consider:
You Have to Like Driving
If you hate being behind the wheel or get easily stressed in traffic, Uber driving could be a nightmare for you.
If you find solace on the road and enjoy finding the best route across town, this is a great way to make money doing it!
You Should Know Your Town
Knowing your way around will save time and gas. It also means understanding local events and trends that drive business.
You Should Be Personable
It’s good to have customer service experience.
As Davis illustrates, you don’t have to love people or be an extrovert. But you’ll have to be comfortable chatting with riders and offer quality service.
You’ll Need Some Business Sense
As an Uber contractor, you’re responsible for setting your schedule and motivating yourself to work — no one is keeping tabs on you.
You’ll Have to Manage Your Income
Know how many hours you need and which ones to work to hit your weekly income goals. You’ll also be responsible for paying income taxes and noting contractor deductions or credits.
Ready to get started? Here’s a link to sign up to drive with Uber.
Your Turn: Are you considering being an Uber Driver Partner? What questions do you still have about the sign-up process or getting started with Uber?
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a Staff Writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more. She lived with Stefan through comedy and driving with Uber, and can attest that an on-hand chauffeur is easier to live with than an on-hand comedian.