Lyft driver working towards her Lyft driver bonus

How to Reap the Rewards of Uber & Lyft Driving

Uber & Lyft are the new taxi. Both have become the faces of the booming rideshare industry, and with that claim to fame comes the tricky work of making a semi-freelance business work for everyone involved – up to and including the people who decide to work there on a sudden whim. I myself began driving for both Lyft and Uber a few years ago with that same sort of suddenness most new drivers begin with, and even now find myself feeling some commiseration for new drivers every time I use the service as a passenger. I can’t help but wonder if they won’t be one of the many new drivers to get past their promotional period and find themselves completely overwhelmed.

There’s a lot to love about driving for Uber or Lyft. There are a slew of promotions going on at all times of the year, promising everything from double and triple surge pay, to guaranteed weekly earnings. For certain folks who think they can make it big, and who have a good credit score, there are even some leasing options for cars if the one you currently own doesn’t quite check all the boxes on their vehicle standards list. The freedom of being able to work the hours you want on the days you prefer is enough to lure in most anybody, and that’s precisely what they seem to be counting on to draw in new drivers all throughout the year.

So, what’s the catch? When I first started driving, I had no idea the sort of hard work and challenges that went into being an Uber or Lyft driver. The app always seemed busy, and there were so many forums and support groups out there, I thought I’d have the skills to make it big in no time. Turns out, though – it’s a little more complicated than that. Whether it’s the small print on their promotional contracts or the reality of the learning curve involved with being a new driver, there was a lot of work needed to improve my performance and really make a name for myself as a skilled, reputable driver.

Below are a few pointers and facets of rideshare, which I think are the most important for new drivers to figure out during their initial step into the world of Uber and Lyft. With any luck, it’ll help keep you on the right track for success!

Be Careful of Fine Print

Experienced rideshare drivers have it all figured out – or so it appears. From the rider’s perspective, it looks like the easiest job in the world. You get picked up, dropped off, and your driver carries on to the next ride without any sort of apparent hassle. In actuality, there are a number of things that your driver is keeping track of at any given time; these become immediately obvious when you’re first starting out as a new Uber or Lyft driver. There are not only a million things to keep track of, but a million more that you’re expected to take care of in order to earn those famous bonuses.

It is crucial to monitor the fine print involved with being a driver. When I first began, I made the mistake of not quite reading the details as carefully as I should have. I was promised a thousand dollars a week (yes, a week!) for the first four weeks – just for signing up with a simple promotional code. What I easily overlooked? The tiny writing beneath, which spelled out the requirements I needed to fulfill every single week in order to actually make that sort of money. What once seemed easy became a strenuous grind of meeting the ‘as long as you spend fifty hours online and complete fifty rides, per week’ rule that dictated if I’d be making that thousand dollars come payday.

Since I already worked a part-time shift at another job, it seemed next to impossible to add fifty hours of driving into my schedule. Plus, not only was I faced with the daunting task of finding more hours in the day, I quickly learned the nightmarish truth that unless I was working those hours during primetime, there was little chance of magically capturing fifty rides in a week. It was two to three times harder finding rides in the middle of a weekday than it was on the weekend, and what started as a promising extra paycheck quickly became a huge stress.

Another thing worth noting in promotional details is that this cash, at least during the time I was driving, is subject to taxes. The promise of one thousand dollars shrank to eight hundred dollars, which was a big enough difference to threaten the budget I’d made while expecting another two hundred padding my bank account. Thankfully, tips aren’t subject to taxes, but neither are they guaranteed.

In addition to long nights and crazy hours spent hounding rides, you’ll also be expected to keep your ratings above a 4.6. This shouldn’t be too hard so long as you are a courteous and reliable driver, but never underestimate the power of one cranky passenger with a trigger finger for low ratings. Uber is especially unforgiving, averaging your rate from your past five hundred rides, while Lyft is generous enough to only hold you accountable for your past one hundred rides. Either way, one bad set of stars can gravely affect your overall driver rating, and that alone could be enough to deny you any sort of bonus or the promotion you’re expecting. Worse yet, low ratings can quickly lead to your permanent deactivation as a driver – and low, again, is anything less than a still surprisingly high 4.6.

If you don’t spare the time to read the large and small text of any promotion you’re about tackle, there’s a chance you could set yourself up for failure from the beginning. Make sure you have the time to commit to a promotional period if that’s what you end up going for, otherwise it might prove less stressful to find a different bonus, like the ‘one lump sum’ sign-on bonus.

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Remember: Service With a Smile!

Ratings are absolutely critical to your success as a rideshare driver, no matter if you’re working for Uber or Lyft. Ratings alone can determine whether or not you even keep your job as a driver for very long; they’re that important. If you’ve ever used a ridesharing app like Lyft or Uber, you’ll recall that at the end of your ride, you have the option to rate your driver and even offer advice on how they could provide you with better service next time. What you may not have known is: if you, as a driver, fall below a four-star average, you get a written warning about your continued employment with the company within minutes of falling below that average. If your rating stays below the mandatory score for a certain period of time, they will terminate you with little more than an e-mail explaining your deactivation as a driver from that point forward.

Uber driver on way to Uber driver promo

There are a few ways you can leverage a rating to your favor. As a whole, the consensus on forums and support groups alike is that service with a smile gets you everywhere. Be attentive to your passenger and their individual needs. Consider keeping snacks, tissues, or water bottles in your car to offer as a courtesy to your riders. Pay attention to your passenger and how things may be changing throughout the course of the ride. I once turned around what I thought would be a poor rating from an ornery rider, just by recognizing how short they were becoming in conversation and asking how their day had been. By allowing them to vent to me on the trip to their destination, they changed from being angry (and possibly taking out their agitation out on me) to thanking me, tipping me, and giving me a five-star rating while commending my interpersonal skills as a driver. Recognize those social cues in your passenger, and neither you nor your rating will regret it.

Beyond this, remember that it goes both ways; ultimately, the companies look at everyone who was involved in the rating if things get that bad. Riders, too, have ratings of their own, and even though these ratings won’t prevent their obtaining rides via Uber’s discretion, it does get displayed next to their nameplate when a driver goes to accept their request for a lift. You do have the option to decline them. Don’t be afraid to decline a particularly low-rated rider, especially if your promotional pay depends on keeping a higher average for yourself. (But do make sure you don’t decline too many rides, or you may end up on the chopping block for that too.)

Acceptance Rates

Let’s delve into that a bit more. Acceptance rates are actually a key part of being an Uber or Lyft driver, and you’ll need to keep track of where your personal average is, so you don’t accidentally receive disciplinary action for declining too many rides.

Your acceptance rate with either Lyft or Uber, as a driver, is a percentage that reflects your tendency to accept or deny rides. This rate has to remain over ninety percent at the end of the work-week. If it does not, you might not get your promotional pay and you may find yourself with a warning e-mail in your inbox. This can get a little tricky, because your acceptance rate is based on your weekly average – rather than your overall average – and that can make it a pretty scary thing to keep track of, especially when you’re just starting out and might be uncertain about which rides to take and which to avoid. Remember that at the beginning of your week, those numbers might look a lot scarier than they actually are. Commonly, the numbers will even back out by the end of the pay period, so long as you don’t have several consecutive days of declining passengers. (This is especially important when working toward promotional earnings, which rely heavily on your ratings and the number of rides you’re completing!)

Over time, you’ll build up the experience to know which rides are appropriate to decline, but overall, drivers tend to avoid any passenger with a rating below 4.5. That saves drivers from potentially dealing with troublesome riders that could end up threatening their driver rating, but it does eat into your acceptance rating every time. It’s a stressful dance of maintaining two apparently opposing ratings, but eventually, you should get the hang of how the two work together.

The Lure of Surges and Primetime

When you’re tempted by the lure of surges and primetime, here’s the long and short of it: don’t. As a new, promotion-seeking driver, you need to be especially careful about wasted time. If you need to stay online for fifty hours, and you waste three or four a day chasing unreliable surge zones, you’re going to end up as disappointed as I was. Typically these zones will disappear long before you reach them, potentially leading you well out of your way for absolutely no benefit at all. Remember that every single driver in your area can see these zones, and the majority of them are going to flock to that location, so if you’re more than five minutes away from a sudden surge or hot zone, you’re better off ignoring it.

This is a pretty solid piece of advice – which I didn’t listen to until I’d already made that mistake a number of times myself. If you happen to be in the middle of a surge-area when it starts or prime-time is right where you are, take advantage, but don’t chase it! On the contrary, hold out to be one of the few who stays put. You might actually find yourself with an abundance of rides given up by those who decided to get out of range to chase the surge somewhere else.