What should I tell a friend about driving for Uber in Washington DC
August 1, 2017 4:01 AM   Subscribe

My wife's friend lives in Washington, DC, and has no income. She's talking about borrowing money from her family to drive for Uber or Lyft. I've heard anecdotes about this being a bad idea, but I don't know if it might be different in DC and the surrounding states. Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Hard numbers would be a help.
posted by Joe in Australia to Work & Money (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm confused why she's borrowing money for this? Could you clarify if it's because she's doing minor repairs or cleaning of a car she already owns or whether this is more like a large loan to purchase a brand new car?
posted by forkisbetter at 4:28 AM on August 1, 2017

Response by poster: A loan (approx $5,000) to purchase a used car.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:36 AM on August 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Might try looking at this forum for Uber drivers in DC.
posted by exogenous at 4:44 AM on August 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sorry, I just noticed she's talking about borrowing from family, not financing through Uber. I can only assume that her family will offer better terms.

That said, the above articles may still be of interest, simply for the info regarding how Uber operates/treats its drivers.
posted by she's not there at 4:53 AM on August 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

There should be some place in DC that leases cars to drivers, gets them set up with Uber and Lyft and gets a kickback that doesn't come out of the driver's earnings. There's a company like that here.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 5:15 AM on August 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Perhaps it would be less risky to try driving with a rental car instead of buying at first? I know both Herz and Enterprise have a fleet that they specifically rent out for Uber use - Hertz is $180/week, not sure about Enterprise or other competitors.
posted by R a c h e l at 5:15 AM on August 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

WAMU (the DC NPR station) just did a story about driving for Uber in DC. The results do not seem very heartening. Here's the story.
posted by deeparch at 5:58 AM on August 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

If she's talking about a loan to buy a new-to-her used car, tell her to make sure she knows what Uber requires in a car --- they don't allow all vehicles, there's an age cutoff, and anything she could get for $5K probably wouldn't qualify.
posted by easily confused at 6:29 AM on August 1, 2017 [18 favorites]

Point her to this video, which breaks down the economics of driving for Uber.
posted by adamrice at 7:16 AM on August 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

I only use Lyft. The drivers in DC told me they preferred Lyft. I don't recall the details.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:19 AM on August 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Perhaps delivering restaurant meals is a better option? But, really, anything that doesn't require a vehicle is a better option
posted by mightshould at 7:22 AM on August 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Nthing that a $5K used car may not be enough to meet the requirements and customer expectations. DC Uber must be 2005 or newer, I believe. You can find cars in that price range that are newer than that, but appearances do matter and cars in that age/price range may be beat up or getting to the point of needing $1K of work needed on it unexpectedly.

How good of a driver is she? A lot of the touristy parts of DC are covered with speed/red light cameras, and getting a few tickets a week could easily eat up a lot of her profit margin.
posted by Candleman at 7:45 AM on August 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have friends who solely drive for uber and whenever anything unexpected happens with the car (accident, breakdown, etc) they're out of work and are looking at a big bill they don't have the money to pay for in order to get back to work, so its a very precarious situation. It also puts a lot of wear & tear on a car to drive for one of these services 8+ hours a day of stop & go city driving.
posted by TheAdamist at 7:50 AM on August 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Personally I wouldn't offer her advice on this one unless she asks for my advice. She is going to hear from a lot of people that this might be a bad idea, etc... no need to be in the chorus unless invited.
posted by machinecraig at 7:56 AM on August 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

When Lyft launched in DC most of the drivers who were driving for Uber also started driving for Lyft, and we made a point of asking drivers how they felt about both companies. They unanimously preferred Lyft. As far as I know they still do. Uber is very aggressive towards its drivers and Lyft has a better ground support operation in DC.

We've had a few drivers for whom it's their sole source of income, but we've had more drivers in very late model cars who are basically using it to subsidize a nicer car than they'd have without the extra income. On top of everything else a $5000 used car isn't going to earn her good ratings in comparison.

The cashflow of driving for either company is good for a little money on the side if you already have a car. It's not really good enough to go into debt for, even with friendly terms. Uber's loan program is more or less indentured servitude and is not to be recommended at all.
posted by fedward at 7:57 AM on August 1, 2017 [9 favorites]

I agree Lyft drivers seem much happier than Uber drivers, but also that taking out a loan to driver for any ride-share company might not be a good deal. I have definitely had drivers who do the leasing option mentioned above (NOT through the company, through Hertz or similar) and spoke positively about it, so that might be a better option to look into. It's week-to-week, so if the job doesn't work out, you're not left with a debt. I would also question whether a $5K car is going to qualify for rideshare services -- most drivers I have seen have pretty well-kept, newer cars for the most part.
posted by rainbowbrite at 10:43 AM on August 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

August is the perfect time to get hired for a pizza delivery job if she has a car, and then she can drive for meal delivery apps whenever she's off schedule.
posted by serena15221 at 11:17 AM on August 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

To expand: I started leasing a Prius on the 23rd. 12 hours, 35 bucks. You have to be logged in for at least 9 of those 12. The leasing company took care of signing me up for Uber, Lyft, some delivery services and some medical courier stuff. They get some kind of kickback from those companies and it doesn't come out of your tariffs. I don't know much about that just yet.

Figured I'd do 7pm-7am. Dinner with the kids. Breakfast with the kids. Miss both rush hours. First night was non-stop. Didn't matter where I was. 383$ after lease and gas, but I know this town and the local GPS foibles. Sunday was 240$. I had time to think on Monday and started using the rider apps to see if I was in a thicket of other drivers. I was, so I moved until I wasn't and I had the whole West side to myself for hours while the other drivers just sat downtown and one by one their impatient lights went out leaving a few of us clustered around the hotels for the morning flight madness. We cleaned up. 262$

It's like a chess game with invisible pieces. You'll never make the kind of money you read about unless you have a strategy and patience. You have to know the area and sense the patterns. The myth about just driving when you want to is nice but mythical. You have to drive when they want you which means bringing the tourists in for dinner, taking them back later and telling them where to eat breakfast, knowing when the concerts let out, being around when the bars close and dealing with drunks then swooping back to those areas for the bar employees who are the very best tippers, then the I-will-never-miss-a-flight paranoiacs start crawling out of bed.

I left DC 21 years ago (because of traffic, ha!) so I can't give specific advice for that market.

I wouldn't buy a car for this. Puts all the risk on you.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 2:42 PM on August 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

Reddit has a pretty active forum for Uber (and Lyft) drivers. You could ask them. But whenever I ask my drivers whether they prefer Uber or Lyft, they always prefer Lyft because Lyft is better about guaranteed minimum compensation. For a long time, only Lyft offered tipping as well, but it seems Uber recently added that. I can't speak to the wisdom of borrowing $5k to buy a car. I wonder if a lease with smaller payments every month might be more tenable. At least then it's under warranty.

I think both Lyft and Uber have car requirements and a $5000 used car would have to be in good condition to be allowed. But when someone picks me up in a rather beat-up car, sometimes I do give them a lower rating. If your rating drops too low, you won't be allowed to drive anymore.
posted by AppleTurnover at 3:48 PM on August 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

If she can find an inexpensive enough suitable used car, it is entirely possible to make at least minimum wage after expenses driving for Uber/Lyft alone in most cities. That said, I'd recommend driving for Amazon Flex if they are in DC. They pay $18ish/hr (varies somewhat by city) for fixed blocks of time, so most of the time it's a better deal. Drive for a delivery company or Lyft when Amazon hours are scarce.

It's not an ideal way to work, but I can definitely see the appeal of it over no work at all. It completely hinges on the car, though. It has to be reliable, get good mileage, and be in good shape cosmetically to have the most options for keeping busy, which is what you have to do to make a living doing this sort of stuff.

Pizza (and other) delivery is definitely easier in terms of cosmetic condition of the car, but may not be enough on its own to live on.
posted by wierdo at 6:45 PM on August 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Perhaps delivering restaurant meals is a better option?

No, it's not. I tried it with four different companies. You end up making less than minimum wage.
posted by MexicanYenta at 11:15 PM on August 1, 2017

That sounds like a really good plan to lose $5000, not make money.
posted by runcibleshaw at 6:41 AM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hey Joe, heard you shot your woman down. Sorry, always wanted to say that.

I've figured some things out that may apply to another tourist-laden area.

I found the other nice smart drivers and we are experimenting with a zone system where we surround the other drivers and are always closer to the long trips than they are. We use the passenger app and share screenshots and between us we can see all of them and you just need to get a block outside the concentration and you can rule. We cleaned everyone else's clocks this past holiday weekend.

Also, she should get Square and an Uber light. That way if you have someone flag you down because they see the light you can go to the passenger app and plug in their destination and quote them the same price Uber would charge and Uber gets nothing when you swipe the card.

It's odd that they can be in your car and put the trip in and it goes to another driver? The hell? Done with that I am.

I'd also like to change the navigation voice to Samuel Jackson's or Christopher Walken's
posted by Mr. Yuck at 4:00 AM on September 6, 2017

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