All I wanted to do was make $200 a week driving 10 to 12 hours for Uber. I thought it would be easy but it led me on a 1,500 trip odyssey.

A little less than 3 years ago my wife and I retired. We sold our house and moved into a condo near by. The leases on our cars ended and we leased a Honda Accord to save money. We justified becoming a one car family by saying that if we needed another car we could just take Uber. Our first Uber experience came about a year later. My wife had to fly to a family wedding and she took an Uber to the airport. A couple of weeks after her trip she came home from the store and informed me that we had put less than 4,000 miles on the Honda in over a year. She said that because we have all these miles that we're paying for and not using I should try driving for Uber. She thought it would be a good way for me to get out of the house and besides it wouldn't hurt to have some extra money. Now, it would be an understatement to say that her suggestion didn't go over very well at first. But soon enough, there I was taking pictures of my license and other auto documents. In what seemed like only hours I was approved. Because I had never been in an Uber we decided to practice before I tried driving for real. We got in the car. My wife ordered an Uber. I took the request and we headed to a local bar. When we arrived she jokingly tipped me $5. Little did I know, at that time, I wouldn't be seeing many $5 tips.

I'm guessing my initial experience with Uber was far from unique. Rushing off like a fireman when I got a trip request. Having trouble finding addresses. Not knowing that the person staring at their phone is my pickup. And being very surprised how little I knew about a town that I had lived in for 30 years. But after a few dozen trips things calmed down.

It was around trip number 50 that I realized that I wasn't making any money. I assumed I was doing something wrong. I read everything I could find on the web about rideshare driving. More specifically, how much do drivers make? I learned very quickly that you could read anything you wanted. Drivers can make $100 an hour. Drivers can't make minimum wage. And everything in between. I read about making sure you play the right music for your riders. Offer them water and phone chargers. Now, I'm driving people to the airport. They are paying $26 and I'm getting paid $13 and change. Twenty years ago I was paying $35 to take a car to that airport and leaving a $10 tip. Music, water, phone chargers? I'm thinking that for $26 they are lucky just to get to sit inside the car!

I live in the suburbs. We all know the first rule of rideshare driving is to get out of the suburbs. But I didn't want to get out of the suburbs. The whole idea of driving for Uber is the convenience of driving when and where you want. Driving in the suburbs pretty much means you can forget about making money with surge and promotions. Surge happens on New Year's Eve. I got a promotion bonus once. $14 for making 12 trips. As my little niece would say "Big Whoop de Doodle." When I first started driving I set what I thought was a very reasonable goal. I wanted to make $200 per week in 10 hours. After all, I'm bringing a $25,000 car to my job that Uber gets for free. After a hundred trips I wasn't anywhere near my goal. I read somewhere that only 20% of suburban drivers make it to 100 trips. I guess I was one of the 20% that didn't realize that driving your car into the ground for minimum wage is just plain stupid.

On trip #100 I began charting my time spent, rider ratings, miles driven, pickup locations, drop off locations, pay and tips. When it was time to work I would get in my car and drive to a local "good spot" and wait for a trip request. In the suburbs the time it takes to get a trip request can be anywhere from seconds to a couple of hours. And it is really random. I'd get a trip. Complete the trip and drive to another "good spot" or a least to a spot where the neighbors wouldn't call the police and wait for my next request. I was only spending a third of my time making money. I was driving half of my miles without pay. After 300 trips here's what a pretty typical week looked like:


This is far from what I would call a great part-time job. But except for the time I spent sitting in my car waiting for a trip request I was really enjoying it.

I decided that if I wasn't going to make any money I was not going to do the part of the job I didn't enjoy. So I tried something radically different. Instead of going out to drive I put myself "On Call." This means I stayed home doing whatever I would normally be doing. The only requirement was that I had to be dressed to drive and if I took a trip request I had to be ready to leave. That didn't mean I had to rush out the door like a madman. Nobody is going to die if it takes me an extra minute to make a pickup. Not only that, I decided that after I completed a trip I wasn't going to find a "good spot" to sit and wait for my next request. I was going to head home. If I got and accepted a trip fine. If not, I was back home.

I had gotten rid of one third of the time I was working. But here is the thing that really surprised me. The time I spent driving getting paid and the amount of money I made stayed the same. At first I though it was just a streak of luck. So I started alternating weeks. One week going out to drive, the next week being "On Call." It wasn't luck. The results were the same. After another 300 trips things looked like this:


I spent the same amount of time online. The miles driven and the money I made were about the same as before but instead of hanging out in parking lots I was hanging out in my house. I stopped thinking about quitting and started trying to figure out how to make more money.

The first thing I tried to do to make more money was to reduce my dead miles. I had been accepting trip requests up to 6 minutes away. I cut this to 4 minutes. The amount of trips I took plummeted. The amount of "On Call" time went way up. It didn't take long to figure out this wasn't going to work. I knew there was only one other place to get more money. From My Riders.

I thought there was no reason I shouldn't get a lousy 20% tip on each ride.
After all, the people I drive never get tired of telling me how cheap Uber rides are. Then I had a really startling revelation. I was hoping for a 20% tip on my pay. I realized that my riders don't tip on what I get paid. They tip on the fare they pay. Uber was keeping half of my rider's fares. Take a look at this graphic:


There is no time or expenses associated with a tip. It's FREE Money. I love FREE Money. I became obsessed with getting tips.

I decided I was going to get all of my riders to tip. I was so annoying. Nobody got into my car without hearing that I was retired. Nobody got into my car without hearing that I have to drive double miles. When they would thank me for the ride I'd tell them don't thank me. Tip me. I probably did get a few more tips by doing this but it cost me the easy camaraderie I had with my riders. That was what I enjoyed about driving. Now, I didn't enjoy it. So I knocked it off.

I started going over all of my records to see if I could find something in common about the riders who tipped. As I discovered patterns I started turning down trips where I figured I wasn't going to get a tip. It turned out that the exact spots I had called my "good spots" to hang out and wait for a trip request were among the worst places to get tips. My acceptance rate plunged from over 80% to well below 50%. But after hundreds of trips Uber hasn't said anything. Now my typical week looks like this:

It took me 18 months and 1,500 trips but I'm finally happy to say that I not only enjoy driving for Uber but I'm also getting paid a decent amount of money for my time.

Now I'm wondering what the next step is?