AdviceSan FranciscoTech

So Who Makes More, Taxi or Lyft/Uber Drivers?

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san-francisco-taxi-cab-tip-taximeter

Ok, let’s talk about the money…

There is a common misconception that being an Uber/Lyft driver is more profitable than traditional taxi drivingThe media likes to publicize reportsusually supplied by Uber and Lyft, that taxis are on the brink of becoming obsolete as these new app-based ride services continue to grow in popularity and take a larger share of the market. But if the taxi industry is really doomed, why am I making more money behind the wheel of a cab than I ever did with Uber and Lyft?

For over a year now, I’ve been driving the streets of San Francisco for hire. During that time, I saw my income go from around $800 a week (before expenses) when I first started driving for Lyft back in March of 2014 to $600 (again, before expenses) after Lyft and Uber went to war that summer and began enacting a series of price cuts. By the fall, my earnings had dropped to $500 a week (yes, before expenses).

All the while, Uber and Lyft kept sending me emails that claimed I was making more money than ever. I’m no mathematical wiz, but isn’t there a limit to how many rides a driver can even complete in a given time period? And if I’m giving more rides per hour while my expenses stay the same and, due to all the extra five-dollar rides, the wear and tear on my car increases, aren’t I really making significantly less in the long run? (Answer: yes.)

It was like being a factory worker in some dystopian nightmare where the foreman sped up the assembly line and initiated quotas. Then denied anything had changed.

“You just need to work smarter,” the company lackeys insist. “Not harder.” But how the fuck do you do that when the game is rigged against you?

uber-referral-pyramid-scheme

Eventually, it got to the point that I only drove on Friday and Saturday nights. Sometimes Thursdays. The rest of the time it just wasn’t worth the effort of cleaning my car, driving across the bridge from Oakland and dealing with traffic for a bunch of five-dollar rides. I felt like I was losing money. Before the price cuts and massive recruitment campaigns, I made around $150 driving for six hours on a Wednesday. Afterwards, I was lucky to clear $50. Yes, before expenses.

The only way Uber/Lyft drivers make decent money is rider referrals (AKA, the bizarro pyramid scheme) and surge pricing. Some drivers are always trying to figure out how to hornswoggle the app to generate a false surge. It’s almost comical how devoted they are to gouging passengers, like funny little cartoon villains with pink mustaches.

As Johnny Rotten said that time he was in San Francisco, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”

uber-driver-surge-game

Since I’ve been driving a cab, my earnings have increased from $700 a week when I first started to $900 a week after just three months of driving forty hours a week. That’s AFTER my gate fees, gas and greasing the palms of the window guy to get a decent cab. The only other expense I have is my annual A card permit. But get this, I’m still learning how to drive a cab. Cab driving is an entirely different beast from the Uber/Lyft experience, where fares only come from one place: the apps. In a taxi, they come from a multitude of sources: street hails, dispatch calls, voucher accounts, cab stands, the airport, regular clients and yes, even apps.

I guess I did start driving smarter and not harder: I stopped driving for Uber and Lyft!

So far, I’ve learned that a successful taxi driver does not just keep warm bodies in the seats.  They get their fares to where they’re going as efficiently as possible and avoid traffic and other hazards of the road at the same time, all the while providing a pleasant customer experience along the way. I do this with aplomb. Always have. When I was a Uber/Lyft driver, I had a 4.9 rating with both. But positive ratings—even with glowing comments—weren’t going to pay my rent. Or cover my power bill. Shit, they couldn’t even support my daily cup of Philz coffee.

Now that I’ve taken my customer service skills to taxi, though, I get something much better than five star ratings: cold hard cash.

charm-pays-in-a-taxicab

Tips make up at least 30-40% of my income. It’s not unusual to get a twenty-dollar bill for a ten-dollar ride. This happens multiple times each night. Even at standard tipping rates, a seven-dollar ride is a ten-dollar ride when the deal is done. And a ten-dollar ride easily becomes a fifteen-dollar ride. Once you get into the $30-$40 range, the bare minimum of 20% bumps up fares significantly. And there’s always the chance you’ll get a big spender who drops a C note on a $25 ride. (Yes, the lead picture is real. It happened during my third week as a cab driver.)

Occasionally, there are some passengers who don’t tip at all. Foreign tourists are notorious for not understanding American tipping culture. But over the past three months, I’ve only been stiffed a few times. The most egregious case was an older guy from the Midwest who gave me a twenty-dollar bill and a dime on a $10.10 fare. Confused, I asked how much he wanted back and he replied indignantly, “Ten dollars.” It didn’t occur to me until I drove away that I should have returned the dime with a snotty comment like, “You probably need this more than me.” But that’s not my style. Although, to be honest, I wish I could be more of an asshole sometimes.

When it comes to Uber and Lyft, it doesn’t matter how well you drive, how friendly you are or how accommodating you are to passengers, there is no expectation of a tip. Since Uber doesn’t allow tipping through the app, unless somebody hands you cash—which is extremely rare—you don’t get anything beyond the price of the ride. Lyft, on the other hand, has the option to tip, but very few people actually tip. And those who do tip maybe give you a dollar or two. You certainly never get enough to cover Lyft’s 20% commission. Never.

Out of desperation, some Uber drivers have been experimenting with putting tip jars in the backseat. Or taping signs to their cars. Or starting online petitions.

uber-drivers-beg-for-tips

Without a doubt, most people who take Lyft and Uber are cheapskates. They only use these ride services because they don’t want to take the bus or pay for a real cab. (Or they just really hate taxis.) So what if they have to wait ten minutes for a driver to show up? Who cares if the driver has no clue how to get from the Mission to the Castro? It’s all about cheap rides. And if they’re using Lyft Line or Uber Pool, they’re only paying a few dollars more than the bus. Unless it surges. And then they just get in a cab.

“But my drivers tell me they’re happy all the time!” you might exclaim when confronted with the reality that Uber/Lyft drivers actually have needs too.

Well, I hate to break it to you, but they only say that because they don’t want a bad rating. Uber/Lyft drivers live in constant fear of deactivation. No matter what you tell yourself to feel better about supporting an exploitative business model, when you ride with Uber and Lyft, you are encouraging a system that takes advantage of people so desperate for money they are willing to use their personal vehicles as taxicabs. At half the price! And no tip!

tweet-uber-drivers-are-happy

When I was an Uber/Lyft driver, I joined all the Facebook groups for drivers. I’m still a member of most, although I had to unfollow them after a while because I got tired of practicing my gag reflexes as the posts showed up on my wall. I still occasionally drop in to see what’s going on in Uber/Lyft land. Not much ever changes. Ratings are always on the top of drivers’ minds. Drivers seek sympathy for low ratings and post screengrabs of the positive comments they get in an email from Lyft each week. It’s kinda pathetic.

scared-happy-lyft-drivers-bad-good-ratings

Money is the second biggest topic. And how to make it. Few seem to know what they’re doing. They just turn on the app and hope for the best. But there are some drivers who like to brag about making the big bucks. They claim to earn $1000 a week in 40 hours. This figure, of course, doesn’t factor in expenses, particularly unforeseen costs like major car repairs that not only require money but also time, during which they aren’t earning money. They also assume major insurance risks that could cost them thousands of dollars, and they deal with an unfair rating system that could end their ability to use the system. It takes just one self-entitled asshole on a power trip. And let’s not forget about Uncle Sam. He’s gonna want a cut too.

Meanwhile, a beginning taxi driver like myself who also works forty hours a week is making $900. Which is straight profit. Money in my pocket. (Minus taxes, of course… though with all that cash floating around, it’s hard to keep track of it all…) And as I get better at driving a cab, I expect my income to continue rising. Hell, baseball season just started this week. Summer is on the way. Tourists! Oh, bless the tourists and their cab-taking ways!

The way I figure it, if I can make $900 a week during the off-season, despite the alleged dominance of Uber, the future is looking bright for me in a cab. Plus, no insurance risks, no rating system and no car maintenance. And I get to use taxi lanes and cab stands, I can make left turns where it’s most strategic and I can cruise straight down Market Street like I’m a la-di-fucking-da…

So yeah… go ahead and believe the hype that Uber and Lyft are destroying the taxi industry. The propagation of lies is the only sustainable component of their business model. And they need all the suckers they can get.

uber-x-driver-on-the-skids-homeless

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Kelly Dessaint - Will Drive for Food

Kelly Dessaint - Will Drive for Food

Former Uber/Lyft driver turned taxi driver... In my real life, I'm the publisher of the personal narrative zine Piltdownlad, founder of Phony Lid Books and author of the novel A Masque of Infamy and the forthcoming memoir No Fun: How Punk Rock Saved My Life.

19 Comments

  1. RandPaul4Prez
    April 16, 2015 at 8:50 am

    Cabs are smelly

    • LOCO SF
      April 17, 2015 at 10:05 am

      SO are passengers

  2. April 16, 2015 at 9:32 am

    Glad to see you are finally listening to me. I’ve always maintained that Uber/Lyft driving is best for part-time drivers. There’s obviously going to be an income trade-off when you gain unlimited flexibility as a rideshare driver.

    I think full time drivers should consider driving for a taxi because that is the type of upward pressure that would force Uber/Lyft to raise rates to something more reasonable. I have made it abundantly clear that I don’t care about Uber/Lyft, they are a tool for drivers and the more you depend on them, the worse off you’ll be. That is biz 101.

    • April 17, 2015 at 12:54 pm

      I thought you stopped reading my articles months ago, Harry? And according to you, nobody else reads them either. So what gives? Did you just stop by to steal more of my material? Like, now you’re saying drivers should switch to taxi? Man, all you do is rag on cabs. You really are a spineless cockstain on the bedsheets of humanity.

  3. LOCO SF
    April 17, 2015 at 10:06 am

    This is a great article that speaks the truth

  4. Rich Brunelle
    April 18, 2015 at 11:53 pm

    The reason Uber is so against any form of regulation is because regulation removes the Disposable Commodity called UberX. The UIberX driver can be replaced without difficulty because there is no regulation that requires any form of driver or Company investment. If you have to pay $100.00 for a permit to drive around the City, before you can drive, suddenly there are less candidates to hire and less drivers that can be easily fired. This would also require the RideShare/Ride-Hail Companies actually pay a reasonable income as drivers approved/permitted would leave if not paid accordingly. Presently, drivers just leave when they come to the conclusion that these Companies are pulling off the biggest employment scam ever in the history of the US. Uber alone is scamming every Independent Contractor by lies and deception, telling the drivers they are making good money. Uber barely covers drivers expenses and trades the equity in drivers cars for the drivers income. Uber tells drivers that Uber will make them a small business owner, but does not pay enough to even be a driver, most UberX make less than minimum wage. Actually no, that is incorrect. Few UberX drivers earn a minimum wage, most UberX drivers do not earn any actual profit at all. I purchased a car through Uber, I cannot make even 0.01 on a 40 hour work week. Uber says that my car should not be part of my earnings calculation because regardless of Uber I would still have a car payment to make. We call this Uber Logic. Uber Logic is where you bullshit the government, the community, the drivers, the riders and anyone else to fall for the lies, that you have created over 162,000 valuable jobs nation-wide, when you have done nothing more than create financial insolvency to 162,000 people that believed they were going to benefit from working for a business that claimed they were “partners” in the growth of a new economy. The new economy is a scam and the folks running the show will be heading for the border with briefcases full of cash as soon as someone as smart as me figures it all out. (No I am not saying I am smarter than anyone. I am saying if my stupid ass can see the way these jerks are ripping everybody off, certainly some 5th grader will figure it out.)

    • Sabbie
      May 27, 2015 at 2:39 pm

      Uber Logic is that a car shows up when you need one. Before Uber, not so much. So, they win.

  5. […] Continue reading on Broke-Ass Stuart… […]

  6. June 14, 2015 at 3:45 pm

    I enjoyed the article but was confused by the Midwesterner tip story. He gave a ten dollar tip. I’m confused about the hostility at the dime part. I get it, that he wanted it to be even, in his head. Why would you be hostile to a ten dollar tip on a ten dollar ride? That seems generous to me, and very ungenerous of you to be judgmental. Am I missing something?

    • Brian Edgar
      September 12, 2016 at 11:28 am

      You missed something. There was no TIP as the passenger gave the $20.00 plus the $0.10 for a $10.10 ride fare. Then wanted the change back, ($10.00) at least give the passenger a $5.00 and 5 $1.00 bills. May have at least gotten something as a TIP.

  7. William Iverson
    June 1, 2016 at 4:49 am

    Most of your points have become invalid if driving for Lyft in Chicago and soon other large markets in the US. Why because they partnered with GM to give full time drivers brand new cars to drive for free (part time drivers can get cars to just not for free) with their Express Drive car rental service. No maintenance or insurance cost, with unlimited miles all included. The only expense is gas and car washes. They don’t have to pay a gate keeper for a “good car” either.

    As for your asinine statement that most Uber and Lyft riders are cheapskates that couldn’t be further from the truth.

    The truth is:

    1. MOST Rideshare passengers use it because they live in areas of big cities and urban/suburban metropolis that the taxi industry have historically refused to service with any reliability if at all.

    2. A good portion of Taxis drivers, drive like they’ve lost their minds with practically no threat of any repercussions.

    3. Taxi drivers can and do discriminate, picking and choosing who they will give a ride to when hailed.

    4. A most do not want to passengers to pay with their credit/check cards

    5. Most expect a tip like it’s a requirement and not a courtesy.

    I personally started using Uber and Lyft because of all the above.

    If Uber and Lyft weren’t hurting the Taxi business why are they complaining ago much and funding campaigns to try to cripple the rideshare industry?

    Screw the taxi industry and their decades long reign of discriminatory practices. They created the market for rideshare companies in their arrogance. They only care now because the rideshare industry is being used by riders in the areas they have dominated for decades as well as the areas they’ve historically neglected and made billions. They money was always in those areas they just treated the money in those areas as beneath them.

    • SleepyinSF1
      April 20, 2020 at 7:22 am

      LOL. They don’t get those cars for free. Someone lied to you. Uber and Lyft are a bad deal for drivers all around.

  8. RealFakeSanFranciscan
    September 12, 2016 at 3:04 pm

    “most people who take Lyft and Uber are cheapskates. They only use these
    ride services because they don’t want to take the bus or pay for a real
    cab.”

    No, we use them because they actually _show up_ when you call for a ride, and cabs don’t. (Or they failed to enough in the past that most of us stopped even bothering years ago.) Really, that’s 90% of it right there.

  9. Yara da Silva Heying
    September 28, 2016 at 2:35 am

    Taxis are the Blockbusters of transportation as Uber/Lyft is Red Box and Netflix.
    I give 3 years to completely die….
    let’s get on with the 21st century.

  10. arbcar
    December 28, 2016 at 8:29 pm

    When I get in a taxi, I know it’s insured, by law. I don’t want to learn, after an accident, that the vehicle is un-, or under-insured.

    Rideshare companies say their drivers meet a liability requirement…but there is every incentive to scam that angle.

  11. BadMothafucker
    March 12, 2017 at 7:24 pm

    Somehow I feel like this article is full of shit. At first I wasn’t making as much, I learned a few tricks along the way, and also know where to be at (colleges, downtown areas, events, places that gets packed), and what time to be there. I throw myself out there in the busiest hours, such as Thursday night up to 3am, Friday nights up to 3am to 4am, Saturday and Sunday all day, weekdays 7am to 9am and 2pm to 7pm. But in 40hrs, I make a lot. I hear a lot of Uber drivers complaining that they’re not making any money but they swear they’re out there like I am. Normally, 8 hours online, I make an average of $130 to $150. 7 hours online I’m already doing about $120. In 6 hours, I’m doing average $90. I usually stop when I reach my daily goal which is $150, which is mostly around 8 hours. That’s about $750 in 5 days (average). When you hear an Uber driver saying they making $1000 a week, it’s simply because they’re putting more than 40 hours a week, they’re also doing weekends to make $1000. They’re not lying like the way you try to put it. And remember I said $750 is average not including tips, like you we also get lucky with some rides, which makes us get even more on the week. Example, almost every day I get a long trip ranging 30 miles to even 50 miles, on a 50 miles trip I get around $48 to $50 in 1 hour, and usually get a good tip like $10, making a quick $60 in just that hour. Many times I made around $200 in less than 8 hours. If I work all 7 days for 8 hours, I’m guaranteed to make over $1000, but I actually do more than 8 hours (10hrs to 12hrs) taking home every week over $1400. The homeless photo you posted, is just simply a real bum, and someone just gave him the sign to hold, you’re not fooling anyone.If you’re not making money like me on Uber, then you’re simply just can’t handle it or can’t put in the work. Sorry bro, but this article is completely misleading and making people think that there’s not real money in Uber. All those tricks of logging off and trying to get just surge money doesn’t work, because you miss out on other rides, keeping the app online at all times until you’re done is the way to go, more chances in getting someone traveling 40 miles or more, that happens almost every day, sometimes even twice a day.

  12. Abubeker Refaw
    January 7, 2018 at 6:58 pm

    Your writing and blog have been life changing. I’ve been able to follow your steps on how to setup and create a podcast. My podcast is starting to take off and gain traction. Thank you for providing detailed, actionable information! I am CEO of DC TAXI SERVICE

  13. Jonathan Harris
    January 23, 2018 at 4:40 am

    Just saying, this load of crap sounds like a shill. The guy works for a Taxi company so thats part one of being able to see through this crap load of crap. Its not about ratings, its about how many people you transport I would guess. Taxi and Uber dont even work the same, so how can you compare profit between the two. Lets face it, Taxi drivers are running scared.

  14. […] discourages employees from comparing [Uber’s] estimates to the minimum wage.” Here‘s an anecdotal account from a taxi driver who previously drove for Uber and Lyft, reporting […]