Rideshare driving in New York City (Uber NYC) is simultaneously a simple and complex activity, and can greatly vary in difficulty from day to day. Being a driver-partner and doing Uber NYC in particular has both some positive and negative aspects. So here’s my experience with it so far, and how I’ve navigated the Uber NYC market to date.
I’ve been partnered with Uber for almost two years, starting in March 2015. I was doing Uber in New Jersey for almost a full year, while obtaining the necessary requirements to transition into Uber NYC (i.e., a TLC license). I received my TLC license in June of 2015; however, didn’t actually use it until March of 2016. This was mainly because I didn’t know how to get on the road. Essentially, I didn’t realize how simple it is to rent a TLC-plated, read-to-go Uber vehicle from one of several prominent fleet owners. It’s pretty simple. And they’re always looking for new drivers to get into their cars, since they make their money from weekly rental (or lease) payments. More on these two avenues later.
How much money can you make?
So, here’s the burning question I’m sure. Rideshare driving seems to be a pretty lucrative gig in NYC, right? It’s one of the biggest markets of for-hire drivers (if not the largest) in the world, yes. But there’s often just razor thin profit margins when you factor in all of the associated expenses. Here’s a list of things that will unavoidably eat into your income, each and every week:
- Rental/Lease fee for TLC vehicle
- Miscellaneous stuff (e.g., car washes, drive-thru meals, etc.)
I’m sure most rideshare drivers are familiar with four of the five items listed here. The rental/lease fee of $399 per week can be a big deterrent for drivers looking to do Uber NYC. I’m sure most rideshare drivers don’t think it would even be profitable, with car rental costs so high. I thought the same thing. Think about it, that’s damn near $1600 per month just to be able to “go online” in the city. This factor is probably why bloggers often refer to NYC as an “atypical” ridesharing market. And it’s true; however, rideshare drivers do make a great deal more doing Uber NYC compared to traditional markets.
The rates for Uber NYC (and Lyft, etc.) are probably the best in U.S. (presumably to offset the cost of insurance and registration with TLC). Drivers earn $1.75 per mile, $0.35 per minute, and get a $2.55 base fare. Plus there’s surge pricing, boost incentives, and various other promotions that regularly become available to drivers. Uber’s NYC promotions are also terrific; they’ve guaranteed up to $1,500 for driving 50 hours in one week, and meeting other specific criteria (e.g., %90 acceptance rate, 1.3 trips per hour, etc.). Other weekly guarantees have included $1,100 for 40 hours online plus qualifying criteria. That’s how drivers-partners doing Uber NYC are able to hack it, we take advantage of earnings promotions quite often.
Here’s a screenshot of several consecutive weeks of hitting those guarantees from Uber:
Looking at the screenshot pictured here, you can see that I made an average of $824.77 per week across nine weeks. This included a range of $481 – $1,081 across this period. These amounts are net, after Uber takes it’s cut and the fleet owner takes theirs. Not too shabby! I think this is typical for a NYC Uber driver; however, I’m sure some more experienced drivers probably do even better.
Don’t forget also that I pay a toll every damn day that I do ridesharing (commuting in from New Jersey), which is equivalent to ~$66 per week. Gas is another big expense. Since I fill up every 2.5 days or so, that’s another $78 – $90 per week of expenses. And learning the lay of the land in New York comes with the inevitable run in with the law. Trust me the cops will get you one way or another. So expect to pay around $400 per year in tickets, parking fees, surcharges from points, etc., etc. Still rideshare driving in New Jersey pales in comparison to the potential of working within the five boroughs.
How Does the Uber System Work?
You may be a little reluctant to get your TLC license still, which is completely understandable. If you’re living in the tri-state area, I would definitely recommend initiating the process. It takes a few weeks, and comes with a lot of cost upfront (i.e., for required training courses and such). Therefore, it’s better to do it slowly using extra cash where available towards licensing fees. Once you get your TLC license in the mail, you’re ready to go! Don’t wait half a year like I did to approach a fleet owner.
Often times, people use Uber to travel to the outer boroughs; however, most of my trip requests originate from within Manhattan. Since New York is essentially a grid system, most streets are One Way. Which means making three right turns to go left, and vice versa. It can get pretty hectic, especially when pax are calling me as I’m trying to navigate to their pick-up location. That’s the worst! I wish people would be a little more patient, but it is Uber NYC we’re talking about here. With that being said, UberX typically offers some decent to really great fares. Here’s an example of one route I took with an Uberx fare in NYC:
One passenger getting from A to B in Manhattan. Smooth. The trickiest part is turning from/to an avenue, because people and cyclists are probably crossing. This sample trip took ~15 min, which is fantastic for NYC. Traffic is often unpredictable, and can cause a lot of stress and aggravation. The roads are filled with taxis, T&LC vehicles, delivery cyclists, and couriers; all competing for the same dollar. Over time I’ve become more accustomed to city driving; however, it does take a few months to reach that point.
Along these lines, UberPool is notoriously difficult to do. Everyone knows how bad the carpooling algorithms are with Uber. And I’m often backtracking like a dozen blocks, just to accommodate additional pax who are automatically assigned to the route. I’m firmly in the “ignore at all costs” camp for Pool rides. Because these trips often do not go as smoothly as traditional UberX fares. Some drivers have even resorted to “opting out” of UberPool trips, by contacting Uber and complaining; however, UberPool trips can serve a purpose towards meeting promos/guarantees (i.e., when needing to meet a minimum trip number to earn the promo).
How Do I Get a Vehicle for Uber NYC?
New York is a unique market because driver-partners aren’t able to use their own vehicle for Ubering (unless it has TLC plates). Some drivers get their own TLC plates because it’s more cost effective over time. Insurance costs 3 months upfront (around $1,020) then is $320-$350 per month. Registration with the TLC, inspection fees, and buying plates themselves is around $2k all said and done. Therefore, going this route would cost approximately $4,140 for the first six months.
Compare this to just the $399 security deposit upfront for renting a vehicle. And you can see why most drivers choose the latter avenue. Still, six months of renting works out to $9,975 (maintenance included) so it’s more expensive in the long run. Also, some drivers go the lease-to-own route. This option is slightly cheaper than renting (because you’re stuck with the car for 2.5 yrs) but still more expensive then plating your own vehicle. Leasing-to-own is a big commitment. I know of several drivers who wished to return their vehicle to the fleet owner midway through the leasing contract. And of course are unable to, or they’ll be faced with legal consequences.
The key to making a living with rideshare driving, and Uber NYC is a high-rate of servicing trip requests. Makes sense, right? The more miles you drive with pax in your vehicle, the greater amount of income you’ll be making. Therefore, deadhead miles and long latencies between pings (i.e., the time between when you go online and receive a ping) can interfere with your income potential. Additionally, the amount of traffic on the road will reduce your rate of servicing riders per hour. I typically strive for three trips per hour, and can meet this goal on good days somewhat easily.
Timing is Everything
Although traffic can be unpredictable, city driving can be broadly classified into two categories. These are the “day” and “night” shifts. In NYC, demand for transportation is 24/7; however, will fluctuate throughout the day and week. For example, on Monday mornings (people are commuting to work) the demand is pretty high. But Friday afternoons there’s little need for a car, as people are at work, school, or home already.
Finally, if you want to work the busier times (e.g., weekday mornings, weekend evenings/nights, etc.) you’ll likely encounter more traffic. That’s because there are a lot yellow cabs and other rideshare drivers on the road too (as well as personal vehicles). So depending on how much you drive (i.e., part-time vs. full-time), you may not have a lot flexibility.