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A full-time Cleveland Uber driver who took home $17,000 in 2023 shares why the full-time gig isn’t worth the money anymore

May 5th, 2024

A full-time Cleveland Uber says none of his driving strategies have provided him the results he was hoping for. The driver in the story is not pictured.Jeff Greenberg/Getty Images

  • A Cleveland Uber driver took home $17,000 in 2023 after commissions and vehicle expenses.

  • He said he’s tried a variety of driving strategies, but that none have made much of a difference.

  • Safety concerns are another reason he’s considering quitting ride-hailing.

George, a full-time Uber driver in Cleveland, was once quite satisfied with his ride-hailing gig. But things have changed.

The 40-year-old, who has been driving for Uber since 2017, is considering quitting and becoming a truck driver, he previously told Business Insider via email.

“I used to sing the praises of Uber and recommend doing Uber to people looking for a business opportunity and one where a decent income can be made — but no longer,” said George, whose identity is known to BI but he asked to use a pseudonym due to his fear of professional repercussions.

George said he’s tried a variety of earnings strategies in recent years, but that none of them have proven to be both successful and sustainable.

Last year, George made more than $109,000 in gross earnings from ride-hailing, according to documents viewed by BI. But after Uber’s commissions, car maintenance, gas, and other driving expenses were accounted for, he took home roughly $17,000, about 16% of his gross earnings. In 2021, he took home roughly 19% of his gross earnings.

He said he typically drives between 45 and 55 hours each week and estimated that after expenses like gas and maintenance, he earned about $17 an hour in 2023 — excluding depreciation and insurance costs.

George is one of several Uber and Lyft drivers who have told Business Insider their gigs are less profitable than they were a few years ago. Many have accused ride-hailing giants of taking a larger cut of rider fares, while some have pointed to growing driver competition and high vehicle expenses. These frustrations have led some drivers to protest and call for higher guaranteed pay.

In February, an Uber representative told BI that “the vast majority of drivers are satisfied” and that “as of last quarter, drivers in the US were making about $33 per utilized hour” before expenses.

Many ride-hailing drivers are actively tracking their income and expenses to make sure driving is worth their time. George shared the top ride-hailing strategies he’s tried, what worked and didn’t, and another reason — in addition to a declining income — he’s considering ditching ride-hailing.

Some strategies have been effective, but none have moved the needle

George said he’s tried “cherry picking” — only accepting trips that pay a minimum of $1 a mile. But he said he often finds himself accepting rides below this threshold that take him to busier areas.

Drivers have told Business Insider that it’s easier to be picky with rides when one drives part-time and is less reliant on ride-hailing income. A low acceptance rate can also make it difficult for drivers to retain their driver status, which can provide perks like savings at select gas stations.

George said he tries to drive on the weekends as much as possible, when the demand is “incredibly high.” But he said this comes with a risk.

“I do it with the advanced knowledge that I could deal with someone puking in the vehicle, reducing how much time I would have to drive due to clean-up requirements and then get back to work once it was cleaned to my satisfaction,” he said.

While this concern is often in the back of his mind, he said there have only been a couple of occasions where he’s had to clean up after a sick passenger.

George said driving at night — when ride demand is higher and driver supply is lower in his area — has been fairly effective. He’s also tried working more during the daytime, when he said ride demand can be fairly high. But he said this strategy didn’t meaningfully increase his earnings, in part because he could only complete so many rides.

“I’d find myself in a massively high volume of traffic, and I would either sit with or without my passenger in the car but still lose time,” he said. “I prefer the lesser levels of traffic to reduce stress and anxiety caused by others’ poor driving and prevent myself from getting involved in an accident.”

George added that working high-demand days, like the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day, can be profitable. But there are only so many of these days throughout the year, and when traffic is accounted for, his total earnings aren’t always that much higher than a typical day.

“Regardless of my strategy in Cleveland, my earnings pretty much remain the same,” he said.

Safety concerns have been frustrating

While his financial challenges are the primary reason George is considering quitting ride-hailing, he said he’s also had some safety concerns.

“We drivers know nothing about our passengers, yet the passengers know evening about us,” he said. When booking a ride, passengers can see driver names, pictures, license plates, vehicle models, how many trips they’ve completed, and how long they’ve been driving for the platform.

“What we see is whatever name is given and a score, nothing else,” he added, noting that the passenger’s name isn’t always accurate.

“I recently had a passenger use ‘Yu-Gi-Oh’ as their name,” he said, referring to the popular card game.

In April, Uber rolled out a new rider verification program in several US cities, not including Cleveland, that will put a blue checkmark on the accounts of riders whose identity has been verified. Uber said the majority of riders will have this done automatically, though some may need to upload an ID to do so.

This program will allow drivers to decline a ride when a passenger’s identity hasn’t been verified.

“Strengthening rider verification has been a top request from drivers across the country,” Roger Kaiser, head of safety at Uber, said in a statement about the update. “Uber’s new verification process and verified rider badge that will be visible to drivers are important steps to help provide drivers with more peace of mind while they are out on the road.”

Uber said it plans to expand this program to more cities in the coming months.

Regardless of the update, if George’s earnings don’t improve, he said he will likely try to pursue other options. However, while he makes that transition, he said he has no choice but to keep driving.

“There are a number of frustrations because I only want to better my life,” George said. “But because of the situation as it is, I continue to run into a brick wall.”

Are you a gig worker willing to share your story about pay, schedule, and tipping? Are you struggling to find a better job? If so, reach out to this reporter at jzinkula@businessinsider.com.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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