The Uber experiment: Professor tries out Uber as a driver in Orlando, Florida

Jan 03, 2017 @ 4:04 PM ET By Ben Alonzo 1 Comment
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December was the perfect time to try Uber as a driver. I’ve heard many things about it, but never really thought of things from the driver’s side. I made some interesting observations during my first stint driving for the ride-sharing app. I don’t have a lot of free time, but it seemed like something I should try around the holidays. There are some things riders and drivers should know. If you know how to use the app, you can get the most out of the service. Drivers can also maximize their profits by considering some of the things mentioned here.

Uber

As a CEO of a company myself, it must be said that Uber was another example of innovation that started small and quickly sprouted. It had the ingredients for success, which is what you need to build a profitable business. It’s not just a business, it’s an entirely new model. There are millions of people with cars in need of income. There are also millions of people in need of cheap rides. One of Uber’s biggest problems seems to be fighting against people that do not want open competition, which is another argument I will not cover in this blog post. The company was founded in 2009, but as of 2016, it has coverage in over 66 countries. The idea of average citizens driving others around by sharing their transportation resources is both efficient and profitable. I’ve tried Uber several times as a rider and was consistently satisfied. Why not try this as a driver, I thought?

Riders almost always pay a lower rate than a union-governed taxi company. In many cases, you pay only a fraction of the cost of a typical taxi. The cars are generally cleaner, better smelling, and the people seem to be nicer. Additionally, the app is very innovative. You can see your route before paying. The driver isn’t going to pull a meter and drive for ever, just to get more money from you. You also pay ahead of time, so no need to exchange cash or find a way to pay at the end of your trip. There’s an added measure of safety in seeing the car license plate and driver photo before they arrive to pick you up. You can text the driver to communicate in seconds. Vehicles differ drastically, you never know what will pick you up. However, Uber requires a minimum newer model car with 4 doors and a capacity to carry at least 4 people. In fact, this may be more of an advantage because you may be picked up in something cool.

Driving for Uber

Uber requires people that want to drive to go through a quick process of verifying license, insurance, and registration. Before you can drive, there is also a standard background check that occurs through a commercial background service. Everything is done digitally, which makes this process very fast. You could start driving in a matter of days, if you complete the registration process. Uber calls drivers “partners.” Once you’ve completed driver registration, you get to download the Uber Partner app. Everything you need to pickup and drop off can be viewed within the app. The navigation portion of Uber’s app allows you to choose which smartphone mapping service you use. I found the best to be Google Maps. Think of the Uber Partner app as the dispatching and navigation resource you need to drive people around.

When you’re cleared to drive, it’s time to try your first pickup. Some have described the first time as anxious and awkward. This is the point where your personality and nerves get tested. One thing is for sure, you could view this as a sort of excitement because it’s something new. You’re going to pick up a stranger. What conversations will happen? What if they say nothing at all? You’re going to get both types of people!

After you sign into the Uber Partner app, it allows you to “go online.” This makes you visible to riders. Uber has a proprietary system that automatically dispatches calls to the nearest driver. I would also imagine they have additional algorithms for rankings and peak time. If you’re lucky, you might be in an area of high demand. High demand areas could get “surge pricing.” This is your chance to make double (or more) the rate for driving. You might even make your first pickup in a surge area.

The first time you get a rider alert makes you excited and curious. There’s a sound that plays as well as a map of the location of where the person is to be picked up at. You only have a few seconds to accept the request or it goes to someone else. If you accept, you should follow through and click on the navigate button.

I thought it would be difficult to find the pickup and ending locations. As a developer and computer programmer, Uber did a very good job designing an intuitive interface. It’s easy to navigate and see the map. Turn-by-turn directions can also speak the route to you. Everything you need to know is on the screen. Maps seem to be accurate and find the most efficient way for you to get to the location. If there are tolls (while the rider is in the car), they pay. The route is predetermined for you, which means you just have to push one button.

Once you navigate to the rider pickup location, you then select start ride. This is the time period where you actually picked the person up and now the app displays the final destination. Depending on where you’re going, the rider might have some luggage. At worst, you get out to help them put the luggage in your car. At best, they just get in your car and you go.

Some are concerned about who you pick up. In a perfect world, you would want to know who’s in your car, perform a background check, DNA, fingerprints, provide tax returns, collateral, swear on first born, etc. The thing is, you can’t forget that these people are registered with the app. Many of them have used the service before. They also paid for the trip in full, before you picked them up. This means that most Uber drivers are completely legitimate and will not cause you problems. It’s also great because no cash is handled, much safer than exchanging things on the road. You have to keep in mind that they paid and you will get paid, which is what it’s all about.

You might strike up a conversation, but only if your passenger is the type. I had multiple passengers, but most of them didn’t say much. I communicate with thousands of people each year in my positions, which makes silence awkward for me, but some prefer it! I’ve had people talk to me about their trips, how their day was going, rock concerts, jokes, economy, and politics. There’s also the rider you pick up that doesn’t say a word to you for the entire trip.

My very first rider gave me a $10 tip on top of what I was already paid by Uber. I didn’t think he would because not a single word was spoken during the trip. This caused me to laugh because it was the second I realized the whole thing works. Granted, you shouldn’t expect this every time.

Some trips are longer than others. You get paid more for going further, but it’s something that you won’t know until after you’ve already picked up the rider.

One of the things I noticed involved destinations. The app doesn’t exactly tell you ahead of time how far you will be traveling or where the final destination may be, until you pick the person up. It does let you select a target destination area, but that makes taking calls difficult because it restricts your availability. You could find yourself paid from one side of the city to 30 miles west of it. You’re paid to drop the person off, but what happens after that? Unless you get another rider going back towards your home, you have to pay your own way back. It would be nice to be able to stay within a region, but that’s up to Uber to offer that kind of driver filter within the app.

I also noticed that if you drive at certain times, especially between 6am-8am, you can give rides to lots of business people. For those that want to maximize earnings, these people seem to also give cash tips, especially if you help them with luggage or to/from an airport. I don’t think Uber allows tipping through their app, but people can definitely give you a cash tip.

You can increase your chances of getting a high rating, possibly a cash tip, by driving smoothly, being friendly, and having a clean car. People already appreciate the discounted cost of getting a ride via Uber. They surely would like the added benefit of friendly people that make the whole thing a really positive experience. You can rate riders and they can rate you!

Payment occurs through a calculated share that you get. You can link your bank account to your Uber Partner account to get paid weekly. Remember that you are responsible for taxes! For people that are unemployed or underemployed, Uber is a very possible income resource, especially if you are willing to accept any/all rider requests. The more requests you take, and the more distance you are willing to drive, the more you will make. There are other Uber drivers, but not all of them are in the same location or willing to drive where you will go. Take advantage of any unique area you’re in, especially after a major event.

Overall

Uber offers people a unique experience, especially in a tough economy. Driving for Uber in a major city is a great way to supplement your income. You get to travel, be your own boss, meet new people, and see new places, while you get paid. The frequency of payments also makes it very appealing for younger people to participate. The Uber Partner app is extremely easy to use. There’s no time limit for working as a driver. You can start and stop anytime. You’re not going to get filthy rich, but that’s not the way mass ride sharing works on the independent driver-end. Some say you can make upwards of $90,000+ per year as an Uber driver. My experience suggests that this is indeed possible. It’s very easy to average at least $30+/hour, if you accept all requests and are willing to drive all over the city. Driving for Uber is an interesting experience that could be beneficial in many situations. Experiences will differ, but you can really make it into whatever you want, which is why I could recommend this to my students, clients, and readers.

bio
Author: Ben Alonzo is a scientist, professor, tech expert, and director of ULTRATechLife.com. He’s currently CEO of the tech firm Emera Media. He holds a M.S. in Geoscience, M.S. in Health, and a B.S. in Geoscience. Alonzo is a highly-rated professor that teaches numerous courses at multiple colleges, including earth science, meteorology, environmental science, geology, oceanography, and public health. His diverse background also spans network and computer engineering, healthcare, telecommunications, weather forecasting, consumer electronics, and web development. He holds a variety of professional credentials, ranging from A+ information technology to healthcare provider and emergency medical technician certifications. He’s been writing about science and tech for over 10 years.
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  • Cody

    It sounds really good. I have a question. Does anyone know if this is safe for a girl? My girlfriend wants to do Uber but isn’t it mostly guys driving?