Driving for companies like Lyft and Uber is fast becoming a niche employment option for people who want to use their own cars to make extra (or even full-time) money. The possibility of flexible hours, good money, and meeting interesting people while serving their communities all make rideshare driving an attractive option to many.
But the key to success in the rideshare world is knowing when to offer rides to make the most money. Here’s a crash course on the best times to be an Uber driver—and maximize the freedom that comes from being your own boss with your own hours.
Location, Location, Location
It’s not just a cliché — “the best time to drive for Uber” really does depend on where you’re driving. Most major cities make note of peak times to drive based on how heavily Ubers are requested in given areas.
This is a factor in what Uber calls “surge pricing” — times of heavy request where fare prices are doubled, tripled, or even more. Make sure you remember that a surge is determined by where the rider is requesting from, not where you are — so you will only get the higher fees if you respond to a request from a surge location. These will be marked in red on your app. The darker the red, the greater the demand.
So When Are Surge Times?
These vary by city, but generally, watch for Friday and Saturday evenings from about 8 PM to 3 AM. This, of course, is when lots of the bar crowd is either going to, coming from, or otherwise continuing and alcohol-fueled adventure.
Be very certain that you can tolerate the antics and nonexistent inhibitions of inebriated millennials – the community of Uber drivers is sharply divided over the value and worth of spending hours carting around people too drunk to see their own hands on front of their faces. But if you have the strength of will (and washable seat covers) to tolerate it, you can make a fair amount of money.
Surge prices are calculated by a multiplied factor — say 1.5, 2.5, 3.6, etc. The higher the multiplier, the greater the demand and the greater potential fare. This is added atop the total trip fare (base + distance + time), plus any tolls that might be involved. Any cancellation fees, tolls, and surcharges are not affected by surge prices. The surge amount will be listed separately on your ride statement.
Some mornings are peak surge times as well, as are some early evenings (i.e., rush hour). More on these later.
Watch Your Preference
This is an important point that follows from the bar scene mentioned above. Besides location, “best times” are also determined by the preference of the driver.
Do you want to get up at 4 am? Then airport runs for business people might be perfect.
Are you a night owl who isn’t easily offended? Then do the bar run thing.
Are you really good at maneuvering rush hour traffic? Then take rides during the early evening when everyone in the world is getting off work.
It’s important to remember that your tolerance level, stamina, and willingness to work in odd situations or hours will affect what qualifies as “best times” for you.
Be a Real Friend, Get Paid: Take People to the Airport
Rather than give their friends the opportunity to navigate the harried environment of a major international airport, many people — especially very frequent fliers – are relying on Uber for being whisked there and back.
This would be another example of potential surge pricing, as who isn’t eager to get to the airport with enough time to be groped by the TSA and get lost trying to find their gate, in time for an overpriced flight? Apparently a whole slew of people.
This is an area where a lot of money can be made, especially if you’re willing to get up early. Ubers are scarce in the wee hours, so riders are usually willing to pay more for a ride if it means getting to the airport in time. Some drivers even do this regularly with the same customers.
Picking people up from the airport and driving them to whatever their destination is can also be lucrative, especially for those visiting your city. (People from out of town are less likely to have the network and resources set up to easily get around, especially on their first day there.)
A word of caution is in order here: Make sure you know the rules and requirements of your airport if you’re going to pick people up! Different airports require Uber drivers to wait for their riders at different places (one driver reports almost getting ticketed for waiting at arrivals instead of short-term parking), and some airports do not even allow Ubers at all.
“Work Friends”: Helping People Start and End the Workday
Uber’s official statement about peak driving times indicates that peak times for driving are during the morning hours from 7-9 and in the evening from 4-7pm. There is truth to this, but multiple on-the-ground Uber drivers report that these supposed peaks are based more on data than actual experience. (This means the precise times and surge pricing will vary depending on location and need — but then, what else have I been saying for seven paragraphs?)
It is true, however, that more Ubers tend to be requested at the beginning and end of the traditional work day, especially in larger cities (think Boston, Chicago, LA, NYC, and others). If you’re lucky, some of these can even be surge times, particularly in the evenings. This presents another challenge, however: Rush hour. (This is precisely why so many Ubers are requested — everyone wants to get home as soon as possible.)
Rush hour, of course, is affected by when people get out of work and the distance of commute between work and home. And, of course, it’s worse in larger cities. But if you’re willing to deal with a part of life you have to deal with anyway, why not get paid to do so? If you’re smart about when you accept rides, you can maximize surge prices and rake in a fair amount of cash.
Working For (or on) the Weekend
As I mentioned above in the general section on surge times, late evening to early morning (approximately 8pm-3am) can be peak times especially in larger cities, when everyone is going to or from various bars, nightclubs, and other weekend venues. I already mentioned you might have to possess a strong constitution to deal with people who are almost certainly drunk beyond definition, but here are a few reasons why you might want to put up with it.
First, the sheer number of people wanting rides will mean surge prices are going through the roof, and you’ll want to take advantage of that (even just giving people rides to various paces, instead of back home afterwards, can be an option).
Second, the later hours tend to mean there’s less traffic on the road, which enables you to get moving and get to your destination faster (most Uber drivers say the majority of their money is made while moving, not while sitting and waiting), and this means there is more time to accept more fares.
Even Sunday nights can be a surge time, as lots of people are eager to get home from the clubs and bars for work the next morning. And in some college towns, Thursday night is known as “practice night” for the weekend, so you might be able to garner a lot of fares then.
Finally, on the somewhat more altruistic side: Yes, these drunk people might be making total fools of themselves in your car, but at least they’re not driving and endangering themselves and others. And you can feel good about that.
For the Adventurous: Holidays and Bad Weather
Nobody likes working on holidays, and admittedly surges here can be inconsistent. Still, many Uber drivers will swear by the explosion of requests they get on New Year’s Eve, both before and especially after midnight. The reasons for this are obvious: everyone is either going to or coming from a celebration, likely one with lots of free-flowing booze. So if you don’t have anything going on that night…or even if you do…you just might be able to double, triple, or quadruple your fares.
Another good time to drive is during lots of rain or even hurricane warnings. These of course vary depending on your location, but generally people don’t fancy driving themselves around in inclement weather.
These too can be inconsistent (some people may not want to go out at all, even in an Uber), but some drivers have found that bad weather ups prices and demand. If you’re a fare driver and not frightened of skidding, hydroplaning, or getting ripped off the highway like a weed from a garden, then Uber driving during nasty weather just might be a way to make some extra cash.
Uber, like most things in our constantly-in-flux culture, is unpredictable. Locations vary. Living costs vary. Interest varies. The ubiquity of Uber even varies (gasp!). So the best time to drive for you may be wildly different from another driver, even in your city.
But as our culture continues to become more technologically complex, more smartphone-driven, more creative and flexible in earning potential and employment and possibilities, it’s inherently possible, even likely that if you’re smart and you hustle, you can make a nice living by being an Uber driver. Willingness, hard work, and a knowledge of the system and your city can all work in your favor. Find what works for you, stick with it, and see just how far you can go. Happy driving!