Editor’s Note: Cynthia has just begun driving for Lyft and has been driving for Uber for 5 months. She is writing a series of articles about the difference — with links to all of them at the bottom of each article. None of the articles are comprehensive, of course, but hopefully the overall comparison from the series will be one of the most comprehensive comparisons out there.
I am a part-time driver for Uber and Lyft and rather new to both. I’m also not a normal driver since I drive an all-electric Nissan LEAF that gets 85 to 100 miles on a full charge around town. Information I provide here may not be 100% in line with what full-time or long-time drivers at Lyft and/or Uber experience. Earnings ability varies based on multiple factors, and I suspect driver location is a particularly large factor. It seems obvious that dense metropolitan areas offer more constants and the possibility of higher earnings (but also a higher cost of living).
In simple terms, YMMV.
Please add your own information in the comments under the article if you are a driver or you are highly informed on the topic and you can expand on the limited quality of my experience.
Base $: Lyft & Uber Similar
… But Not The Same
To date, my earnings from both Lyft and Uber seem similar. They both take 25% of my earnings, before tips.
Lyft drivers I got rides from in Miami — all of them — said that Lyft pays more. I think a year or so ago, Lyft drivers started with only 20% of their earnings being deducted. However, there are also incentives for driving more (which I’ll get to in the next section) and Lyft drivers can receive tips via the app. Lyft encourages tips via the app, whereas Uber discourages them by saying they are not necessary and not including the option in the app.
Also, as noted above, pay is tied to the price passengers pay (it’s 75% of the cost of a ride) — if Lyft riders are paying more than Uber riders, the drivers are making more.
I talked with Miami drivers who said they were happy with the $800 a week they made with Lyft. If they are working 40 hours a week, that’s $20 an hour, but it wasn’t clear how much they are driving. A Washington Post article found Uber drivers making $8.77 per hour in Detroit, $10.75 per hour in Houston, and $13.17 per hour in Denver.
None of this accounts for the costs to the driver — wear & tear on their cars, depreciation, insurance, etc. That’s just the revenue. And Lyft & Uber drivers don’t get health insurance, sick days*, or other normal employee benefits. That point sometimes gets glossed over when just looking at $/hour. (*As for sick days, though, at least with this style of employment, one will never lose the job for taking off. That is a plus.)
“Surge” & “Prime Time” Driving Boosts Pay
Both companies pay more at demand surges / prime times — hours of increasing rider requests and increasing fares. One of my riders with an $8–10 fare told me his fare for the same distance was $45 a few nights before when coming home from a bar at 2:00 am. Well, I personally miss all those surges since I don’t drive at those times, but people who only drove then could make a lot higher rate than I do.
The extra pay from surges varies, but here’s a general graph of the probability of surges from Lyft:
Uber surges have not been that helpful for me. Perhaps I keep missing them due to timing that conflicts with other work or with sleep. I wake at 1:00 or 2:00 am to see messages come in about high surges but go back to sleep, leaving the work for the young or night-owl drivers.
I tried to catch the early morning surges and found issues with that system. Once, I turned my app on when it was clearly surging all around me. Since I was in the midst of red (indication of surging demand and prices), I figured I was going to make more money. I got a rider request and accepted it … but I did not get the surge pricing. The rider request I accepted came from an area just outside the surge area. The request was farther than typical for this busy area, so I ended up driving farther with normal pay. I suspect other more seasoned drivers did not accept the request because they understood that the request would only bring a normal fare. They waited for a surging price fare, while I did not.
Uber tells you to drive towards a surge. Every single time I did that, the surge was over when I got there, even though I was close. I feel that the surges are elusive and ghosting to a certain extent. I find the feature misleading at this point.
I started taking screenshots of the surges to prove there was one when I accepted a rider. Still, no success if the rider request comes from outside the surging area. I may just be missing the opportunity, which is hard to harness in a smaller urban area. Perhaps dense, busy metropolitan areas offer more chance at earnings in this way. I know one driver who does make more money at night with surges in St. Petersburg and Miami.
Lyft: More Rides = More Money
The drivers I talked to in Miami were driving 40+ hours. I think this is when Lyft does pay more, or rather, takes a lower percentage of the revenue. The idea for drivers is that, if you put in the hours, you will make more money. On the Lyft site for drivers, one driver points out that, “When it’s slow, people lose faith and go home. What I’ve found in this business is that it’s the law of probability. If you have patience and perseverance, you will get the Power Driver Bonus every time.”
All-Electric Driver Range & Destination Issues
As far as efficiency goes, as well as time, which is money as well, my all-electric Nissan LEAF is great around town. I have wondered how other drivers made much money once they added in the cost of buying gas. However, I also realize they do not have to stop and charge up between every few riders. I do, because I’m afraid as soon as I don’t charge up to a full 100% charge, I’ll get a trip that is too far for the LEAF. There’s the possibility that I will get that rider who wants to go far out of town, or maybe not so far, but still too far.
Furthermore, a longer trip makes me lose time. The problem is, with these good longer fares out of town, I have very limited if any options for charging before returning to Sarasota. Even if I have plenty of charge to return to Sarasota, I have to get back there and charge for a while before taking more riders. That puts me in a spot of losing money. To be honest, driving for Uber has made me think a bit more about EV plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt. A Tesla would be wonderful as well, but I am not sure Uber or Lyft would support a Tesla car payment.
Now, I could easily accept a rider back to Sarasota on that return trip, but I can’t see where a rider is until I accept the request. How can I know when accepting a rider that they do not want to go further away from Sarasota? I don’t know until I pick the rider up. If I accept the rider, I am obligated to the trip. I might then be somewhere too far to drive safely back to Sarasota to charge. Uber and Lyft do not want drivers cherry picking — a driver cannot see the destination of a rider until the pickup is submitted — and I understand some reasons why, but this can hurt earning potential for drivers, especially electric car drivers.
Find riders towards a destination
One potentially helpful feature for all-electric drivers (and other drivers) exists in bigger metro areas, like St. Petersburg (a bit north of me, and where I sometimes am for other work). Uber offers a feature called Find riders towards a destination. It allows a driver to pick up only a passenger who is going toward the driver’s own destination.
This should be offered everywhere for all kinds of reasons, but it is not. Drivers sometimes may have to return home for children or show up at another job on time. This feature ensures the timely and convenient resolution of said issues, which is particularly helpful for those people who are driving longer hours.
The option also helps an electric car driver ensure they will get a rider on the way to a charging station and not one going out of range, so it is an especially EV-friendly application in that regard.
However, using this feature affects and limits earnings possibilities. It could actually lower a driver’s revenue. It doesn’t let you benefit from surge pricing — when you use the app, you can’t get a bonus rate from surge pricing.
Lyft offers a similar feature in all regions (smaller cities as well). The earnings potential is again limited with this feature, though, as a ride towards a destination cannot be used for any earnings increases (from high rider demand at “Prime Times” or in regard to rides that count toward becoming a “Power Driver”).
That is not very energy/environmentally efficient since it essentially discourages people from genuine or semi-genuine “ridesharing” — even though it does make actual ridesharing possible (as opposed to on-demand, app-based taxi service). Hopefully this option will become more lucrative as the software develops.
As it is it, this is not an especially earnings-friendly application. Still, it should be offered in out-of-town locations (cities other than your home city, including smaller ones — I would find it useful for trips from Nokomis back to Sarasota). It would make it possible to at least pick up an out-of-town rider if the driver could set the destination back to their home city. Overall, it might increase pay for some drivers if it allows them to squeeze in one more trip here or there.
Though, Lyft and Uber should consider that by taking earnings abilities away with this feature, they discourage electric car drivers as well as others from using it more.
Uber & Lyft Riders
I do have longtime experience in the field of customer service. From that, I want to say, hats off to Uber and Lyft riders. In my experience, they are diverse in all ways, more than I’ve met in any customer service job. I think this, in part, is due to the broad advantage of this service to so many people, and part of that broad advantage is the relatively low cost. Of course, the flip side of low cost is relatively low pay — something to keep in mind.