Sure, electric vehicles (EVs) are great for the environment in most places. Struggling to make a living doing rideshare work for companies like Lyft and Uber makes other things more important, though. If the car gets in the way of making a living instead of helping you put more money on the table, all of the warm feelings in the world that come from the lower footprint you accomplished can’t keep the landlord paid or the repo man away.
An EV can save you a lot of money, if you do it right. For one, not buying gasoline is a big plus all by itself. Electricity is generally far cheaper. Maintenance is also far cheaper in an EV, as you won’t have to do oil changes, tune-ups, and many of the other things combustion cars require.
Knowing what you’re getting into when considering renting or buying an EV can make the difference between success and failure. In this article, I’ll share what I’ve learned driving several different EV models in 4 metro areas, plus what I’ve picked up talking to other drivers in various airport lots.
If You’re Not Already Doing Rideshare
I want to be responsible and say this first: don’t go getting yourself into an expensive car payment, quit your day job, and think Uber and Lyft will keep you afloat from day one. It probably wouldn’t work out if you did that.
I don’t mean to discourage you from getting into this, though. You just have to have realistic expectations.
Understand that there’s a learning curve. It’s going to take time to figure out how to make good money in your city. You’ll need to figure out where the good work is, when it happens, and how to get it. Even if you’ve decided this is going to be your full-time job, start out doing it part-time so you’ll have a chance to learn the ropes before relying on it for your livelihood. Do this for at least a year, so that you’ll know whether your city has important seasonal dips.
Sure, there are some drivers making good money at this full-time, but there are many others not doing very well. The sad truth is that outside of the busy times (rush hour, weekends, 2:00am bar runs), there are too many rideshare drivers already. Pay continues to drop in most cities. Surge/PrimeTime isn’t what it used to be. In some cities, it’s great part of the year and nearly dead in other months.
For many drivers, it’s just a “side hustle,” and there’s nothing wrong with doing that. Working the busiest hours, taking good hourly pay home, and then doing better paying work elsewhere during the slow hours is a good strategy. I also have met many retirees, disabled veterans, and others who don’t need a full-time job who get a lot of good from rideshare work. It’s all about finding the right balance for your own situation.
If this is something you still want to get into, feel free to sign up for Uber here and sign up for Lyft here. Yes, those are referral links, but I don’t get much for each driver that signs up, and I get nothing unless you do a certain number of rides. The main reason I share them is that you get a small guarantee for the first month or number of rides, depending on what city you live in. Hopefully that helps!
The remainder of this guide is all about getting started using an EV with rideshare and delivery services. If you are looking for general information about getting started with rideshare driving, I’d recommend going here.
Understanding EV Charging
Before you go out and buy or rent an EV, you need to understand the basics of charging an electric vehicle.
Levels and Types of Charging
There are three types of EV charging: Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3. Level 1 is plugging into a regular US electrical outlet, which gives you 3–5 miles of range per hour of charging. Level 2 is from a 220V source, like an RV park plug, dryer plug, or home charging station. Many businesses and other parking lots also offer such chargers. Level 2 adds from 10–40 miles per hour, depending on the car and charging equipment. This typically comes from a J1772 plug, but Teslas or other cars with an adapter can use Tesla Destination Charging.
Level 3 charging (also known as DC fast charging, or DCFC) is more complicated. You can add hundreds of miles per hour of charging with DC fast chargers, but they’re far less common. There are three types of DCFC in the United States: Tesla Supercharging, CCS, or CHAdeMO. Only Teslas can charge at Tesla Supercharger stations. Most new EVs are CCS compatible. The Nissan LEAF and a few other Japanese EVs use the CHAdeMO standard.
If you’re going to use Level 3, be sure to stop at around 80% unless you absolutely need to get to a higher percentage. After around 80%, EVs start slowing their charge down, so you’re better off going back out and working. You don’t want to be like one driver I found sitting there at 99% waiting a half hour to get that last percent. Be smart and move on!
If you’re going to be sharing charging stations with other drivers, you need to be polite and get along with them. You’ll see other rideshare drivers, but you’ll also see many who aren’t.
Here are a few rules that will go a long way toward that:
- Follow any rules listed on signs posted at stations. Respect the station’s owner.
- Never park in a charging spot unless you’re charging, and leave as soon as you’re done.
- Park between the lines so others can pull up next to you.
- If you’re going to leave the car, leave your contact info on the dash so people can contact you for emergencies.
- Check in on PlugShare.
- Don’t unplug another car unless it’s done charging.
- Take care of the charging spot. Don’t litter, put cables and handles away, and clean up after less considerate drivers. Pros like you should do nothing less.
- If you see a car next to you with a charge port/door open as you leave, that means they want you to plug them in next. Do that for them.
- If you find a gas car blocking a station, be polite but firm with whoever is blocking it. Ask them to move. If they’re a rideshare driver in a gas car, take pictures and report them to Lyft and Uber.
- If you find a cone blocking a space, it’s usually there to keep gas car drivers from parking there. Move it, charge, then put the cone back.
Finding an EV for Rideshare Work
Your Range Needs
If you’re already doing rideshare work, you need to take a look at how many miles you’re driving in a day and what kind of miles you’re typically driving. For me, I’ve found that a full day of work was usually around 300 miles most days. Many other drivers I’ve talked to have said similar, but obviously your mileage may vary depending on what areas you focus on.
You don’t really need a car with 300 miles of range to do rideshare in an EV, but there are a few things to keep in mind. First, you can’t divide the number of miles you drive in a day by the range of the car to determine how many charging stops you will need to make daily. Unlike gas stations, EV stations aren’t on almost every damned corner. If you get down to almost 0%, you’ll easily get stranded. It’s also better for the car’s battery to avoid going below 10–20%, especially in the summer months. To keep a reserve enough to make sure you can always reach a fast charger, you’re going to need to start heading to a charger at 25% or so, but you can get away with going down to 15% if needed.
There’s also a thing called tapering. Most EVs start charging slower after reaching 80% or so to protect the battery. This means that you might start the day with a 100% battery if you’re charging at home while you sleep, but subsequent charges will be only to 80% to avoid wasting time charging.
In the end, a good rule of thumb is to assume that you will only get about 60% of the car’s range between charges. For example, a Chevy Bolt has an advertised range of about 240 miles. 60% of that is about 144 miles. Thus, for a day of driving 300 miles, you will likely need 1–2 DC fast charging sessions per day that take 45 minutes or so.
If you find yourself doing a lot of highway driving, the reality is a little worse. Going on typical urban and suburban freeway speeds, you can assume that you will get 20–30% less range than advertised.
With all of this in mind, I wouldn’t recommend an EV with anything less than a 60 kWh battery. A Tesla, a Chevy Bolt, or a Nissan LEAF Plus can do the job. Anything less means you’ll be spending too much time charging, which gets in the way of work.
The next thing you need to do is head over to PlugShare.com.
You can set the map to show you Tesla Supercharger stations, CCS stations, and CHAdeMO stations. Every city is different on this. If you live in a rural town with no rapid charging of any kind on the map, an EV is probably not a good choice for you. Consider a hybrid or plug-in hybrid (PHEV) unless you’re going to only work a few hours here and there. Keep it cheap so you can afford to upgrade later, though!
If you’ve got at least one fast charger in the city you live in, you can probably use that effectively. Having 3 or more is better, though.
The next thing you want to look for is the available J1772 and Tesla Destination stations. These stations are much slower, but there are usually more of them. They give you a good place to park when business is slow without driving all the way to the nearest fast charger.
If the map looks like something you can live with, an EV may be a good choice for you.
Take a look at what different vehicles pay in your city. You’ll need one with at least 5 seats and 4 doors to do basic work like UberX. While cheap, a used first-generation Chevy Volt, Spark EV, BMW i3, or Fiat 500e won’t even be allowed except for delivery work, which pays less than ferrying passengers around town.
If you want to make more than basic pay, you’ll need a vehicle that can seat 7 and/or qualify for the luxury services. Look at the requirements for your city to determine whether a Tesla could make you more money than something more basic like a LEAF or a Bolt.
You should also take a good look at your need for liquid cooling. If you live in a mild, northern environment with summer daytime highs that don’t often go above 80°F, you can get away with driving a car like a LEAF with an air-cooled battery. If you live in a hotter place, get something with liquid cooling, like a Bolt or Tesla.
Strategies For Making More With an EV
ABC — Always Be Charging
Unless you’re driving a passenger or delivery, you should probably be charging your car. If your battery is over 50% or so, head to the nearest Level 2 station and plug in while waiting for your next ride. You won’t get a lot of range in most cases, but it adds up over the course of a day and means less Level 3 charging. Finding free Level 2 charging is pretty common, but Level 3 stations often cost you something to use.
If your battery is lower than 50%, start heading for the nearest Level 3 to charge faster.
Better yet, get some experience and learn what parts of your city are more busy. Once you know what places are busier, see if there are any charging stations in those busier areas. If you can find a few of those, you’ve found your money spots. Not only will you get business, but you’ll spend less charging your car at Level 3 stations. That’s a win-win.
Avoid Airports In Most Cases
Waiting at an airport lot for rides over and over is not a profitable rideshare strategy for an EV driver unless there are some special circumstances in your city. Why? Because airport driving generally doesn’t get along with EVs.
The first problem is that you’re only making money on 50% of your miles driven. Think about it — you’re going from the airport with a passenger and getting paid for that, and then you’re driving back to the airport empty handed, and depleting your battery doing it!
The second problem is that EVs are less efficient on the highway than on “surface streets.” At airports, you’ll typically get more rides that require highway driving than in other places, so you’ll get less range out of your EV.
There are two big exceptions to this rule:
If your airport’s rideshare wait queue lot has Level 2 or 3 EV charging, you can charge while waiting for the next ride. That may change things enough to make it worth it, especially if there’s Level 3 available. Sure, the driving is less efficient, but you can combine your charging time with your wait time and that’s more efficient overall.
Another time it makes sense to wait at the airport is if you end a ride at or near the airport, have good charge, and there aren’t too many drivers in the queue ahead of you. In that case, it makes sense to wait there a few minutes to get your next ride, and then have a chance at a profitable long ride. Just be careful about accepting the “45+” trips unless you’ve got good charge to take that long ride.
Charge More During Slow Times
If you know there are busy times ahead, especially when you expect surge, don’t run into that situation unprepared. For example, if you know you need to take a longer charging break, it’s midnight, and the bars are all closing at 2:00am, don’t wait until 1:30 to get to the charger. Get out there sooner, get a good, full charge, and be ready to make maximum money during that busy hour.
Same thing with rush hours, special events ending, and anything else where you expect more profitable driving times. Be prepared and you’ll max out your EV rideshare income, even if you don’t have a Tesla (or a Starship).