About rideshare driving

Folks occasionally ask me about rideshare driving. Unsatisfied with their present positions, they see a freedom to set their own schedules and high earnings promised by the companies.

The reality is far harsher. First, anyone who thinks they are doing well driving for these companies is failing to account for their costs properly. Even I don’t do this properly: I see depreciation as an arbitrary number that isn’t really realized until you dispose of an asset; I’m uncomfortable calculating it. I haven’t taken the trouble to work out amortization. I criticize the companies for misleading investors on their prospects for ever being profitable—it’s unlikely they ever will be[1]—but the truth is my own accounting isn’t much better.

The difference is that to the extent I’m misleading anyone, it’s myself. Uber and Lyft, by contrast, with their “adjusted EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization)” bullshit, are misleading a number of other people. This is what’s called a “bezzle,” an investment swindle whose losses have yet to be realized. Sooner or later, these companies will come to an ignoble end because that’s what happens with swindles. Which is another way of saying, this is not a long-term career prospect no matter what your role with these companies.

And drivers’ net earnings suck. Many don’t even make minimum wage.

If you decide to deliver, it’s even worse: Expect your pay to be about half what it is for transporting people, expect parking problems and possible parking tickets at both ends of each delivery, and remember that you will be a prime suspect in any discrepancy between the order a restaurant or retailer filled and what the customer thinks they ordered. This is a bad deal, only worse.

Driving people around can be a minefield as well. Not only might they misbehave in a number of ways, but they might take offense even at anodyne remarks. Some folks are just plain disagreeable. If you’re a woman, regardless of your age or physical attractiveness, you can count on being sexually harassed. Passengers can lower your rating, which I think—I can’t be sure because the companies are not transparent about how they allocate rides—may affect the number of rides you get. That, of course, affects your earnings.

On top of all this, there is a real risk in giving rides to strangers that the companies minimize[2] and, of course, the risk of a collision: If you think you’re a perfect driver, first, you aren’t, and second, you’re sharing the road with a lot of less-than-perfect drivers.

And what’s more, you really have no control over what neighborhoods you’ll be driving through or to. In Pittsburgh, I note that you’re never far from poverty or the problems associated with poverty.[3] This includes people fucking shooting at each other. But if you try to avoid such neighborhoods, the companies might decide you’re discriminating, which they obviously cannot tolerate.

Finally, there’s the cost of operating your car, which is not trivial. I currently drive between 65,000 and 70,000 miles per year. There’s gasoline. There’s maintenance, There’s insurance. There’s the fact that after a few years of this, your car will need to be replaced. Particularly in places like Pittsburgh, where the roads are frequently in inexcusable condition.

So my advice, fairly obviously, to those considering rideshare driving as a possible career option is, “don’t.” I’m only doing it because I don’t have another choice. Those who do have other options should choose from them instead.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “This is not a business plan,” Not Housebroken, January 8, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/06/20/this-is-not-a-business-plan/
  2. [2]David Benfell, “The vulnerability of Uber and Lyft driving,” Not Housebroken, February 18, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/02/18/the-vulnerability-of-uber-and-lyft-driving/; David Benfell, “Gaslighting Uber drivers on safety,” Not Housebroken, June 23, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/04/28/gaslighting-uber-drivers-on-safety/
  3. [3]The link between economic desperation and social deviance is well established: Steven E. Barkan, Criminology: A Sociological Understanding, 3rd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2006); Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and The Poor Get Prison, 7th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004).