A Gen Xer is transitioning away from driving for Uber and Lyft to start his own travel agency.
He met his wife and celebrities while driving, though high maintenance cost and lower pay is "frustrating."
He's hoping to land more stable gig work so he no longer needs to work 70-80 hours a week.
Charles, 43, met his wife while driving for Uber.
One day, he picked up his future wife from a doctor's appointment. Knowing little English, she pulled out Google Translate and communicated with him the whole ride home. He gave her his business card in lieu of a phone number, and after two weeks, she texted him and set up a date.
Charles, who asked to just use his first name to avoid professional repercussions, said while he's met all sorts of cool people over the years through driving, he's struggled to make ends meet. Costs to maintain his vehicle have risen, while he's received declining rates per mile over the last few years.
"It's frustrating with the rising cost and the reduction of pay, but I wouldn't trade any experiences I've had over the last 8.5 years for anything else," Charles, who drives in the Orlando area, told Business Insider.
After realizing he couldn't subsist on just driving, he started working toward becoming a travel agent. As he transitions away from driving to full-time travel agent work, he said he's been advertising his new services to passengers — and has gotten quite a few clients.
While many gig drivers value the flexibility that comes with setting their own hours, many are struggling to pay their bills as the industry becomes more crowded and competitive. More and more Americans are looking to gig jobs like ride-hailing platforms or grocery delivery for the freedom of crafting their schedules and working whenever they want, but some like Charles are looking for more stability, whether it means taking on new gig jobs or leaving the gig economy altogether.
Putting in 70-80 hour weeks and still struggling to pay the bills
Charles began driving for ride-hailing platforms nearly a decade ago after realizing he could make more than he was as an assistant manager at a restaurant. He started driving in Pensacola, Florida, but moved throughout the state to see where he'd get the best rates.
He said he would get paid $1.25 a mile and $0.25 a minute, which allowed him to make a comfortable living with a flexible schedule. The rates stayed relatively constant for a few years, and he enjoyed being his own boss while making time for friends and family.
He aimed to make $200 a day, which he could reach in four to six hours a few years ago.
But at the start of the pandemic, he noticed a drop to around $0.99 a mile. Once these platforms adopted upfront pricing, these rates got slashed nearly in half. Now, achieving $250 a day — his new "magic number" given rising costs of living — takes him 10 to 12 hours.
He works seven days a week averaging around $1,500 — $1,200 after accounting for gas. This amounts to around 150 to 200 rides a week, he said. He's seen rides for as low as $3.25, and sometimes cancellation rates are just $2.
"Instead of doing 15 to 20 rides a day, I'm doing 25 to 30 rides a day for the same amount of money," Charles said.
Where he drives, he said he's gotten rates closer to around $1 a mile, but he's seen offers in Orlando and Tampa as low as $0.40 a mile.
Screenshots shared with Business Insider show a nearly 70-mile ride that would take one hour and 23 minutes only netted him $31.62, which averages to $0.45 a mile.
He said similar rides haven't taken into account accidents or traffic, as well as customer route preferences that could tack on a few minutes but don't land in his pay. He's been forced to decline more and more rides where he would lose money.
He said it's been difficult to maintain his vehicle. Some mechanics used to charge around $75 an hour, though nowadays, some charge as much as $250 an hour in his area for comparable work. A new set of tires now runs him $750, compared to $350 in early 2021. Personal auto and health insurance has also been on the rise in Florida, which has further stripped away earnings. He estimates in the last two years, he's spent over $9,000 in vehicle repairs.
"Every industry has basically gotten a cost of living adjustment increase in their pay. Even a Florida minimum wage is going up a dollar every year up to $15 per hour," Charles said. "However, the Uber and Lyft pay continually goes down. We have all of the risk, all of the responsibility, and have to deal with all of the different customers that we get."
Making it work one ride at a time
After often sitting in hours of traffic on major roadways, he decided to expand his services as a travel agent, often using his Uber rides as a time to pitch his expertise. He said he's recently been receiving hundreds of dollars from clients whom he's guided. He hopes to continue expanding his business, especially given he's based in a rather touristy area of the state.
He's currently on the lookout for other gig-type jobs, as he said he's "been a free bird for way too long." He doesn't intend to stop driving until his income becomes more steady.
What keeps Charles going, he said, are all the people he meets. Over the years, in addition to his wife, he's met professional football players, top business executives, and other celebrities, and he said he's valued getting to explore new places everyday.
He tries to be as positive as he can be despite "how little I'm making," and he offers cold water and mints for passengers. He said he often goes the extra mile when picking up passengers, such as going around the building or giving them a big welcome greeting.
"A lot of the customers that I've been picking up lately are elderly customers who don't have anyone to talk to, so they love to get in the car and talk," he said. "There's someone that probably just lost their loved one and just needs someone to talk to."
To increase tips, he installed a tablet from Play Octopus, a rideshare advertising network, so riders can play trivia games during their ride. He said he's made an extra $75 a month from Play Octopus rewards.
He's also looking for a more fuel-economical vehicle, such as a hybrid car with over 50 miles per gallon. He's also considered a seven-passenger vehicle that could qualify for more expensive Uber rides.
"I'm just doing things to supplement my income to eventually phase out rideshare because I don't foresee Uber or Lyft making significant changes to help their drivers anytime soon," Charles said.
Are you a gig driver who is considering other options for work? Reach out to this reporter at email@example.com.
Read the original article on Business Insider