Sherry, 58, was driving upwards of 75 hours a week for Uber and Lyft, struggling to pull in $200 a day.
The Florida driver said that when she started six years ago she was easily earning that much working six to eight hours, but has struggled to reach that goal more recently.
“If you make all your drivers mad, you’re not going to have any left,” said Sherry, who asked to just use her first name for fear of professional repercussions. “The more people that I talk to, they don’t want to do it anymore, and they’re trying to find other things to do on their own so that they don’t have to drive.”
Now, she’s trying something different. She launched a shuttle service that she advertises on Facebook and through word of mouth. She charges $50 to take people to and from the cruise terminal near her home, and she now works fewer hours and spends more time with family.
“Everybody’s trying to do their own thing, whether they’re a social media influencer or starting their own car detailing business,” she said. “Recently, because of inflation, a lot more people are trying to drive, figuring even if I get an extra $100 a week, that’s groceries or the electric bill.”
She’s right. Millions of Americans are looking to gig jobs like ridehailing apps, grocery delivery, and digital freelancing as an alternative to the 9-to-5 office job. US gig workers are estimated to have more than doubled since the start of the pandemic. But as many gig drivers search for more stability, many are struggling to put food on the table as their earnings fall and competition grows. This has led some to abandon gig work entirely or start their own businesses.
Growing frustration with ridehailing gigs
Sherry, a mother of seven, started driving in 2017 while still working at a pharmacy. She transitioned to full-time driving in 2019 after she reported feeling overworked and underpaid at her pharmacy job.
“That way I could create my own schedule, could go see my kids more when I wanted, and I could travel more,” Sherry said. “It seemed to work out really well the first couple of years that I did it. I couldn’t have been happier.”
Pre-pandemic, she worked 30 to 40 hours a week Monday through Friday, and she said it was fairly easy to make ends meet. When the pandemic struck, she drove essential workers to and from work, and the platforms offered substantial bonuses at the time.
She noticed that competition for rides was accelerating, though, and she started making less for her rides as the years progressed. She said she’s needed to work 12 to 14 hours each day — 18 hours one day — to make a similar amount to what she would make in around half the time a few years ago.
“I do this for the freedom to set my own schedule, but it’s coming at a price,” Sherry said. “I don’t even have freedom anymore because now I have to drive so much, I basically don’t have a life.”
Last year, she had a gross payment of over $98,000 from Uber for nearly 4,000 completed trips, though her net payout was only $55,000 after fees, expenses, and taxes. This year, her net payout for the first 10 months of the year is around $28,500 for nearly 2,000 trips.
Sherry said she struggled to pay her bills as rides dry up. Some days recently, she would only make $100 in seven or eight hours — or about minimum wage in Florida.
“Your body takes a huge toll. It’s just terrible sitting in the car all day long,” Sherry said. “My muscles are becoming weak, and I’m gaining weight because I’m not getting out and walking around.”
She said a few years ago, there would only be six or seven drivers waiting at the airport at a time for rides, but now there’s over 40. One day, she recalled 220 cars waiting when there were only 40 flights coming in that day. Some days, she waited nearly two hours for an airport trip, only for it to pay $7.
“Airport trips used to be my bread and butter, but now it’s all just changed,” she said.
Additionally, a few weeks ago, Sherry was offered a Lyft ride for $50.69 that was almost two hours and 115 miles. While she would make around $25 an hour for the trip itself, the amount she’d pay in gas there and back would amount to just $7 an hour for the four-hour round trip.
Lower earnings, coupled with rising car maintenance costs, have led her to search for other work. She said the price for a set of tires doubled from $400 to $850 in her area.
Being her own boss
While on a cruise earlier this year, Sherry said she heard passengers complain about how they couldn’t find a shuttle to and from the cruise port. So last month, Sherry decided to supplement her income from Uber and Lyft by starting a freelance shuttle service, an extension of some freelance airport trips she did last year.
“People used to tip pretty good, but now, it’s few and far between if you actually get a tip anymore. I’m better off doing my own thing,” she said.
She created a digital business card for her shuttle business and posted in Facebook groups offering her services. When she heard about the prices ridehailing companies were charging to get to the cruise ports — some charged upwards of $90 one way — she decided to charge $50 each way. She could pocket all $50, whereas a comparable Uber ride she said would only give her $30.
She’s made between $1,500 and $1,700 a week doing shuttle driving alongside Uber and Lyft rides.
Although many Facebook groups ban advertisers, she’s had some luck responding to comments for people looking for rides. Some days, she’s making $500 working fewer hours than she would for $200 with Uber and Lyft.
“The clientele I have is different too because I’m driving tourists, and they’re more apt to tip,” Sherry said. “If I’m just driving regular people, they don’t want to tip as much or they can’t afford to tip.”
She said it’s hard to build legitimacy without being backed by a larger company, though she said her business is no different than getting in an Uber with a driver you don’t know. Word of mouth has been her friend recently, she said.
It’s allowed her to take off three or four days a week, she said. She’s only driving for Uber and Lyft a few hours each week as she tries to get her name out there.
“I still have the flexibility so I can go visit my kids, and if I want to I can take a cruise,” Sherry said. “My life is getting better now that I’m getting away from Uber.”
Are you a ridehailing driver who is struggling to make ends meet? Are you a formal ridehailing driver who has found employment elsewhere? Reach out to this reporter at [email protected].