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2:01 PM Sat, Sept. 22nd

Uber and Lyft offer drivers extra money, opportunity to meet people

Charles Hail, an Uber and Lyft driver, says he hasn’t had a bad customer yet in his short time driving for the transportation services. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Charles Hail, an Uber and Lyft driver, says he hasn’t had a bad customer yet in his short time driving for the transportation services. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Driving for Uber or Lyft is one of major sources of revenue for people who, depending on whom you ask, either participate in the emerging “gig economy” or drive as a “side hustle” to pick up some extra cash.

Both companies allow people to act as independent contractors, meaning they aren’t employees and get no benefits. On the plus side, though, they are completely free to decide when to drive, when not to, and for how long.

How it works

The systems are essentially the same: the rider downloads a smartphone app and links it to a form of payment, like a debit card or a PayPal account. Then, when he or she needs a ride, they just tell the GPS-powered app where they want to go. First, it calculates the availability of drivers and some other factors, and gives the potential customer the price and time it will likely take for a driver to arrive.

If the rider accepts, the app senses where they currently are, finds the closest available driver, and sends that driver a message to their app (which is a different kind, just for drivers). The driver accepts the ride and heads over to the pickup location.

The rider’s app shows how long until the driver will be there with a moving map. When the driver arrives, the rider gets in and takes the trip. Remember, the app is linked to the payment system, so no cash changes hands.

Once the trip is complete, the rider has the option to use the app to give the driver a tip.

The New Guy

Charles Hall of Prescott has been driving for both Uber and Lyft – something that many drivers do to increase the number of rides they give – for about three weeks.

They’re both pretty much the same” he said. “I can’t tell the difference between the two.”

He’s retired and was “looking for a part-time job that would not be very stressful and … the flexibility of Uber and Lyft seemed perfect.”

Getting started is a simple matter, he said.

“You apply online, and they do a background check of you, they do a background check of your driving record, and then they do an inspection of your car,” he said.

Requirements for vehicles:

Uber—

• 15-year-old vehicle or newer

• 4-door vehicle

• Good condition with no cosmetic damage

• No commercial branding

• Pass a vehicle inspection

Lyft—

• 2002 or newer

• 4 doors

• 5-8 seats, including the driver’s

Note: Both companies have requirements based on geographical area.

This information is for vehicles in our area.

Uber takes 20 percent of the fare, which is subject to “surge” pricing – higher demand or fewer drivers can mean it costs more. In Prescott, for example, there are fewer drivers on Sunday morning than Friday night, so identical trips at those times will likely have a higher fare.

“I haven’t had a grouchy person yet,” Hall said. “Everybody’s been nice.”

Hall hasn’t yet had a chance to have some of the experiences drivers who’ve been with the companies longer have. They love to tell stories about driving customers to Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, a fare well over $100, or about the time they drove a member of the Northern Arizona Suns and how they barely fit into the car.

The Experienced Driver

Two years into her time with Uber, Amy Nelson has become one of the longest-serving Uber drivers in the Prescott area.

Like Hall, she’s signed up with both Uber and Lyft, and like him, she gets much more business from Uber.

“I drive a lot at night, so most of them have been partying a little bit,” she said, “and they’re being responsible and making sure they’re not driving.”

But those people sometimes can be a problem.

“The only time it’s not great is if you get someone who’s extremely intoxicated.”

Nelson drives about 100 miles a night. Once she starts taking runs, they keep coming, sometimes for five or six hours.

Still, “I don’t believe it would be the type of thing you could support yourself on,” she said. “Unless a person’s going to be working every day, in a city this small, it’s not going to pay that much.”

Some of her “really fun” customers have been during Rodeo time.

Once, she picked up five nurses at once, and one ended up laying across the laps of three other in the backseat with her boots sticking out the back window.

Nelson said she’s not planning to stop driving anytime soon.

“I enjoy it, I have fun, the people are funny,” she said.