One of my UberX drivers in D.C. spent 15 years selling high-end kitchen appliances (Viking = the worst; Bosch = the best, especially for ranges) and got burned out. While looking for something new he is driving a Toyota Corolla as an UberX-mobile. He had been making $90,000 per year selling appliances and was grossing $50,000 per year with Uber, of which he estimated that about $5,000 was consumed by expenses such as gasoline and car maintenance. He works from about 4 am to noon three days per week and then switches to overnight shifts on Friday and Saturday nights. “I’ve got only a high-school education so sales is probably the only job where I can afford the lifestyle that I had.”

He seemed intelligent and diligent and working in a busy market so this is perhaps a best-case earnings scenario.

17 thoughts on “Ubernomics

  1. “I’ve got only a high-school education so sales is probably the only job where I can afford the lifestyle that I had.”

    For a while there were a lot of programmers out there with only high school educations. In many cases, they were college dropouts. But some went into it right after high school. It seems the market isn’t hot enough to accommodate that anymore, but for truly gifted niche programmer, I bet it would.

  2. I’m curious if he’s right about his expenses. I would guess a new corolla would be pretty much trashed after five years of driving like that. So depreciation on the vehicle alone would be on the order of $3k per year, on top of maintenance and consumables.

  3. bobbybobbob don’t overestimate the math skills of high school graduates. The 2008 housing crash would not have happened if people did not suck at basic arithmetic. they would not have been suckered into huge mortgages without having sufficient disposable income per month. It takes only a few seconds with a calculator to figure out, but millions of people failed that simple test 🙁

  4. @presidentpicker: if all the Fed’s PhD economists and Wall Street’s Ivy MBAs couldn’t foresee the 2008 buble, then how can you blame it Joe Average’s math skills?

  5. Smart people have lost money in speculative bubbles for centuries, going all the back to the Dutch tulip craze.

  6. Plus, Joe Average didn’t/doesn’t have ‘too big to fail’ to ‘bail him out’ (pun intended). Reminds me of a haiku:

    Up four-ish percent:
    We are genius; down thirty?
    six sigma event!

  7. Francis Kim,
    Driving for Uber is a bad deal. Factor in depreciation and the taxes you will pay. I drove for Uber for 2 1/2 months and it was a rip-off. (I drove a 4 cylinder Camry, had good GPS, knew my city fairly well, and have experience transporting people.)

    If he is only bringing in $1k weekly, and working about 40 hours (my guess is more – and he is working the “drunks” shifts on Friday and Saturday nights), he is grossing about $20-$25 per hour BEFORE his expenses – which include gas, depreciation, insurance, maintenance, cleaning, and TAXES. Since Uber is 1099 work, he must take both employee and employer portions. After expenses I’d be surprised if he was making more than $12 per hour.

    But if you have nothing else, Uber may work.

  8. The IRS allows 54 cents per mile as an average all inclusive cost for driving including depreciation. Most taxis charge somewhere between $2 and $3 per mile, so let’s say he’s driving 20,000 miles/year at $2.50 per mile. His annual costs would be around $10,000, not $5,000, but he’s still clearing $40K before taxes. The missing $5K is mostly non-cash depreciation – figure a useful life of 5 years for a car in taxi service, though in reality a modern Corolla can do more than 100k miles. Which works out to around $20/hr which is not bad for not very skilled work.

    Remember there was a time (pre-Uber) where people were willing to pay something on the order of $1M for a NYC taxi medallion which gave you the right to be a taxi driver in NYC.

  9. anon – I think Francis was talking about driving for Uber not as a way to make a living but that somehow he would pitch application & web development services to everyone who got into his taxi. I’m not sure that would work all that well. First of all, most passengers don’t need these services at all and second, those that did would wonder why, if you are a successful (good) web developer, you are spending your time driving a cab.

  10. “so let’s say he’s driving 20,000 miles/year at $2.50 per mile”

    UberX regular rate in DC is under $1.25 per mile – before Uber’s cut. My guess is that he is driving at least 800 to 1000 miles per week.

    And in DC, don’t forget all the red light and speed cameras.

  11. Once A High School Programmer May 27, 2016 @ 1:26 pm

    “It seems the market isn’t hot enough to accommodate that anymore”

    What market are we talking about? If you can as much as cut and paste some JavaScript code and make it work, $90 per hour is not unheard off in midwest, even for a high school drop out. Truly gifted ones do a lot better than. I don’t recall last time I ever looked at someones credentials when hiring other than to maybe cross out most people with Masters of CS, as these folks are pretty useless. I will never hire another PhD again. Never. Ever.

  12. One factor that’s easily overlooked – the risk of seriously getting hurt while driving someone else around. Too many distracted drivers, and one bad wreck and your life could be seriously impacted.

  13. According to uberestimate.com it’s this:

    Base Fare: $1.15
    Per Minute: $0.17
    Per Mile: $1.02
    Service Fees: $1.35
    Minimum Fare: $5.35
    for uberX

    So the per mile is even less than $1.25 but there are certain add ons that would raise the average. I assume Uber gets the service fee but in slow traffic the minute fees would add up. This is also disregarding the uber surge pricing multiplier which can go up to around 2.5x the base fare at rush hours.

  14. @Andy:

    I recently worked a gig where between various other crisis-fighting activities, I literally copied and pasted JavaScript code and made it work, as part of finding and fixing a weird website integration problem. (I also did coding that wasn’t copy-and-paste work, so I have some versatility. 🙂 )

    Can you give me some advice about how to get people to eagerly offer me $90/hour?

    I am perfectly willing to work remotely if that’s what it takes to help you. I am living in the United States (and legal to work here) but I’m not presently in the Midwest.

    There is one catch: I want to be able to write poetry and software outside of the job and not have the client/employer claim that they own everything I think.

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