Uber Drivers Say They Can Make More Money by Declining Rides
Some Uber and Lyft drivers say being picky about the rides they accept can help their bottom lines.
Business Insider asked drivers whether declining certain rides could increase pay.
Canceling trips can help drivers avoid situations that aren’t profitable.
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There’s no guaranteed way to make money as an Uber or Lyft driver, but some drivers have found strategies that work for them.
Drivers face endless decisions, including what time of day to work, what type of vehicle to use, how to net tips from customers, and how to best track their earnings. One driver’s optimal strategy can vary from another’s based on their markets.
But one of drivers’ most important decisions is when to accept a ride that pops up on their driving apps. Last year, Uber and Lyft adopted up-front fares programs in select US cities that have provided drivers with more information about their trips before they accept or decline them — including how much they pay, the estimated time and distance, and their destination.
Business Insider spoke with three drivers about when being selective with rides could boost their profits and when being less picky might be the best approach.
Accepting rides that pay at least $0.80 a mile and prioritizing airport trips can increase pay
Ken, a 36-year-old Uber and Lyft driver in Houston, drives about four to five hours a day — in addition to his full-time analyst job — to supplement his income. Last year, he earned a combined $25,000 driving for Uber and Lyft from about 2,000 trips, according to screenshots of earnings documents viewed by BI.
While he accepts most rides, he says, he prioritizes trips that pay at least $0.80 to $1 a mile, excluding vehicle expenses — a ride’s base pay and distance are displayed on the app. He says he also tries to avoid trips that take him too far out of Houston because he worries he won’t be able to find trips for the ride back. He calls these “empty miles.”
“I have seen a 50-mile trip that only $20 was offered,” Ken previously told BI. “I wouldn’t be doing that.” He asked that his last name not be included for fear of professional repercussions.
Ken, who hasn’t had much luck with customer tipping in recent months, says he tries to prioritize rides to and from the airport whenever possible because those customers are more likely to tip.
“When I get a ride to the airport, I count my blessings,” he said.
Being picky with trips can help drivers avoid ‘one-way rides’
Bill, a part-time Uber driver in North Carolina, began driving for extra income after he retired six years ago. Last year, the 70-year-old earned more than $28,000 across roughly 1,500 Uber trips, which Business Insider verified.
But he won’t accept just any ride.
“I spend a lot of time saying no,” Bill, who asked to use a pseudonym and spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of professional repercussions, previously told BI. Throughout his years driving for Uber, he’s accepted less than 10% of his rides and canceled over 30% of them, according to a screenshot of his driver app viewed by BI, to ensure he’s getting rides that are worth his time.
Bill lives in an area where Uber’s up-front fares program hasn’t rolled out yet, so he has limited information about his trips before he accepts them. As a result, he says, he does whatever he can to avoid “one-way rides” that take him to remote areas — where he is less likely to find another ride heading in his preferred direction.
To bypass these rides, Bill says, he asks customers when he picks them up whether their destination is in the area. If they’re headed out of town, he says, he often makes an excuse for why he can’t drive them.
But his approach comes with some risks. Uber lists refusing or canceling a trip based on the driver’s destination as something that could cause a driver to lose access to their account. Bill says he’s heard of drivers being barred from airport pickups for canceling long rides but it hasn’t happened to him yet.
Accepting most rides can help drivers land certain perks
Fred, a 40-year-old Uber driver in Virginia, first tried Uber in 2018 but paused his driving from 2019 to 2021. He started driving again midway through 2022 and made about $44,000 in about 3,000 trips, according to a screenshot of an earnings document viewed by BI. This past September, he earned over $5,000.
Fred says his main strategy as a driver is accepting nearly every ride — his lifetime acceptance rate is about 84%. He says doing this gives him the best chance to retain his Uber “diamond status,” which offers various benefits, such as savings at select gas stations, through a rewards system. Fred says the best perk of his status is the dedicated customer support he receives.
“When I call Uber support, my call or messaging is handled promptly and professionally,” he said. But Fred said he understood why a driver who doesn’t care about these extra benefits would reject rides that don’t seem profitable.
Are you a gig worker willing to share your story about pay, schedule, and tipping? If so, reach out to this reporter at email@example.com.